Designing Your Website’s Home Page

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Designing Your Website’s Home Page

Girl with lollypopIn this instalment of Words that Bite, I look in detail at what to focus on when you are putting together your home page.

When you design your home page, don’t just worry about how it looks but focus on what it says

There is no doubt that one of the most difficult things about putting a website together is deciding on what to include on your home page.

Many people focus on how their home page should look, rather than the actual content. Yep, more often than not, no-one thinks about the words. This is a big mistake.

Why you need to ensure that your home page is ‘sticky’

Obviously, the design of a home page is important. However, the words you use on your home page are what make the page ‘sticky’. More specifically, the words are the tools you use to persuade people to stick around your website. They are also the instruments that will herd visitors through your sales-conversion funnel.

A good design may make people respond to your website in a generally positive way. However, the design isn’t going to persuade them to buy anything.

Why the home page is so important

A home page is crucial because it is the first thing visitors see when they land on your website. In short, first impressions count and, on the web, this maxim applies even more. Online, you rarely get a second chance to dazzle your visitors. Once you’ve lost them, you’ve lost them forever.

Basically, when a visitor arrives at your home page, that person makes a very quick decision whether or not to stick around. The fact is that, online, you only have eight seconds to grab a visitor’s attention.

Where most home pages become unstuck

Most home pages don’t work because they try to say too much in too little space. In short, the biggest decision a business faces about the content of its home page is what to include.

The result?

Well, there seem to be two options many businesses take when faced with the problem of having too much material for their home page.

Option A: Cram it all in

Unsure of what to do when it has a mountain of material it wants to include on the home page, Business A clutters it with information and images.

For the visitor, this approach is like walking into a room and being faced with twenty television sets scattered around it, all tuned to different channels and the volume turned up to the highest level on each one.

The result: the visitor leaves the room as quickly as possible because being there is unpleasant.

Option B: Leave it all out

Also unable to decide what to include, Business B decides to opt for the minimalist approach, and puts nothing on the home page except the name of the business, a picture or a photograph, and a menu bar that doesn’t tell a visitor much at all.

This is like walking into a room and seeing only a black-and-white television set showing a man talking in a soft monotone that is difficult to hear.

The result: the visitor leaves the room as quickly as possible because she or he is bored and doesn’t have the patience to find out what the man is saying.

Ten rules you should follow to make your home page sticky

To ensure that your home page doesn’t end up like either Option A or Option B, here are ten rules I’ve devised to help you make your home page sticky.

Rule No. 1: Tell people what the site is for

On your home page, you need to do the following:

  • Tell visitors what the site is (i.e. tell people what your business does).
  • Tell visitors what the site is for.

Ideally, you should also explain why visitors should hang around your site and not some other one.

In order to get the balance right, you really need to pull back and focus on the big picture. In addition, you need to avoid the temptation to squeeze in background noise on the off-chance that someone is interested.

There are also a few questions you can ask yourself about your home page to test its stickiness:

  1. Does it explain what your business does?
  2. Does it explain what your website does?
  3. Does it explain what your business sells?
  4. Does it explain what a visitor can do here?
  5. Does it explain why a visitor should be here – and not somewhere else?

If you use these questions to narrow down what you should say on your home page, your home page should end up doing two things:

  1. It should tell people what they need to know.
  2. It should keep the extraneous background noise down to a dull roar.

Rule No. 2: Don’t be afraid to state the obvious

Another major problem with many business website home pages is that people forget the need to state the obvious.

Recently, a new and dynamic law firm asked me to look at their website. It was impressive: I loved the concept, I liked the design, and it was clear a lot of thought had gone into the introductory blurb where they talked about their innovative approach to practising law.

However, this law firm had forgotten one key thing: to state on the home page what kind of law they practised or what sort of clients they served.

I got the impression they focused on commercial law and served business clients but, to be honest, I was guessing.

In short, it was impossible for a potential client to tell from the home page whether this law firm could help with their particular legal problem or goal.

Not stating the obvious is a common mistake.

Because we know our businesses so well, we assume that people will understand the purpose of both our business and its website. We think that people will just ‘get’ what is the product or service we are trying to sell.

