Whether you run a small business or a personal blog, your homepage is crucial to your website’s success. The homepage is often your first impression, after all, so it needs to send the appropriate message. But that isn’t always easy. There’s a lot to consider when creating a homepage; after all, they homepages to persuade, inform, and guide all at the same time. They need to have an appropriate look that matches the subject matter. And they need to give an obvious, but tacit, “road map” that clearly directs traffic to its final destination. There are hundreds of usability measures you can take to improve your entire website, but if you need to know a few quick tricks to make sure your website off to a good start, here are my top five picks for improving the homepage design:
Quick Trick #1: Follow Conventions
Okay, so you want to be creative. It’s understandable that you feel the need to make your business stand out, to really “pop” to your customers. But, trust me, your website is not the place to do anything crazy. Unless you are in the entertainment business and your website’s sole purpose is to entertain (like serve as a game or an interactive treasure hunt), avoid the fancy flash objects and avoid putting your putting your menu in something crazy, like popping balloons (or not having a menu at all, like this site). Rather, to make your home page work, you’ll want to follow conventions. In the last 23 years or so that the internet has been alive, a number of conventions have emerged (just like there are conventions in books, like tables of content, indexes, and chapters). If you want your customers to find what they actually came to your website to look for, you’ll want to follow conventions. Here are four of the most common:
1. Main menu bar (and it should be a bar) goes near the top, but not all the way at the top. Usually websites will have a banner image above the menu, like on website you’re on right now. More and more, main menu bars on homepages are horizontal. The vertical ones show up on later pages.
2. Utilities section goes somewhere above the main menu. A utilities section includes links that are important to your website but don’t affect navigation (in other words, if someone clicks on the link, there is no path to follow in direct relation to the site’s content, like a contact page, sitemap, or A-Z index).
3. Site ID (the logo and name of your site) is larger than anything else and it is at the top. Most websites have the site ID at the top left, but top middle is just fine, too.
4. Search bar is present and obvious. Some website users like to click around your site, some like to type something in a search bar. Accommodate both users (many will expect one on your site).
Quick Trick #2: Use a Tagline (Not a Slogan)
This is one faux pas many small business websites seem to struggle with. Your website should include a tagline that tells users two things: what the site is and why it is better than other similar sites. Taglines are not company slogans, which usually communicate some sort of company value (like “you’re in good hands with Allstate.”) Notice how Allstate’s slogan (while useful for marketing) would not be useful to someone who hadn’t ever heard of them and didn’t know what to do on their website? Rather, use a slogan like what Blurb.com uses: “Make Your Own Book,” or what SurveyMonkey.com uses: “Make Surveys. Get Answers.” These tell users quickly and in a sort of pithy phrase what the site’s value is to them and what they can do with it.
Quick Trick #3: Keep the Noise to a Minimum
We often hear, when talking about design, that we like things “clean” and “simple.” So, what exactly does that mean? When it comes to websites, that means to be comfortable with white space and to not fill up the homepage with too much stuff. There is a tendency to want to include a large description in text about your company. DON’T DO THAT! If someone really wants to know about your company or blog, they’ll go to your “about” page. Really, on the homepage, they are looking to go somewhere, learn something, or buy something. Make sure your design accommodates what they want, not what you want to tell them.
Quick Trick #4: Be Comfortable with Compromise
Similar to #3, you’ll need to recognize that including everything on the homepage reduces its effect. When you highlight everything, ironically, you highlight nothing. Avoid the pitfall of trying to include everything on your homepage. You can’t possibly tell your visitors about all of your services, what sales you are having, what classes you are offering, and what awards you have won ALL on the homepage. Make an informed compromise and guide your visitors to where they want to go.
Quick Trick #5: Make Your Homepage Unique from Other Pages (But Not Too Unique!)
Your homepage serves as a landing point. Visitors use it like they use the front door of a large department store. When you get lost in Target, you orient yourself by looking at the front door. When you get lost on a website, you go back home. With that in mind, if all of your pages look exactly like the homepage, visitors will often wonder if they actually made it home. A homepage without some unique feature is like guiding your visitors through IKEA–everything will look the same after a while and it will drive them crazy. But, that doesn’t mean you should do something drastically different. Your homepage should still follow the same color scheme and general navigation pattern. But you might have a slightly different banner, or some other orienting icon (on my site, the homepage has my avatar to the right and a thumbnail list of my recent posts; none of the other pages have this.)
There are, of course, many other things to consider about your homepage. But if you keep these five quick tricks in mind for the homepage, your site will be off to a much better start!