by Dan Lenehan
Let’s face it: not all of us were blessed with great design skills. I certainly wasn’t, and if asked to design a website’s homepage, I’d probably forgo any attempt at fancy ornamentation and stick with the safest, most conservative approach I know. I imagine many business owners would do the same. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A website’s homepage doesn’t have to be a work of art for it to create a positive first impression on visitors.
Too often, though, a site’s homepage is neither a work of art nor does it create a good first impression. There are three common pitfalls we see on a lot of homepages that either make the site less appealing, harder to navigate, or both. Consequently, visitors to the site are less likely to become customers than they might otherwise. Fortunately, these mistakes are all easily avoidable.
1. Stuffing the homepage with too much information
The acronym “TMI” isn’t just useful when someone shares more about their personal life with you than you care to know. It’s also helpful in designing a website and considering how to organize the content in it. In many cases, website creators end up putting most of their content on the homepage, leaving the other pages rather sparse. This has the effect of lengthening the homepage considerably (as indicated by the “incredible shrinking scroll bar” when the page is loading) and cluttering it with an overwhelming amount of content. More often than not, the few pieces of really important information on the page get lost in the noise.
My advice: keep your homepage clean. Figure out the most important content (whether text, images, a video, other kinds of content, or a combination) to show on the page and include just that. Embrace empty space; don’t feel like you need to fill every gap with something. And keep an eye on the scroll bar to the left. If it starts getting small (use your judgment on what “small” means), look at removing some content from the page or reorganizing the content to make the page shorter. Remember, you have other pages to add content to–use them!
Limiting the content on your homepage will also help you keep the most important information “above the fold,” that is, where people can see it without scrolling down the page.
2. An overabundance of text
When we think about building websites for our businesses, we often start by thinking about what we want to say about our business: the words to describe what we do, what services we offer or products we sell, what makes us different. But text isn’t the only way to show what you do and what your business is all about. Photos, slideshows, videos, social media, and other kinds of content can do this as well, sometimes more effectively.
People tend to respond more immediately and strongly to images than text, so it’s likely that an image showing some aspect of what you do or what defines your business will have a stronger effect on a visitor to your site than a paragraph that aims to convey the same thing.
Again, my advice: when planning what content to put on your homepage, think about balancing text with images, videos, or other more visual content. Ask yourself what impression you want to create on the homepage, and think about imagery that might create that impression for site visitors. If you don’t have images already that you would want to show on your homepage, consider hiring a local photographer or look at stock image sites such as Fotolia and iStockPhoto, where you can license high-quality images for as little as $10.
3. Not providing clear calls to action or conversion paths
What’s the purpose of your website? If you’re a small business, it’s probably not just to tell people about what you do. You want your site to bring you new customers. Assuming that’s the case, you need to give visitors to the site compelling reasons to contact you or buy your products or services and make it as easy as possible for them to do that. Calls to action are useful in this regard.
A call to action is simply a prompt, typically with an incentive for contacting you or making a purchase at that moment. Limited-time offers are common calls to action, and they’re effective because they create a sense of urgency for the prospective customer. If a visitor to your website is on the fence about contacting you or buying the product or service you’re selling, seeing that they’ll save 15% if they purchase by a near-future date may be what makes them decide to buy. Limited availability also makes for a good call to action and creates a sense of urgency as well.
Calls to action come in many forms. Yours might be a sentence in an Article module, an image of a coupon in a Picture module, or a countdown timer added through the Freeform Editor. Images tend to make for good calls to action because they stand out more than text. In any case, it’s important that your calls to action are prominent on the page so that visitors to your site will immediately see them.
Just as important is giving site visitors an easy way to contact you. Displaying your phone number in the site header is a no-brainer, unless you don’t want people calling you. Adding a contact form to your homepage is also effective; I wrote in a recent blog post about evidence showing how effective it can be. You can also use the Subscribe module to let site visitors leave you their email addresses, allowing you to stay in touch with them and generate ongoing business.
Once again, my advice: consider what calls to action would be appropriate for your business and website and find a way to add them front and center on your homepage. Also think about how you want prospective customers to get in touch with you and make it as easy as possible for them to do that from your homepage.
By avoiding these three common mistakes, you’re likely to be more successful in converting website visitors to customers. And who wouldn’t like that?