Your homepage carries a heavy burden. It often holds brand strategies, corporate communications initiatives, and every marketing and sales message in your company.
• Awareness (Attention)
• Desire (Decision)
Your homepage, in many cases, will be your visitors’ first step toward conversion, or Awareness. It needs to capture the visitors’ attention then quickly move them down the next steps in sequence. The sooner they get closer to their specific reason for visiting, the better. Let’s look at the mind-set of visitors during the awareness stage. After first arriving at your site, their level of commitment is very low and they may click away at any moment. They are looking for reassurance, recognition of their needs and a clear path to follow.
Awareness (attention) is the first step in the decision process
Once you have determined the primary goal of your homepage, look at all the other content that is currently there.
Does it support the primary objective, or is it offering alternative messages? Consider these three rules of Web awareness:
- If the visitor can’t find something easily, it doesn’t exist.
- If you emphasize too many items, all of them lose importance.
- Any delay increases frustration.
Often, too many internal company interests compete for prominence on the homepage. And once something is put on the homepage, it never gets taken off — new items are simply added to the mix. The resulting homepage is a confusing and jumbled mess. Unfortunately, this often leads to a phenomenon known as the “tragedy of the commons.” If you emphasize everything, nothing will be important. By featuring too many items on the homepage, we destroy visitors’ ability to find key information and paralyze them from making a decision.
Serving too many masters Homepages often have multiple objectives stemming from a company’s many departments — highlighting products, partnership announcements, press releases, job opportunities, marketing copy, positioning statements, special offers and welcome messages; in addition to global navigation and menus, email signup forms and, of course, a lot of distracting graphics, videos or animations to emphasize “key” content even more. Take an inventory of your homepage design. What are all the things you are trying to communicate with your homepage? Then think of your business model.
What is the single most important thing you are trying to accomplish with your business? How is that reflected on your homepage? It should be your top priority. Once you have determined the primary goal of your homepage, look at all the other content that is currently there. Does it support the primary objective, or is it offering alternative messages?
- Does HR really need to have job listings on the homepage?
- Does PR really need a ticker showing the latest company press releases to every visitor?
- Does a new product launch aimed at a tiny percentage of your audience merit homepage featured status?
Some of these messages might be very important to the site’s overall success but are not mission-critical content, from your visitors’ perspective. Ultimately, the main focus of your homepage should be on key conversion actions with a measureable impact on company revenue. Other objectives that are identified as important can then be simplified so that there is a logical flow to how they are presented. You first want visitors to focus on the primary goal of your website. Their attention should then follow a streamlined flow to other priority content on the page. But be sure to reduce the number of available options so that users stay focused on their intent, and that the homepage design mimics their thought sequence.
Graphic designers are rarely trained in maximizing conversion. The best ones pride themselves on their ability to be non- conformists, challenging themselves to something new and interesting on every project. That can be deadly to homepage design. Common over-the-top visual elements include vivid background colors and giant photo billboards, distracting text treatments in headlines and buttons, visual embellishments and flourishes on unimportant parts of the page and unnecessary animation or video. Photos of people can be especially distracting, because they immediately draw our attention and can easily overshadow the conversion action.
Anything that moves (like a Flash animation) will have the same effect. When it comes to your homepage design, borrow this important tip from landing page optimization:
Unless a visual element directly supports a key conversion action, it should be removed.
Use visual elements only to focus visitors on a small number of initial objectives, so they are not confused about what they can do on your site. You should also consider, from a business perspective, whether using cool multimedia graphics or video is the best way to communicate your message. Instead, try to use brief text to tell your brand story while focusing your layout on getting visitors to the content that they need. If you have a splash page, remove it. It keeps the visitor from getting to the desired information and you could be losing a good number of your visitors to the “back” button while they wait for your site to load.
There is an important principal called the Platinum Rule that is an excellent motto for your homepage design process: “Do unto others as they want done onto them” (Dr. Tony Alessandro).
Get out of your own head and look at your homepage from your visitors’ perspective. Even good pages can be improved. And keep your graphic designers on a short leash; their creativity should be subordinated to the business purpose of the site. Your goal is to lighten the load of your homepage. Make it accountable to fewer people in the organization by creating a very simple environment for visitors to absorb your message and take action.
Stay focused on getting more people through the first step of the AIDA sales funnel, Awareness. Ultimately, conversion will always trump cool, and a clear and simple homepage design will generate an increased conversion rate that will translate to measurable bottom- line increases.