Congratulations on your decisions to carve out your own little chunk of cyberspace! One of the next things you need to do is give thought to what your home page is going to look like. This is important since this first impression will immediately either tell a visitor that they’re in the right place, or send them to their Back button faster than a fox on a hound hunt.
You should first consider what your website is about, and the nature of your target visitor. What are they going to be looking for when they come to your website, and what sort of things are going to appeal to them and tell them that you’re the kind of place they’re looking for? Write all this down on a piece of paper (seriously). There’s something magical about being able to actually see this in writing.
If you were looking for your site, what would you do? It is likely you would start with a search engine such as Google or Yahoo so I suggest you do just that. Type your keywords in and do some research on your competition. What do you like about their site? What made you want to leave in a hurry? This is a valuable yet free education into things that can help make your website successful.
You’ve probably noticed how some website look like a parking place for ads. You probably don’t want to be that guy. It can be very hard to find what the site has to offer when any meaningful value is buried under all that busy advertising. First impressions are vital – one click of the back button and your visitor is gone for good. If all that fills your browser window is a large header graphic followed by a bunch of ads, would you stick around? I wouldn’t, either.
I’m all for adding income streams such as Adsense to your site but limit the advertising on your home page to some discreet links near the bottom of the page. If your website visitor has read down to the bottom of the page and not found what they were looking for then certainly offer them some alternatives, but don’t hurry their departure either.
While it may seem pessimistic to consider your visitor leaving when they have only just found your site, don’t miss an opportunity to encourage them to return. Make sure you have a simple signup form on your home page and offer visitors something useful. This may be a newletter to keep them informed of your latest offers, or perhaps even an ecourse, for example. This is the only circumstance when a pop-up may be appropriate on your home page, but pop-ups can get you in trouble with a lot of places like FaceBook for example, so think twice before using them, and always understand the terms of service of any advertising program.
What is your target visitor looking for? If they are shopping around for the best price on a product to order, then they may not care so much about who you really are as a person – even if you’re awesome! However if you are offering a service of some kind, or providing some other type of value, then you really want to give this some thought. You will want a welcoming head and shoulder photo of yourself with your name and contact details in plain view. Let them know who you are, and emphasize values that will likely appeal to your target audience so they feel like you’re part of the same crowd.
Graphics are great for “window dressing” on a site and making it more appealing. Graphics can also slow down your page’s load time. Have you ever given up when a page was too slow to show? Do you care that there may well have been a fantastic visual feast if you had waited longer? Graphics can also be really critical, though, if you need to showcase a product. You need good quality pics of the outside of the package as they’ll receive it, the items contained inside, and perhaps action-shots of the item in use in typical scenarios so that they can visualize themselves using it. In such pics, try not to show the faces of people using the item, since you want your visitors to picture themselves as being the ones in the pictures.
Back to your piece of paper and work out where you want your visitor to go next. Try and keep the links from your main page at 5-10 only. There is such a thing as too much choice and too many options can give the impression that little of your site will offer what your visitor really wants. Would you spend time reading through lots of options when it is easier to click away and start again with another of the 8 billion sites competing for your attention? Not only are fewer links less confusing for your visitor but again less links mean a faster load time for your page. Work out the logical groups for your site’s information then link to these group menus from your home page.
What’s the color scheme for your site? Do you want something vibrant to inspire action? Are calming pastels that instill confidence closer to your goal? You will want to keep within a simple palette of colors thoroughout your site so it does not seem disjointed so consider your site livery carefully. Don’t overdo color, either, since it can make your site very ‘busy’.
Finally, think about your home page like your shop window for people passing by on the street. Does it have classy design appeal, or look like a discount shop? This may affect whether people stay on your website. Everybody wants to psychologically associate upwards in society, so giving your website a classier look even if you offer bargain merchandise will make them feel like they’re getting a better deal if your sales copy and marketing messages are structured correctly. Keep your homepage clean, clear and simple so your website visitors feel welcome and right at home on your site.