DISCLAIMER: I’m not a graphic designer – and am in awe of their talent. I dabbled a bit when I was younger and went to art school for a year, but I wasn’t very good. So what qualifies me to pontificate about the design of website home pages (or any other page, come to that)?
I’ve spent years studying what stops people reading a perfectly crafted message – and it’s all to do with how the message is presented to them.
You can have an attractive website, with a powerful message and lots of traffic, but find it still isn’t working. So what is the problem?
There can be many things that dislodge the visitor without them discovering what they need to know to make a decision and contact you. After all, there was a reason they came to your website – why didn’t they follow through?
Above the fold
The fold is an old newspaper term to indicate what people see at first glance without having to unfold the newspaper. Old broadsheet newspapers were always in racks folded in half, so only the top half of the page was visible – and when your visitor arrives at your website only the top of your home page is visible. They have to scroll down to see any more.
What is visible at first glance needs to grab their attention and reassure them that this website is going to deliver the information they are looking for. That means that the headline needs to be clear and engaging and the image needs to support that message.
- Candyfloss images that have little to do with the core subject or don’t make sense to the visitor (it doesn’t matter if you know what the picture is about, if the reader needs much more information to make sense of it).
- Headlines that don’t mean much as the first point of engagement.
- Moving images that move too quickly for the visitor to digest properly (they can be irritating at best, stressful at worst).
- Call to action buttons – it’s too soon to ask people to get in touch, they need to know a bit more first.
- No phone number visible. Some people are just looking to get in touch – don’t make it hard for them to contact you. Put your contact info into your banner, the right-hand end is where most people look for this.
- Menu tabs with obscure names. Stick to the obvious – people don’t need to have to think about it, so ‘About’ not ‘Who we are’. Is ‘Work with us’ your recruitment section or an invitation to clients to engage you?
Below the fold
Another headline helps to keep people engaged – especially if it features a pain or gain that they’re looking for help with.
I always recommend that a home page features a short introduction before inviting people to move to specific pages. This gives you an opportunity to reassure the reader that they’re in the right place. It doesn’t have to be long; it can be just a paragraph or two.
This is usually the point where you offer the visitor clickable links to move them to specific pages related to their needs – in other words your products or services in particular categories.
- Dark backgrounds with lighter writing. This is much harder for the brain to process and reduces comprehension quite a lot. If you want people to get your message don’t make it difficult for people to read!
- Faint grey text on a white background. Don’t make people squint to read your message. 90% black is optimum, but no less than 80% black.
- Headlines all in capitals. Capitals aren’t read as easily as lower case, so big and bold, but sentence case works best.
- Very wide text columns. If your content is 12 point, aim for a maximum of 100 characters per line. Reading text with very long lines is uncomfortable on a bigger screen and makes it more likely that people will skip a line or reread the same line.
- Hyperlinks embedded in text for key pages. If people are using a smartphone, hitting a small piece of text accurately is harder than a nice big box or button!
- Too many options. When you’re inviting people to move to another page, don’t give them too many to choose from. Three or four is usually enough.
What else should be on your home page?
This is personal preference, but my advice would be:
Testimonials: Make them big enough to read comfortably. And, if you go for one of those scrolling marquees (where several testimonials flip or slide away) make sure that they stay still long enough for the visitor to read comfortably.
About: It’s quite common to have the beginning of your About page somewhere below your core offerings. Typically it will only be the first paragraph or two and usually has an image alongside. If you’re a consultant or offer any kind of personal service this will be you, if you’re a bigger organisation it might be something relevant to your business – like a storefront or team shot.
Blogs: A blog is a great way to add fresh content and keep your website higher in the search engine’s attention, so it’s handy to remind people of it. Typically, your last 3 posts with a thumbnail of the image and headline are enough. Don’t let your web designer add part of the text, the headline should be good enough to draw people in and lots of text just starts to make the page look untidy.
Sign up form: If you have a lead magnet that you offer in exchange for a name and email address, this should feature well up your home page. If it’s hidden at the foot of the page most people won’t see it. These days an image of your lead magnet with a button is enough, so the form only appears when someone clicks the button, but it should either be immediately below the fold (usually to the right of the text) or even in the main image above the fold.
Check out your website and see if you can improve your home page to keep your visitor longer and give them what they want quickly and easily.