Note from Caleb: We made big changes to the Think Traffic home page (along with the rest of our design) two months ago and are seeing huge results from it. If you have been thinking about modifying your own home page, this post will walk you through some of the most important sections to include on it.
This is a guest post by Brad Shorr.
What is the goal of my home page? This is a fundamental question every blogger or e-commerce site owner should ask, because all too often, the home page becomes a dumping ground, a confusing mix of imagery and information.
However, to generate interest and convert hard-earned visitors into long-term fans, the home page needs to be clear, concise and compelling. This post offers a few tips to help you convert a fuzzy and ineffective home page into one that engages and sells.
The Top Three Priorities for a Home Page
When visitors enter your site via the home page, they are like strangers walking into your house for the first time. Because your site is a new environment, they will be disoriented, unsure of where to go, and unsure about how to act. Since these issues could lead someone to bolt for the exit – i.e., click off — it’s really critical for your home page to address them.
1. Messaging: Orient visitors with your elevator pitch. The home page must explain what you do, for whom you do it, and why someone should choose you over your competitor – in one paragraph or less. This tells visitors whether the site is for them, and if it is, why they should hang around.
2. Navigation: Provide direction for two types of visitors. It’s helpful to think about visitors as buyers or browsers: buyers are ready to act; browsers want to explore. Buyers are looking for options like “Start Shopping,” “Place an Order” and “Get a Quote.” Browsers are looking for options like “Product Details” and “About Us.” By keeping top line navigation simple, you enable both types of visitors to get where they want to go, quickly and with confidence.
3. Call to Action: Give visitors a reason to take the next step. Many buyers and some browsers are ready to take the next step directly from the home page. Therefore, it’s wise to have a prominent call to action block for buyers (such as a limited-time discount) and one for browsers (such as a white paper).
By sticking to these priorities, your home page will provide a compelling value proposition, gets people where they want to go, and gives them a reason to act now. As a visitor, could you ask for anything more?
What Gets in the Way
In my experience, THE hardest thing to do in web design is keep it simple. As site developers, we easily forget that visitors are in a hurry. Visitors don’t want to understand us; all they want is to know what to do, how to do it, and why they should do it. The harder we make it for them to figure it out, the faster they exit. Many things can undermine the big three home page goals. Here are the biggest culprits:
- Too much text. If I want to know what time it is, don’t tell me how to make the clock. If I want to know how to make the clock, I’ll look at an interior page – if I can figure out where it is.
- Not enough repetition. On the other hand, if your product can double someone’s productivity, that’s a fact that might be worth mentioning more than once on the home page.
- Poor placement of key information. If your point about doubling productivity is buried in text below the fold, don’t blame visitors for not getting the message.
- Too many calls to action. Giving people too many options leads to indecision. Remember when General Motors had several divisions offering essentially the same cars? Didn’t work out too well.
- No calls to action. People expect to do business on a business site – but they expect you to initiate it.
- Too much design. Some site owners think they can dazzle visitors into submission with artsy animation, frilly fonts, coruscating colors and busy borders. A touch of this recipe can be effective, but too much will obliterate the message.
Why These Things Get in the Way
To get philosophical for a moment, websites are the outward reflection of what’s going on inside the business. If the business is confused, the website will be confusing. If the business is conflicted, the website will work against itself. If the business is cheap, the website will look like a junkyard.
To get more specific, here are common problems that thwart good home page execution. The first step in solving them is recognizing them.
- Vague understanding of site goals. You’d be surprised how many times we ask prospects whether they have a billboard site or a lead generation site and they really don’t know. Paradoxically, simplicity abhors a vacuum; so aimless sites quickly fill up with aimless information.
- Home page design by committee. This is a problem for websites in general, but home pages are especially vulnerable because everybody wants to be on the big stage. You can only cram so much into the spotlight, though. Entrepreneurs can have the same problem, even if the “committees” are all in their own heads.
- Patching instead of rebuilding. Companies change: products, services, offers and marketing strategies continually evolve. If you keep piling on new stuff to your home page’s content and navigation, the structure will eventually collapse and look like a mess in the meantime. Smart site owners know when it’s time for a new house.
Examples of Deliciously Simple Home Pages
Giving home page visitors a warm welcome means avoiding the temptation to clutter up the page with peripheral information. Here are a few examples of companies that do a great job of keeping it simple and effective.
Example 1: FreshBooks
Essentially, FreshBooks uses a landing page design for its home page, the only real difference being the subtle navigation to its full site at the bottom of the page (which is still above the fold). Using a lot of white space makes it easy for visitors to focus on the message, and also conveys a feeling that the service is simple, tying the page’s feel together with the “painless billing” tagline. Other key strengths of the page:
- A short and sweet value proposition on the right.
- A strong and simple call to action for buyers.
- A “Watch a video” link for early-stage browsers.
- A softer call to action – “Don’t be shy …” – connected to their toll free number, for late-stage browsers.
- A strong credibility statement: used by over 4,500,000 people.
Example 2: BigCommerce
The upper right text conveys credibility, over 25,000 stores, and a persuasive value proposition. The call to action for buyers, Try BigCommerce Free, is convincing, but not as in-your-face as FreshBooks. This makes sense, though, because trying out an e-commerce system is a much bigger decision than testing a bookkeeping system. This brings up another home page effectiveness issue: keeping things in proportion.
Probably because e-commerce is a big decision, BigCommerce does a great job of helping visitors self-identify (bottom right box). They make it incredibly easy for any type of visitor to get where they want to go, with no distractions whatsoever.
Example 3: Constant Contact
Constant Contact is a widely recognized brand, so it’s no surprise they dispense with an elevator speech – a great example of taking streamlining to its logical conclusion.
What people may not realize is that Constant Contact does event marketing, social campaigns, and local marketing. So in addition to its fairly aggressive call to action for email marketing visitors at the top of the page, Constant Contact adds prominent links to these other services right below.
Don’t Forget Mobile
Here is a final thought on the subject of home page focus. In the near future, more people will be accessing the Internet via tablets and smart phones than via laptops and desktops. With smaller screens and harder scrolling, simplicity and clarity will become even more important than they are today. It’s not too early to start adapting, and depending on your niche, it might even be getting to be too late.
How could you modify your home page to offer more engagement, faster growth, and a better call to action?
What do you think are the most important elements of an effective home page?
Let us know in the comments.
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