Basically, you need to assume nothing is obvious to your potential customer and client. You need to make very clear on your home page both the purpose of your business and the purpose of the website.

Rule No. 3: Tell your visitors what to do

One of the fundamental principles of advertising is that every advertisement should contain a ‘call to action’.

Put simply, the ‘call to action’ is telling people what you want them to do. The somewhat perplexing reality seems to be that most people like to be told what to do, especially when it comes to advertising. Yet, despite this, many home pages don’t include a ‘call to action’.

Basically, you need to tell people what you want them to do once they land on your home page. For example:

  • Buy something from your online store.
  • Visit your store in person.
  • Come into your showroom.
  • Call to make an appointment.
  • Sign up to receive an eNewsletter.
  • Visit your café or restaurant.
  • Download your free eBook.
  • Subscribe to a blog.

Rule No. 4: Show your visitors where to go to get what they want

A lot of businesses don’t realise that a home page has to work not only as an online brochure for them, but also as a navigational tool around their website.

In short, a home page needs to show people where to go to get what they want. In addition, it needs to do this quickly and easily.

This is where the menu bars become crucial. You need to spend a lot of time thinking about your menu bars and how they will work to direct visitors to the correct destination. In short, they should operate as signposts for visitors. Obviously, while you are working on your home page, you need to spend a lot of time thinking about the structure of your website, or its information architecture.

Rule No. 5: Include a ‘tease’

A home page needs to be like the cover of a magazine and lure visitors with promises of the treasures inside. In brief, you need to make it enticing.

Content promotion can be used to spotlight the newest, best, or most popular pieces of content, such as top stories and hot deals.

Feature promotion can be used to invite your visitors to explore additional sections of the site, or try out features like personalisation and email newsletters.

Rule No. 6: Include a deal

Ideally, you need to include a deal on your home page, because this helps to get visitors interested in your product or service.

Examples include:

  • A discount for purchasing a product or service within a certain timeframe.
  • A two-for-one deal.
  • A free initial consultation.
  • A members’ club.

Rule No. 7: Include a search box on the home page and make sure it is displayed prominently

Large sites too often don’t display the search box prominently on the home page.

For example, if you have an online store where you are selling thousands of products, a clearly displayed search box can mean the difference between:

  • a visitor quickly and easily finding the product they want and then purchasing it; or
  • a visitor hunting around your website, becoming frustrated because they can’t find what they are looking for, and heading elsewhere.

Rule No. 8: Include shortcuts or quicklinks

More often than not, businesses forget to make life easy for their customers or clients.

If a specific piece of content is particularly popular, it makes sense to include shortcuts or quicklinks to that content.

In short, it is not smart to make your customers or clients hunt for what they want.

Rule No. 9: Come up with a tagline

Lots of businesses don’t have a tagline.

A tagline is a short phrase that summarises a business. It is a particularly useful vehicle for getting your message across, because it usually sits underneath a business’s logo, where visitors to your website expect to find a concise statement of your business’s purpose.

Although it is possible to get away with not having a tagline, and having one might not be appropriate for all businesses, not having one can represent a wasted opportunity, because taglines are a great way of quickly communicating your message to your potential customer and clients.

Rule No. 10: Include your contact details on the home page

It is remarkable how many businesses don’t include their contact details on the home page. Instead, visitors are forced to dig for them.

Your contact details should be in a prominent spot on your home page. I suggest the top right-hand corner under the menu bar, because this is a prime piece of home page real estate.

To summarise:

If you want people to become stuck to your home page and go on to buy your product or service, you need to focus not only on the design of your website but the content (the words). Specifically, you need to make sure that your home page does the following things:

  1. Informs your visitors what your business does and what the site is for.
  2. States the obvious.
  3. Tells your visitors what you want them to do (i.e. buy something, make an appointment, subscribe to a blog, etc).
  4. Shows your visitors where they can get what they want.
  5. Includes a ‘tease’.
  6. Includes a ‘deal’.
  7. Includes a prominently placed search box.
  8. Uses shortcuts or quicklinks to popular material.
  9. Includes a tagline that encapsulates your business.
  10. Displays your contact details.

In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I look at why a bald website is a beautiful website.

Are you too busy running your business to think about your website? Would you like someone to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at

Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.

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