When a new visitor lands on a website’s homepage through a google search, a referral link via social media, or by directly typing in the URL into their browser, they most likely have a small idea of what to expect when the page loads. A good homepage should meet these expectations and confirm to them they are on the correct website, as well as make them want to engage with the website further.
The first step in designing a great home page is figuring out what the visitors are going to expect when they land on a sites homepage. Will they have previous knowledge on the business? Are they going to expect contact information immediately? Will they want to see text or images? This will vary greatly depending on the type of site, type of business, and type of visitor acquisition. There are a few fundamental things that visitors are going to expect from a home page design, these are:
- Business Logo / Name – Every visitor is going to want to see a visual brand identifier. The business name or logo should be somewhere near the top of the page, to immediately confirm that they are on the correct businesses page. Most visitors will already have some type of visual identity associated with the business, so it should be made prominent.
- Navigation – Every visitor is going to expect a menu to navigate the site. Some designers have been trying to make complex and avant garde navigations, but these only confuse visitors and pull away from the main goal of the site. A website’s navigation is the main point of interaction between visitors and the site, so it needs to be functionally simple and easy to navigate between various pages. The navigation also lets the visitor know which page they are currently on, and what other pages are available, so it’s very important it can be easily seen at all times. This is usually achieved with a “sticky nav” where the navigation will follow the visitor as they scroll down the page.
- Confirming Interest – It’s important to affirm with visitors that they are on the correct site, and that the information they need can be found on the site. A simple paragraph confirming they are on the homepage for a specific business or service is a great way to do this. Another way to confirm a visitor’s interest is to add a tab section or list so that multiple featured services or expectations can be listed. I find list are a great way to add some dynamic content to a site, as well as give visitors short, memorable points to remember about the business.
- Contact Information – Whether to reach out by phone or to inquire directly via a contact form, every visitor should be able to easily access the contact page via the home page. Some businesses that rely heavily on phone calls should go even further and have the phone number directly on the home page. For businesses that rely heavily on online leads through contact form submissions, having a simple contact button in the header or footer can easily allow visitors to navigate to the sites contact form without having to search hard. I always recommend only having one contact form, having multiple contact forms on a website can confuse a visitor and make them wonder if their is a more “formal” contact form they should be submitting from.
- Business Information – When someone comes to a website through a social media link or via a google search it is usually because they have a problem and are looking for a solution from the specific site. By first introducing what the business does and confirming any general questions visitors may have, visitors can find solutions to their problems quicker. Some good things to include are business name, location, hours, and services offered. This allows visitors to know whether you will be a good fit for their problem, if you are currently available to assist with their problem, and if you are in their local area.
After we know what the visitors should expect from the website, we can begin working on layout. In a similar regard, a lot of layout options will rely heavily on the visitors prior expectations on how the information should be laid out (Every notice how social media sites all look a little bit alike?). Anytime we do not meet a visitor’s expectations, it means they are having to search for extra information on their own and with more effort. It’s similar to going into someone’s house and trying to find the silverware drawer for the first time, sometimes you can expect where it will be, and that’s always rewarding on it’s own. By placing certain items in expectable locations, we can increase the odds of visitors already knowing where to expect certain information, leading to a more streamlined and enjoyable user experience. For example, the menu for the website should 99% of the time contain the business logo, name, and website navigation. Adding Social Media and phone numbers to a Top Bar (bar directly above main navigation) is becoming more popular, allowing visitors to easily access a business’s social profiles.
But what about what I want the visitor to see and do?
Just as important as expectations, a great homepage design should invoke interest in the site and encourage users to explore. A big problem I encounter a lot is a clients will think that they need to answer every question a visitor may have on the homepage, but that’s not true, you simply want to grab the visitor’s attention, confirm they are on the right site, and then present them with a new direction or solution. This can be achieved through asking a question or directing the users flow.
Questions are good because it encourages users to look for a solution. A question can be presented by asking the visitor a direct question “Are you looking for cheaper..” or by introducing information that makes the user question their current situation “In 2016, Google reported that more than 60% of sites were not up to…”. Both of these will make the user question their current situation and want to seek an answer. By directly placing these questions in front of the visitor, we can help direct them to the information we want them to see. This is where a large CTA button “save money today” or a link to an internal page with more information can be used. This is great because you can create very detailed and optimized page designs without impeding on the overarching design of the homepage.
Direction encourages users to follow a specific path. This is usually achieved by presenting content in specific orders or with optimized designs. If the focus of the homepage is to encourage users to visit a single page, the page shouldn’t contain a lot of distracting links that point to other pages. By presenting users with less options to exit the page, we can encourage them to visit specific pages. To give more emphasis to specific items, I like to make use of negative space so that the visitors eyes are directed to the content we want to display. This can be dramatically emphasized with great use of photography. Another way to direct users is by creating a story. For a standard home page, I like to open with an introduction of the business, the services offered, an informational section on a specific selling point, and then end with a contact form or CTA to the featured service/product.
By using both methods above, we can encourage the visitor to look for further information throughout the site or to contact the business directly. By using creative layouts and engaging content, we can further direct the flow of the users by calling out specific items or by framing specific points with unique layouts.
A great layout is only half the battle, as the corresponding design will either emphasise the content or hide it. Using images that are high resolution and have clean compositions work great to showcase textual content. Too often I see websites using images with close subjects, or backgrounds that contain large faces that grab your attention and distract you from the content. Every image on a website should be carefully chosen to perfectly compliment not only the layout of the site but the narrative of the content. Images should be chosen for subject matter, color pallette, resolution, and usability. While some pictures look great, not all websites are fit for websites.
Some examples of bad website backgrounds:
Too colorful/HDR, lens distortion, a lot of stuff going on.
Images at night don’t usually look that great especially with long exposures.
I try to avoid images that contain people, the human eye naturally sees faces and has a hard time looking at them.
Similar to faces, people have a hard time seeing text in imagery and not letting it go.
Some examples of good website backgrounds:
Backgrounds off walls or with simple textures look great with a simple color overlay.
Repeating backgrounds are great and work with most foreground content
Forest and trees are great backgrounds, especially when clouds are involved.
Sunsets and silhouettes give great dark areas of contrast that work great with light text.
Having a clear Call To Action (CTA) is the #1 most important part of any homepage design. When a visitor lands on a homepage, they should always have an easy exit path. They shouldn’t have to guess which link they think is most important, they should be presented with a direct path to the content they need. Visitors should feel as if they are personally be walked through your business and getting the answers to the questions they need. By presenting them with a CTA, we can encourage them to follow a predetermined path that is optimized for generating sales or leads. A call to action can be as simple as a “Call Now!” text or a large full-screen section with a button that takes them to the purchase page that is designed to capture sales.
The final item that makes a good home page great is identity. A good homepage will get visitors to make a purchase, a great homepage will get users to keep coming back. Having a homepage that is memorable and has a unique design will establish your business with the visitor and create a memorable experience. When users find a website they enjoy using, they are much more likely to use it over another site that offers the same services but with a worse online experience.