Homepage Tips

The home page is the most important page on your site. The majority of your new visitors will enter your site via the home page. Your top priority for the home page is to make sure it gives new visitors a good first impression of your site. If you fail, a lot of visitors will leave, probably never to return. We cannot stress how important this is!

Here are some tips on how to make a good first impression with your home page.

First Three Seconds are the Most Important

You only have a few seconds to give your new visitors a good first impression of your site.

If the visitor is not impressed, they may leave your site, never to return.

We all know first impressions matter. Be it with a magazine cover, book cover, car, house, person or Web site.

Studies of human behavior have revealed that we decide if we like or not like something, or someone, in the first few seconds we are presented with it.

Site Identity

Your home page must get across quickly and clearly its identity.

This includes:

  • The name of your Web site; and
  • What the site is about.

It's not unusual for me to visit hundreds of Web site a month. Quite often I wouldn't be able to work out what the site is about from the home page alone. So I have to resort to finding out from the "About Us" or "Mission Statement" page. Make sure your home page doesn't make the same mistake.

Site Benefits

Your home page must clearly state the benefits of exploring your site further. It is recommended that you display a concise, benefits driven statement in a prominent position near the top of the home page to sell the benefits of your site.

Make sure you only state the benefits the user will receive by using your site. Don't make the mistake of listing features. Remember, people only care about the benefits they will gain from using your site. They don't necessarily care about the cool funky feature you designed.

Primary Navigation

The primary navigational cues on a site are usually the links at the top of each page. They give a very quick overview of the site's content. The links should link to the main categories of your site and be worded in such a way that they are all self-explanatory.

Don't confuse the primary navigational links with the local navigation links. Local navigation links are links to pages within a category and are usually displayed on the left side of sub-pages

Direct Links to the Content Advertised

Display direct links to the content you're promoting. This could be Internet, magazine, book, radio, or television advertising.

Often, I have seen a magazine or television advert, have visited the Web site for more information, and yet when I get there, I can't find a single link or even a hint as to where I should go to find more information about the promotion I saw. What a way to waste your advertising budget!

So make sure your marketing department informs the webmaster of any promotions. Your IT department should also be informed to make sure your servers can handle any anticipated surges in your site's traffic.

Feature and Content Teasers or Promotions

In the real world, a storefront is designed to entice people passing by to walk into the store. On the Internet, a home page is like the storefront in the real world. The home page is used to entice visitors to explore the site.

Promote special features and popular content areas with short teaser ad copy and graphics. On e-commerce sites, promote the most attractive sale and special offer items.

Fresh Content

You should offer fresh content on your site at a regular interval, ideally every single day, or at the very least, every week or month. This will encourage people to return on a regular basis.

New content should always be promoted on the home page. But don't forget to also promote new content on the main category pages, otherwise when users visit a category, they may think there's nothing new in it.

Links to the Most Popular Content

Make it easy to find the most popular content on your site by providing links to the most popular content areas directly from the home page.

Links to the slightly less popular content areas should be located on the second level of your site. This way, links to most of your popular content areas are within two clicks of your home page, and are easier to find.

Starting Points

Make it easy for new visitors to explore your site by providing obvious starting points.

Make sure you include the following common starting points on your home page:

  • Search form;
  • Top of page primary navigation links; and
  • Featured content links.

Here are some other less common, but recommended, home page starting points (some may not be appropriate for your site):

  • Registration or Log-In form;
  • Directory links for users who like to browse (e.g. Yahoo! directory links);
  • Advanced search form;
  • "New Visitor" or "First-Timer" link;
  • "Site Tour" link; and
  • Destination map for travel sites.

Search

A search engine is one of the most popular functions on any Web site and every home page should include a basic search form. A site search engine should only search the site the visitor is on, not other Web sites around the Web, unless that is exactly the service you're providing your users.

Some Web designers have often thought that it would be best to provide users with an advanced search form straight away, instead of making them go to another page to use it. This isn't such a good idea. Most users do not understand how to use advanced search forms, and simply want to type a couple of words into a box!

As such, make sure that the primary search feature on your site is a simple affair with a single text box and a submit button. You can provide a link to an advanced search system below this, for expert users to click.

Registration or Log-In

Display the registration or sign-in form prominently above-the-fold of the home page, if you require users to register for access to your site. Don't forget to include a link to a page where users can ask for lost passwords to be emailed to them.

Advertisements

Web sites that rely on advertising to generate revenue need to have prime space set aside for its sponsors. Without doubt, the best real estate is usually on the home page and "above-the-fold" (visible without having to scroll down the page).

Even though you may need to show ads, the home page has to still download as quickly as possible. To help achieve this, try to minimize:

  • Number of advertising graphics: Minimize the number of ad banners on your home page. I have seen home pages with as many as two large (468x60) and three smaller (125x125) ad banners. This really is too much. When you consider that a 468x60 banner can be about 15 kilobytes, and the 125x125 banner about 10 kilobytes in size, it all adds up to a download of 45 kilobytes just for advertising banners. Most home pages files aren't this big!;
  • Advertising graphic file sizes: Optimize all your graphic files using image optimization software or application service provider. You can usually shrink a GIF graphic by about 50-75% whilst still keeping most of the original quality of the image. You might also choose to not carry animated banners; and
  • Advertising graphic dimensions: Smaller graphics usually produce smaller file sizes. So you should try to minimize the size, in terms of pixels, of your advertising graphics. Alternatively, you could have a smaller ad just on your home page. Since their inception, Yahoo! has always a smaller 230x33 pixel banner on their home page. On the rest of Yahoo!, they use the traditional 468x60 pixel banner.