Big announcement! Your home page isn't special.
Yeah, that's right... it's just another page. Sure, it's a page that's linked to a lot and it's a page that most business owners send people to but if you look at your website traffic, most people are not starting on your home page. They're not. They're searching for something and the search engines are sending them to pages on your website that relate to the search. Your home page cannot (and should not) rank for everything. If it does, you've got WAY too much happening on your home page.
Your home page simply needs to:
That's about it. That doesn't seem like much for it to do but it's not easy keeping something simple.
Note: And since most people don't get to your website from the home page, make sure your inside pages cover the "who, what, where, why and how" as well.
I wake up most mornings and think that... no, just kidding!
Seriously, think about how people get to your home page. Most of the time, it's someone telling them to type in the address, right?
With all of today's great technology, I'm surprised how difficult it is to tell someone a website address or domain name and for them to get it right - especially on the phone... you have to say each letter phonetically and sometimes that doesn't even work. Even if people type it into Google to be more assured that the right thing will pop up, there's not a guarantee that they typed it in right or that the right result will pop up. I've been in many meetings where someone mentions a website address and you cringe as the questionably competent person at the keyboard tries to bring up the website within 30 seconds... which seems like an eternity in a meeting.
It might also be a salesperson or business owner mentioning the website to someone in passing.
There are a lot of non-digital ways that websites and domain names are sent - it's not always a click. You're most likely sending people to the home page and that first view of the home page confirms that the website visitor is in the right place.
To confirm that, the home page must:
It should look professional, fit your image/brand and visually show what you do / your products / what you provide, etc. First impressions matter!
Ever been to a place and not know what to do? Maybe you're on vacation or something and you end up a new place and it's not clear what you should do. This happens pretty often.
If you're a good host, you guide people around, right? Even when you visit someone's house, it's customary they give you a tour, right? Make sure your website guides your visitors. Don't leave them hanging. Don't leave them lost. Tell them what to do.
In our industry, we call this a "call to action" and they're great. You don't want to be too strong about it or else it's a turn off - kind of like a first date (see the article below). First let your website visitor get to know you before you're forcing them to decide to "like" you or sign up for a newsletter or something... that's just way too forward. You see this way too often right now. I'm inundated with "Like me! Like me! Like me!" when I get to some websites. Whoa! Let me get to know you a little first, ok?
Your calls to action should have varying degrees of committment. Some people are there to buy. Some are just browsing. Make sure it's clear where each type of website visitor should go.
Sometimes, I get in a store and I need something. Hey, I need straps for my kayak... where are they? At those times, I'm hoping that someone asks me if I need help when I walk in. Other times, I get in a store to look around and I wish they'd leave me alone. Store owners know that it's best to ask and offer help. If someone doesn't want help, then just leave them alone. This goes for your website, too!
Here's a good article:
What to Include (& Leave Off) Your Homepage (searchenginewatch.com)
She talks about maybe leaving off the home page slide show (she calls it a carousel). Sometimes that's a good idea. We like them because of the reason she mentions... you can say quite a bit in that space with changing pictures (some people call them "rotating pictures" - to me, I hear that and see images spinning out of control like propellers but that's just me). They do their part of confirming with an image that the website visitor ended up in the right place.
You don't want it too long or too cluttered. It's a first impression.
A website is a lot like a first date... you want to make a great first impression and you don't want to be too forward. You want to introduce yourself but also find out about them. You want to be yourself (your brand) and not somebody else. You should leave them wanting to find out more.
Wow, that's a better analogy than I thought. Weird.
Design matters. Getting professionals involved in design really matters.
Today, websites are way more complicated than they used to be. They have to work on tons of different devices using different browsers and websites are expecting to do a lot more than they used to. A one man shop can't handle it anymore. They would have to outsource a lot. When you do that, you lose control and quality / consistency suffers. Go with a website design company that has a team of experts, experience and the right understanding on how to make a successful website.
You can easily spend just as much with a company that doesn't have all those things and you'll get a greatly different result. It's not always about the pricing. It seems to me that a website design company that would write a post about this would probably have their act together.