How to design your home page
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a common English saying and is good advice whether it refers to a book or a person. The challenge with designing the home page of a website is that it’s not really a cover – it’s the cover, table of contents, introduction and conclusion all merged into one and just like with books, visitors will judge your site based on the home page.
There are several priorities when designing your home page, so we’ll start with these:
Don’t use a splash page
A splash page is a page that just says ‘Welcome’ or has an animation that is shown before you enter the site itself. These are best avoided as today’s internet users are impatient and want to get to the information itself. One study said 25% of people click ‘back’ on splash pages and don’t even enter the site. Splash pages are also bad for SEO, as they contain very little text or information for search engines to read. While creating a ‘cover’ for your website may seem like an easy solution, it’s not a good one.
Put a call to action at the top of your page
It may seem counterintuitive, but studies show that adding a call to action (e.g. "sign-up for our newsletter", "contact us" or "download our ebook" at the top of your home page significantly increases your conversion rate. Visitors sometimes want to skip straight to the conclusion!
Create a home page website design that reflects your product
If your site will be visually rich (e.g. you sell photographs, artwork or have lots of product images) then you’re best keeping the overall design a neutral colour (white, grey or black) without too much clutter in the background, so that the images in the foreground stand out.
When considering what colour to make your site, consider how the symbolism reflects on your product. Red is a passionate colour and might work well for cars or sport, but on a property website would look out of place. Green symbolizes nature and stability and could be used to reassure your visitors. Blue has different meanings depending on the hue. A light blue can be relaxing and reassuring, a dark blue gives a website a more corporate feel. You might want to read more on choosing colours for your website’s home page before committing to 2 or at most 3 dominant colours on your site.
Provide everything visitors need
The most common information that’s omitted from a home page is the geographical location. If you’re based in a specific city, or a specific country and are only interested in attracting clients in that location, then mention it on the home page of your website! It’s also important to mention your key selling points and the product or service you offer.
The home page can also draw visitors to specific other sections of your site by using links within the content, or combining images and text to link to relevant sections that first time visitors or regular repeat visitors will want to discover. Ensure that image links are clear and either use well-known symbols or have text that accompanies the image. Avoid ‘mystery meat navigation’ – where visitors are expected to hover over images to see where the image goes. In practice this frustrates visitors who may not make the same connections as the designer does.
Read more on writing content for your website.
Provide everything search engines need
Just as a human visitor needs to be able to tell what your site’s about, it’s also essential for SEO that search engines can tell what your site is about. Search engines can’t read images, so this needs to be in the form of the written word.
For e-commerce websites in particular a lot of people check the SEO for their category and product pages but forget about their website’s homepage. Some things you need to check include:
- A relevant Metatag Title and H1 heading that include your most important keywords.
- A Metatag Description which reads well and will encourage visitors to click your link in search results, rather than someone else’s.
- Sufficient text on the page so that you can include a range of different keywords in there (for e-commerce sites 3 or 4 short paragraphs is enough, for other sites, more is normally better).
- Plenty of links to the rest of your website (keeping the same menus on your homepage as the rest of your site is normally a good idea)
Use relevant Metatags and a H1 heading – A lot of websites omit a H1 heading on the home page and using a H1 title with your most important keywords in it (NOT “Welcome to our site”) will help your website appear higher with search engines.
What not to put on your home page
There are some things that shouldn’t be included on your home page design and should either be omitted entirely, or placed on an internal page. You should avoid:
- Excessive links to other websites on your home page, for every link you add there, ask yourself “Is this something I want my visitors to click?” If you have a Facebook profile or Twitter page, only link to them if you really want your visitors to go to them, not if all the relevant content is on your website itself. Similarly avoid links to ‘authority’ statements, such as “PayPal authorised retailer”. If you feel making these statements helps, leave them in, but ask yourself if you really need them to include links.
- Google Adwords or similar adverts – Compare how much you get from adverts on your site to how much business you might lose from people clicking these adverts and you will probably conclude that they’re not worth it. The exception is if you offer a free service and your main revenue is from the adverts themselves.
Before starting to create your home page design, ask yourself what your key selling points are and what essential information you need to include. Don’t create it as if it was a book cover, but more as if it’s the front of a shop – clearly showing what you provide and enticing people to enter and discover more.