Your home page is probably the most reliably viewed page of your site. It may not be the first viewed. But your home page gets a large share of visits, especially if people want to find out what you do.
It’s important to make a great impression with your home page. You’re trying to earn more time with your visitor’s attention, and lead them to take the next action you want them to take. Feeling a lot of pressure to get this right? Help is here.
What Should Be On Your Home Page?
Jacob Nielsen’s guidelines for home pages were written in 2001, but they are just as relevant for today. He spells out 131 do’s and don’ts for communicating your identity, purpose and choosing content on the home page of your website.
All of the 131 guidelines are important. Here are some of the most helpful when you’re starting your home page or redesigning a new one:
Your logo, identity and tag line: Your tag line is where you sum up what your company does or what you offer. It is also a good place to state your main difference from your competitors.
Quick access to important content within: Include direct links to high priority tasks so people don’t have to dig through explanations to sign in, find your news, buy or register.
Show samples of content from other pages: Show snippets, teasers, or headlines of content you offer on other pages. Let them see real content with excerpts or examples. It’s more effective and meaningful than describing what you have.
Use Customer-focused language: Choose categories, labels, and content for their value to the customer. Choose your customer’s words, not your internal phrases.
For example, what would you call a page of information for new members? “Member information” is how you think of it. But that’s confusing to new people – is this a page about current members; is it for members only, or to inform potential new members? Find out what phrase your visitors use when they want help as new members: “For New Members” may better match what they’re looking for.
Avoid clever or cute phrases: Yes, you want personality but no, you don’t want people guessing what you mean. It’s doubly important that your navigation is straightforward, not creative.
Provide graphics for meaning, not decoration: Prefer real photos of what your company does over stock photos. Use graphics to convey information, rather than because they look nice or add animation.
Cut out the welcome: When launching a first site, it’s tempting to celebrate this milestone with a welcome announcement. It’s better to show visitors where to find what they need for the purpose of their visit.
Ask for data but say why: It’s very important to gather customer information. Getting email addresses so you can send visitors an e-book or newsletter is one of the best ways to nurture future clients. But you need to explain the facts and benefits of signing up, however briefly. Prospects don’t just sign up because you ask them to. Specify, the value of the information, when to expect it and your privacy promise.
What should your Home Page Do?
If you know what your visitors need, choose content that provides what they are looking for. The way you present that content brands your business and sets you apart.
Cue your site’s personality: Set the tone for your site, such as down-to-business, warm, elegant or fun.
Give “Next Step” directions: Lead people to what you what you want them to do next. This could be to sign up, visit a particular page, get a cost estimate, buy or another action you want.
Give social proof you’re active: With testimonials, client logos, Facebook Likes or twitter status updates
The top priority: answer, “What is this place?” In other words, tell people briefly what your business does and what value they get. Visitors need to know they’re in the right place. Easy to scan text, like a headline or featured phrase helps the right visitors feel a good fit.
Keep Your Home Page in Perspective
Once you’ve succeeded in sparking interest, your home page is often the visitor’s next choice to learn more about you.
It’s important to get right, but high anxiety over using this small space correctly makes some too frozen to do anything.
Derek Powazek reminds us that your home page isn’t the one with the strongest pull to bring in new visitors:
“This is the atomic element—for a news site, it’s the story page; for a search engine, it’s the search result; for a store, it’s a product page. This page accounts for 60 to 75 percent of all page views on the site. The rest belong to the home page.”
Ultimately, it’s the value of your content within your site that drives up new visits and your value to visitors. So relax, take a deep breath, and let your home page provide a quick overview of why your visitors and customers choose you.