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If you were to ask 99% of web owners what the most important page on their website is, most of them would probably say their homepage. After all, the homepage is what’s on their business cards, in their email signatures, and in the descriptions of their social media platforms. If there’s a single page on their site most owners are directing visitors, it is to the homepage. And so it’s no surprise many of them are hyper-focused on the design of their homepage.
The problem is that, while homepages are important, they’re not necessarily where most of your visitors will spend their time. Sure, Google Analytics may tell you that it’s the most visited page on your site. But a good homepage is designed to direct traffic to other parts of the site. This mean that, while your traffic is dispersed across other areas of the site, cumulatively they outweigh your homepage.
Furthermore, when it comes to closing a sale, most of that work is done on your subpages—product or services pages that provide the detailed information visitors need to make a purchasing decision.
So, while your homepage is critical to the success of your business, its real value is in directing visitors elsewhere. If you want to make the most of your homepage design, here’s what you should—and shouldn’t—expect your homepage to do.
Think of the last time you followed a link on Facebook. Maybe someone shared a link to an article, or maybe you followed an online ad. Either way, you probably didn’t end up on a homepage. Nevertheless, whether your visitors first enter your site on your homepage, or eventually click through to it after exploring some other aspects of your site, your homepage is the definitive introduction to your organization. Make sure it’s a strong one.
My biggest frustration with poorly designed homepages is when I can’t tell what the website does. I’ve seen so many homepages covered in stock photography and vague language, and they always leave me cold. Your homepage needs to be able to clearly communicate to the visitor what your brand is and what it can do for them. If that isn’t immediately apparent, your visitors will leave—and they’ll be justified in doing so.
Has anyone used your product or services before? Shout it from the rooftops. Include customer reviews and testimonials somewhere prominent. The less anonymous, the better. (i.e. “Cindy Smith, Marketing Director, Marketing Solutions Inc.” > “Cindy, Marketing Director” > “Cindy, Customer”.) If you’re a B2B company, showcase other companies you’ve worked with, and if you’ve taken the initiative in writing some powerful case studies, make that one of your CTAs.
Like any good team player, your homepage shouldn’t hold on to visitors. Instead, your homepage needs to effectively point visitors to the pages most relevant to them. Whether that means directing them to a good case study, featuring a top product, or showcasing the latest content, your homepage should help guide your visitors through your site without making them feel restricted.
Some sites are so small that the homepage is really just a landing page for a single product or service. For low-risk sales, that might be enough to close a sale. But if you’re trying to close a more expensive project, or if you have a wide range of products and services, you’ll need more information than your homepage can contain to present your case. Leave the closing to another page, and use your homepage to direct visitors to where they need to go.
So many businesses struggle to define their priorities that they end up treating everything as a top priority. And when you have twelve different “priorities” competing for attention on your homepage, then the reality is that you have no priorities. It’s OK to focus your main message on one product or service, and leave some of your others to other parts of the site. There are plenty of ways to promote those other pages. It doesn’t all need to happen on your homepage.
Similarly, most webpages offer products and services to a range of audiences. You don’t need to speak to all of them at once. Instead, identify your ideal client, and speak to that persona first. Or, if you have a balanced group of personas, find an intelligent way to direct them toward the pages they need to visit so that you can start speaking to them directly. Don’t expect to talk to everyone all at once on your homepage.
I don’t know when people started thinking of websites like books, but somewhere down the line the analogy sprang into being, and it’s been a hard one to shake. After all, we talk about “pages” and “cover images,” and you could think of the navigation menu as a table of contents.
But if websites are like books, they’re not ones you read cover-to-cover. Quite the contrary: they’re the kind you pick up in the middle, and then jump around in as you choose your own adventure. Some of us will visit a website dozens—if not hundreds—of times without even once visiting the homepage. And that’s fine. It just means that, if users aren’t using the website that way, we shouldn’t build it as if they are.
And there’s a lot of good news here, too. You can take some of the pressure off your homepage, because it doesn’t have to do all the work. Instead of trying to create an optimized homepage for four or five different audiences, you can create a homepage optimized for channeling those audiences to pages specifically tailored to their needs.
Your homepage will have fewer competing priorities, and you visitors will have a cleaner, less frantic user experience.