What Is the Goal of Your Home Page?

  • August 7, 2012 by Guest Writer
  • 30 Comments

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:

  1. A short and sweet value proposition on the right.
  2. A strong and simple call to action for buyers.
  3. A “Watch a video” link for early-stage browsers.
  4. A softer call to action – “Don’t be shy …” – connected to their toll free number, for late-stage browsers.
  5. 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.

Your Turn

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.

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a web development agency in Chicago. They work with small and midsize B2Bs in niche industries. Brad is a writer, blogger and content marketer.


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Mustafa Khundmiri August 7, 2012 at 5:57 am

Simplicity is key to a more focused homepage. The more complex and heavy it is, the more confused your visitors are gonna be.

Having said that, the goal of your homepage goes hand in hand with the overall purpose of your website. Do you intend to build a brand? Get more sales? Grab more leads?

Once you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, it’ll become much easier to design your homepage accordingly.

Clare Thwaites August 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

I totally agree with this and I love all those site designs, just had a question to you Mustafa, and Brad, and Caleb – if you’re not great at web design (like me) how could you achieve a great design like these still using wordpress?

Does optimize press do it OK, or does it all need to be custom built themes?? I’d be fine with getting one custom built, except, what happens when wordpress updates and you want to tweak it?? DO you guys have full time coders to help with this?

Getting a great blog theme is a bit of a roadblock for me right now, and want to deal with it ASAP!

Any help and advice is appreciated! Thanks! Clare :-)

Shlomo August 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Clare, this is an interesting question to ask, I’m also struggling right now. Would a paid theme be the right thing? paying for a designer and then have a coder for every time there is a WP upgrade?

How do you deal with it?
Thanks,
Shlomo

George Michelis August 7, 2012 at 6:24 am

Sometimes the obvious is not “visible”, 100% agree with simplicity.

The title of this post could also use words/phrases from: “Visitors want to know what to do, how to do it, and why they should do it”, so if you need a revised title/post something like: “3 principles for an efficient home page” could also become part II at a later stage :-)

Jacob August 7, 2012 at 6:25 am

Well this is timely. I’m working on my homepage as we speak. Very useful advice, Brad.

The best part for me was the “Three Top Priorities” section. When designing navigation, it’s easy to get too complicated or try to appeal to too many different types of people.

As an aside, I’ve been drooling over the ThinkTraffic redesign, and it’s compelled me to go with a static homepage. So far I’ve been designing it just for browsers, to direct people to the content that’s most relevant to them, but I’ll need to throw in some direction/CTA for buyers as well.

One thing I love about the ThinkTraffic homepage is the way you guys set up the “direction for browsers,” with “New here?” and “Popular Posts.” I think the page is so visually engaging, but you spend time just admiring it, and when you’re done drooling you know exactly where to go based on what you came to the site to find.

wilson August 7, 2012 at 6:51 am

It’s funny you’re talking about home pages, I just started researching how to look for a design that is going to connect with my readers and display my value proposition in the simplest way possible. I definitely need to work on this on my site.

I’m going to take these tips you just pointed out in this post Brad, thank you!

Brad Shorr August 7, 2012 at 11:17 am

Timing is everything! Good luck with your redesign — I would love to know how it turns out.

Ahmed Safwan@ To Start Blogging August 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

Thanks for this great tips.
We can also add audio to increase the engagment.

Regards,
Ahmed Safwan
ToStartBlogging.Com

Clare J Fitzgerald August 7, 2012 at 7:48 am

Another great post Think Traffic! Thanks Brad

I loved loved loved the comment – ‘websites are the outward reflection of what’s going on in the business’. This line should be your tweetable for this post ;) .

My favourite example was the Fresh books landing page. So sharp and a very clear enunciation of the benefit to users of the product plus an obvious call to action.

This is definitely my take away from the post. Clarity around the core problem you are solving for the customer and the 1 call to action is vital, particularly in the space above the fold.

Brad Shorr August 7, 2012 at 11:15 am

Clare, glad you found something useful in all of this. Clarity is certainly something I look for as a user online … and when you ask people, they will probably say the same thing. We know this, yet can’t stop ourselves from overcomplicating things. It’s quite perplexing.

John Dumas August 7, 2012 at 8:55 am

Hi Brad,
Loved the “A softer call to action” point you made. Sometimes, it will only take a gentle nudge to push people into action.

Thanks for the great content!

Chihuahua Zero August 7, 2012 at 9:26 am

Great overview! Unfortunately, I can’t do something like this with Blogger (since I don’t have a product to offer anyways–yet), but I’ll keep this in mind when creating an author’s site in the future.

Nancy Fox August 7, 2012 at 9:40 am

Just as people do in face to face interactions, they try to say and do too much at one time.
To your point, elevator pitches should be equally simple. It actually inspired me to create a cool tool called ElevatorPitch140(tm) which can be seen on my blog. Meant to make your elevator pitch memorable and tweetable.

This is right in line Caleb with your advice to make this simple and providing a simple solution for people.

J. Delancy August 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I think a simple functional theme also helps. Small fonts and a tightly packed page layout on the home page stops me from even trying to read past the title. Thanks for the tips, I’ll be using them on my own blog.

Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon August 7, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I’m still debating myself whether or not it’s better for my blog to have a homepage on it or to just have the blog itself be the homepage. I know as a return visitor, I would much rather have the blog itself be the homepage, but it seems like having a separate homepage would convert more new visitors and turn them into customers. Tough decision for sure…

Thomas

Brad Shorr August 8, 2012 at 3:08 am

Hi Thomas, That is a real problem! Here’s how I would approach it. If you opt for a home page, you can then study your traffic to get an idea of where visitors are entering your site. If you’re a very active blogger, you may find that most people are entering your site via the blog home page and various post pages. If that’s true, a separate home page might not be necessary, and putting strong conversion elements on your blog sidebar would do the trick. But without testing and looking at the analytics, you’ll never know for sure.

Ayaz August 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm

Hi Brad!

Excellent post and certainly readers do not want complex home page and how simple you have made for them to move within your website the more they will spend time on your site.

Secondly, call to action point is really crucial and if you managed to chalked out impressive call to action than you will get the more visitor’s conversion.

Thanks for sharing great information.

Frank Steiner August 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

I personally develop WordPress based websites and constantly update the design by changing little stuff here and there. Once I have a pretty good amount of traffic, I redesign the homepage to maximize the conversion.

The tips provided in the article are great. Another epic content. Keep up the good stuff coming.

Mike Abasov August 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I love using the “Content Wireframe” for developing any landing pages, including home pages. It consists out of 3 steps/parts and works like this:

1. Context: What the visitors need or want. At this stage, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the visitor and ask questions from their perspective. For example:
— What is this service?
— Why should I care?
— How much does it cost?

2. Goals: What you want to accomplish. The number of goals should never exceed 5 to keep the message simple and effective. You should also prioritize them.

3. Content: At this stage, the message is crafted based on the ideas from the first two steps.

Penna August 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I was directed to Think Traffic from a Webinar I saw today on Blogs that Matter and I was delighted to see your input on the home page. My cohorts and I are in the works of creating our own platform website and we have a lot to learn.

Your defining the audience perspective was extremely helpful. As writers working towards successful publishing we can easily understand the idea of accommodating points of view, however it didn’t occur to me that we should put our visitors into two categories. Although, our site isn’t for generating funds, but for creating community power, I can’t help but think that we will have our “browsers”, i.e. the curious, and our “definite shoppers”, i.e. our followers. It makes sense to target the gimme the info now so I can decide visitors; they are, of course, our potential fans, while also making it easy for returning parties to just forge ahead into the worlds we are offering.

Keeping the outer wrappings alluring, easy to handle, and engaging is going to be our watchwords as we experiment in developing that first landing page. Thank you for sharing your insight.

Matthew August 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Hey Brad,

This has really helped clarify my perspective on what a home page should and shouldn’t be. I’m keen to put it into practice in the relaunch of my site.

Matt

Simon August 9, 2012 at 6:34 am

Great post – enjoyed the minimalistic approach you outline. My partners and I have this preset rant, where we tell every designer that starts on a project of ours “SIMPLE, MINIMALISTIC, SIMPLISTIC, MINIMAL” haha :)

The online world has enough busy distractions that I personally feel relieved when a page is not cluttered, a sense of peace with the site and it’s aims overcomes me.

It’s this same feeling you talk about, loved the philosophical take!

Best Regards,

Simon

John Banks August 10, 2012 at 1:50 am

As the homepage is often the first page new visitors will see its essential to capture them and make them stay. I find with blogs though, the homepage is often just the latest posts or the most recent (guilty). You and other sites have shown this does not have to be the case. What is important is that from the homepage it is easy and clear to navigate to the other pages. My rule is that a homepage should not look like a squeeze page…….

All in all though, I agree with the comments in this post……

Regards,
John

Dan Norris August 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Great post. One thing to note however is your examples are all web apps. The great thing about running a web app company is the goal is super clear. This is part of what attracted me to doing this myself. In my old company I built websites for people and almost every single homepage had a complex array of goals. With a web app the goal is one thing – get people to sign up. This makes it possible to design beautiful simple homepage that encourage sign up and support it with proof etc. Unfortunately this isn’t as easy for other businesses although I admire the new Think Traffic homepage it’s certainly a lot different to what I’ve seen on other blogs.

Brad Shorr August 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

Dan, I agree with your observations: not every business is as cut-and-dried as a web app. Whatever design ideas a business can beg, borrow or steal from these examples will probably lead to big improvements. That’s my hope, anyway! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Fernando August 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

As always, A GREAT post! I’m kinda worry now about my home page, but gonna take all your tips to make it better

Greetings from Paraguay

Darlene August 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hi Brad

I’m still new to blogging and I’m not even sure I know the difference between a Billboard and lead generation site. Could you explain that?

Wade August 20, 2012 at 8:06 am

The goal of my homepage is to simply get the visitor to read. As you will see, my blog is the first page. I want to display info other than products for my visitor.

Tim September 8, 2012 at 3:32 am

Funnels. Work out what makes you money and funnel people into it.
Declutter – remove all obstacles to conversion and distraction.
Clear calls to action (within funnels).

A lot of the stuff Ben Hunt talks about is spot on.

Oh. Engaging content. I just did my annual survey (my mailing list is only 900) and the overwhelming theme was people loved the quirky humour (I can’t help it, I’m pretty hilarious).

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