The Homepage Is Where The Heart Is.

Before it’s possible to discuss what the perfect homepage looks like, it’s important to establish exactly what a homepage is and what its purpose is.

Essentially a homepage is the first point at which you establish a connection with your visitor: it gives your business the chance to engage and inform users about your company, what you offer and what you can do to help them. Think of it as a front door, if you’d rather, where you can welcome your guests. There’s nothing more unappealing than a shabby entrance with peeling paint and broken hinges – you really don’t want to go inside if you can help it. It’s no different with web design. It’s the job of the homepage to make the visitors’ experience as welcoming and friendly as possible and to keep them there and engaged.

So is there such a thing as a perfect homepage? Is there a one size-fits-all solution to homepage creation that works for everyone, regardless of their line of businesses? Sadly, the answer’s no – but if you can pay attention to the basic principles of homepage design, then you stand a much better chance of hanging on to those precious visitors and hopefully converting some of these visits into sales.

Engage and entertain your visitors.

By that I don’t mean hit them with a series of one-liners. There’s nothing wrong with using your sense of humour to entertain and amuse, but it has to be taken in context. What a homepage should do is keep visitors awake and receptive; therefore it needs to be both appealing and interesting. If you’ve considered the possibility of shoehorning a welcome message from the CEO or a full explanation of your mission statement, then I’d caution against it. These can usually be incorporated elsewhere on the website, preferably on another page much lower down the hierarchical structure. Let’s be honest, mission statements are about as interesting generally as drying paint. They might be important, but not so vital they crash onto the homepage.

It’s much better to take the essence of the mission statement and use this to create a single compelling sentence, preferably with your keywords included, that encapsulates what your website is about and what it stands for. Such a statement can pique your visitors’ interest and encourage them to scan the rest of the page to see what you’re offering.

Keep it short and simple.

Nobody likes to wade through paragraph after paragraph of wordy information to reach the fact they’ve been searching for. Web visitors have restrictions on both their time and attention span: they tend to scan rather than read every word. Keeping the homepage message simple and clear makes it much more user-friendly and accessible. Try to keep all the information on just the one screen and format it so that’s it’s easy to read and scan. Use bulleted paragraphs to make the viewing simpler, and split the content into clearly-defined sections. If you provide links from there, then visitors requiring more information can find it easily, without it cluttering up the homepage. Think of a homepage as an appetiser – the main course is elsewhere in the website.

Make it clear where you want them to go.

All good homepages have a clear and concise navigation structure that it makes it easy for users to travel from one section to another seamlessly. Nobody likes getting lost: make the site map simple so that visitors don’t exit the site through sheer frustration. Make the navigation accessible by utilising a variety of options for the user. Use navigation with image maps, and utilise keyboard navigation for those users who prefer keyboard navigation rather than using a mouse. Make sure that browsers are able to search the other parts of the website easily by including search functions. Javascript menus are fine, as long as these are backed up with text navigation as well.

Every good home page has a clear site map. Its importance can’t be stressed enough. However, it becomes even more important for sites that are complex or carry large quantities of diverse information. The other advantage of site maps is that search engines like them, as they help the search engine spiders to index the whole site.

Try to build a bond of trust with your browsers.

If you imagine that the chances of you meeting your browsers or speaking to them in person are unlikely, then you’ll appreciate that’s it’s important that your business tries to build trust with its customers in other ways. Consumers won’t spend money until they are sure the business they are dealing with is reputable and trustworthy. It’s the job of the homepage to try to build this bond.

Always include a company address, email and telephone number on the homepage. It’s surprising how customers are far more trusting of a business with a phone number, rather than just an email, which can appear far more impersonal.  If you have received rave customer rating or testimonials, then make sure you include them on the homepage. Don’t go overboard though, as this can come across as excessive and less than convincing: simply stick to a few well-chosen sentiments from satisfied customers who’d recommend your business or service to anyone else.

Finally don’t forget to emphasise your site’s accessibility on the homepage and link this to the site’s accessibility policy. Many people with disabilities use websites, probably more than many able-bodied users. They are, or will hopefully become part of, your loyal following and will spend money. Make it clear you want their business and do everything in your power to meet their needs and requirements.

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