Your site's home page is often the first
contact that visitors have with your site.
A good home page helps turn casual visitors
into repeat visitors - or even customers!
Do you know what visitors want - or don't
want - to see on your home page?
Keep Your Visitors Awake
Many sites waste valuable space on their
home pages with either a "welcome message
from our CEO!" or an interminable mission
statement - sometimes both. Most often,
that's about as interesting as reading the
tax code, so visitors nod off before the
page even finishes loading. Unless he's
just been indicted, few visitors are
interested in a company's CEO. Give him
his own vanity page and bury it deep in the
But your mission statement can be useful in
one respect. Use it to distill your Web
site's purpose into a single compelling
statement that contains important keywords.
Then feature that one-liner prominently on
your home page. For instance,
MarsupialWorld.com might say: "The World's
Largest Selection of Marsupial Statues!" -
a phrase that's sure to entice any
collector of kangaroo or opossum art.
Use that one statement to pique visitors'
interest and encourage them to scan the
rest of your home page to see exactly what
you have to offer.
Make It Short And Simple
Visitors want useful information that is
served up quickly in usable, scannable
chunks. Don't expect them to scroll down
through 3 or 4 screens to find out about
your products. Instead, try to fit your
entire home page on a single screen.
Be succinct: you're writing for the Web.
Visitors have different
expectations when they read online than
they do when reading printed materials.
It's also more tiring to read online, so
make it easy for visitors to find the
information they want:
- Bulleted items:
People often scan these first
and ignore text in paragraph
form, so include your most
important points in bullet
lists. You can even create
custom bullets for more
- Clearly defined
sections: Use color, header
tags, or horizontal rules
to structure your page into
- Columns: These are
easier to scan than long lines
of text that spread across the
- Short paragraphs:
Make your major point early in
the paragraph because people
often won't read the entire
Use these techniques to briefly describe
what you're offering and explain why it's
valuable. Then provide links so visitors
who want more information can go deeper
into the site. Your home page is the
appetizer that makes visitors hungry for
Tell Them Where To Go
An understandable, easy-to-use navigation
system is crucial because visitors hate to
get lost on a site. Frustrated visitors
leave and never come back. Take steps to
make sure this doesn't happen on your site:
navigation: Give visitors multiple
navigation options to avoid
locking out visitors using
assistive technologies, PDA's,
or non-graphical browsers.
Navigation with image maps or
long as you always include text
navigation as well. Keyboard
shortcuts are very useful
to visitors who use keyboard
navigation instead of a
- Search function:
Visitors love to be able to
search a site to find the exact
information or product they
want. Fortunately, you don't
have to be a coding wizard to
include one. Some Web hosts
provide them; other free
sources include Google, and
Learn more about how Web site
search tools work at the SearchTools.com
- Site map: This is a
must for large, complex sites -
but it's often helpful for
small sites that cover a
variety of topics or whose
organizational structure isn't
obvious. By the way, search
engine spiders love them
because a site map helps them
index the entire site.
Your site navigation has to be easy to use.
You're wasting your time tantalizing
visitors with exciting copy on your home
page if they get lost while trying to learn
Earn Their Trust
Visitors can't see you; they'll probably
never meet you in person, or even speak to
you over the phone. That means they have
to be extra comfortable with your site
before they're willing to buy anything.
Include the following on your home page to
increase your visitors' confidence:
- Company name, address,
and phone number: You'd
think this would be automatic,
but many sites don't include
this vital information. Many
visitors hesitate to do
business with a company that
won't provide a phone number.
Search directory editors look
for contact information too;
they may reject your site if
you don't provide it.
- Contact email
address: Always provide a
contact email address, but be
careful to avoid the dreaded email
spiders that harvest your
address for spammers!
- Customer ratings:
Sites such as BizRate, eBay,
and ResellerRatings allow
customers to rate a Web site's
sales and service level. If
you're a member, be sure to
prominently list your high
rating with these services and
provide links so visitors can
see for themselves. Careful
online shoppers do use these
- Testimonials: Don't
go overboard, but a few
well-chosen statements from
happy customers add credibility
too. You might place them in
the margin or inside pull
quotes for emphasis.
Don't forget to emphasize your site's
accessibility on the home page and link to
the site's accessibility policy. Visitors
with disabilities are loyal consumers who
spend twice as much time on the Internet as
people without disabilities. Show them you
want their business!
Don't Break Anything!
Finally, your home page has to work when
visitors load it. You may have the coolest
Flash animation ever, but don't expect
visitors to download a plug-in just to view
it. Yes, you do want the page to look
good, but avoid advanced technologies
unless you're specifically marketing to a
segment sure to have all the latest goodies
That's a pretty small segment of the
consumer audience. The bulk of your
visitors just want to see a page that loads
fast, looks attractive, and has useful
information. That's not too hard - if you
finish these three tasks:
- Select good colors:
Good color combinations give
contrast and emphasis to
important points. Avoid
red/green combinations; they
cause problems for colorblind
link colors make navigation
- Use images wisely:
Make sure the images actually
advance the purpose of your
site. Most visitors want to
read information, not read
pretty pictures that increase
download time unnecessarily.
Optimize all your images before you post them.
- Correct errors:
Even simple HTML
coding errors can break
your page: forget to close a
TABLE tag and Netscape may not
display the table at all!
Validate all your HTML code.
Beginning webmasters spend a lot of energy
trying to attract visitors. Unfortunately,
some don't consider what visitors see once
they get to the site. Yes, you certainly
want to invite visitors to your site, but
more importantly, you want them to stay -
and keep coming back.
Your home page is your front door. Make it
as useful and inviting as possible.