When it comes to designing your homepage its important to remember that the key objective is to deliver what your visitors want as quickly as possible. You only have a few seconds to capture visitors' interest, focus them on whatever it is you want them to do and then persuade them to do it " whether its clicking through to a specific page, buying your product or signing up for your newsletter or a free report.
But when there are so many different reasons why people may visit your homepage (shopping, looking for information or resources, researching your company, looking for a job) how do you cater to all of them without ending up with a home page that is a complete dogs breakfast?
Know Your Web Metrics
It pays to do your homework: start with your web analytics. How are people finding your site? What keywords are they using, what referring sites are they arriving from? What pages are they looking at? Which bits of your homepage are most frequently clicked on? This data will tell you a lot about the reasons why people are visiting your homepage and what they want.
Have a Clear Purpose
Be clear about the purpose of your homepage - the visitors you want to focus on and the actions you want them to take.
There is only a limited amount of space available so you need to be ruthless in your prioritisation. Ensure the most important stuff appears at the top and hits your visitors straight between the eyes.
If you have an e-commerce site the primary purpose of your homepage might be to serve as a shop front and your objective would be to drive your visitors to your product pages. If you have a blog based site, it might be to encourage people to subscribe to your RSS feed. You may want to build your email list, encourage people to sign up for a free trial of your product or drive visitors to your Facebook page.
You are also likely to have a number of secondary and tertiary objectives, so its important to plan out how much space you are going to devote to each of them and in what order on the page.
Get the Design Elements Right
Having decided on how you are going to use the available space on your homepage you then need to consider the following key elements:
Headline " Your headline and introductory copy must convey your value proposition clearly and tell your visitors within the first few seconds who you are, what you do and how to find out more information.
Navigation " Your homepage should be clean and easy to navigate. Visitors easily get lost without clear directions so give them some! Want them to watch your introductory video or sign up for your free report? Tell them! Highlight your key content with arrows, feature boxes, animated graphics etc. so they are in doubt about what they are expected to do next. Set out clear navigation pathways (perhaps using colour coding to assist your visitor) and offer a range of ways to search for information that meet the needs of different types of visitor to your site.
Eliminate all possible causes of friction and anxiety " If your visitor is confused or distracted it is likely that they will miss key information you want to convey or even worse, click away from your site altogether. So its important to make things as clear and easy as possible for them. This means paying attention to design elements such as colour, shape, use of images and animation and avoiding redundant links, unnecessary fields and anything else that may make your homepage cluttered and confusing.
Reassurance - Visitors to your site need to know they can trust you so its important to give them lots of reassurance in the form of a secure site logo, customer testimonials, third party endorsements, satisfaction guarantees etc. For maximum impact these should be prominently displayed above the fold and reinforced by repetition and further detailed information throughout your site " for example, on your About Us page, Testimonials page, your checkout page, your FAQs.
Incentives " Your homepage must answer the Whats In It For Me? question in your visitors mind and give them a compelling reason to choose you over your competitors. Spell it out for them and if you want them to take a specific action, whether its browsing through your product pages or signing up for your free report, RSS feed or free trial, tell them why they should do it and offer them an equally compelling incentive to comply.
Tone and style " The aim of your homepage should be to put your visitors at ease and provide relevant content that will engage their interest and draw them further into your site. If you want a long term relationship with them you need to develop empathy at the outset, so dont be tempted to go for the hard sell " your visitors dont want to feel like they are being rushed or pressured into making a decision. Make sure its all about them, not you, writing directly to their needs and demonstrating that you understand their issues, problems and fears. And above all, speak in a way thats comfortable for them, keeping your style of writing conversational and easy to understand and breaking up your text with headings and sub-headings.
Optimizing your homepage for conversion is an iterative process which involves continual testing and refinement so dont be afraid to experiment " you will be amazed at the difference even quite small changes can make to your conversion rate. Its essential you measure your results and performance systematically though, so you can clearly identify whats working and what isnt. Googles Website Optimizer is a great tool for doing this so my final piece of advice is to make sure you use it.
Do you have further tips and strategies to share on how to improve homepage conversion? Id love to hear whats working for you (or not) so please go ahead and leave a comment!
Jan is a digital marketing coach and founding Director of WOW Consulting, anEssex online marketing and website design company. Jan's speciality is demystifying digital marketing and show small businesses how to integrate web, mobile and social media into their marketing strategies to create sustainable competitive advantage and profitable growth.