Practical Ecommerce

The Home Page: Putting Your Best Foot Forward

You never get a second chance at a first impression. Or so the saying goes. Perhaps that’s the reason that website home pages are the most focused on by designers and marketers. In this case, I’m quite happy to agree with conventional wisdom. Having an effective home page is critical to setting the scene for a visitor, and can strongly influence conversion rate.

Here are five common home page mistakes that can be easily fixed.

Being all things to all people

In most cases, the web is a niche-marketing tool, and a common mistake is to cast the net too wide. I understand that as business owners we’re reluctant to exclude any possible customers, but in the case of the web it’s much more effective to specify your niche and target that effectively, than to try to provide something for everyone.

When I work on client projects, I try to create ‘instant affinity’ on the home page – that is to make your target audience instantly feel like they’ve arrived “at the right place”. The visuals, layout, colors, as well as the headlines, and taglines all contribute to this instant affinity. Most sites targeted toward hobbies tend to do this instinctively – visit a site for cycling enthusiasts and it’s pretty obvious who the target is – but business sites generally don’t fare as well.

Take a fresh look at your home page – is it obvious that you’re targeting stay-at-home moms, logistics managers, Harry Potter fans, or whoever your target audience is?

Too much, too soon

Some homepages dive right in and provide a ton of content (presumably in an effort to sell products). In general, I think this is a mistake. I tend to think of a homepage as more of an introduction. When I work on sites, I often replace masses of copy with a single ‘positioning statement’. This positioning statement is usually no more than 20’ish words that describe what the site is all about. You might have done exercises in seminars or from business books that have you describe your business in 20 words; this is the same sort of thing. This way, most home pages can be created without the need for a visitor to scroll to see the entire page.

Links galore

Another similar problem is providing too many links on your home page. I’m a believer in the Pareto Principle (you’ve also heard it called the 80:20 rule), which suggests that 80% of your site visitors are looking for 20% of your content. The job of your homepage then, is to provide rapid access to these key sections of content. Direct links to additional content can safely be placed beyond the home page – which has the effect of simplifying your site experience for the vast majority of your visitors.

Another key thought here is that you can provide additional focus on the links that you want your visitors to take. For instance, if you know that your ‘monthly special’ does a great job of converting firsttime customers, then you can increase the prominence and appeal of this offer, by providing fewer competing links. You’ll also find that fewer links tend to provide a cleaner, crisper appearance that has a positive impact on the overall perception of your site.

Flash-tastic

I understand that five years ago, having a Flash(y) website was considered unique and appealing – today it’s just annoying. Flash animations that run before a page launches, as well as very flashheavy pages generally just provides a distraction from what the site is really about. Adding too many bells and whistles is a problem that can arise from having graphic designers or programmers in charge of what is in reality a marketing project. Don’t get me wrong, designers and programmers play a key role, but design and programming should be subject to, and in support of, the overall marketing goals of a website.

My cat and me

At the risk of being viewed as anti-animal, I’m afraid that I have to veto any pictures of you and your pet from your homepage (actually from your entire site). This falls into a category of errors that I tactfully call ‘home-made’, but in reality are just plain amateurish.

Other errors like this can include:

  • Repeated ‘patterns’ as a background
  • Poorly designed or pixilated logos or other graphics
  • Excessive use of Times Roman font
  • Colored fonts on black backgrounds
  • Animated gifs for email or other links

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that any use of Times Roman is a bad thing, or that using a black background is always a bad decision – but I am suggesting that poorly designed sites often include these sort of tell-tale signs that they are home-made.

The loss of credibility from issues such as these can be hard to recover from, and when every dollar spent on-line is strongly competed for, you simply can’t afford to be making these types of errors. So, don’t slouch, tuck your shirt in, put your best foot forward, and make the best first-impression that you can…

Mat Greenfield

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