12 Best Practices for an Effective Homepage

A homepage is a virtual front door and your company’s face to the world. It is often a website’s most visited page and serves as your audience’s starting point for understanding who you are and what you do.

Given these high-stakes, each year companies and individuals spend millions of dollars on their homepages alone. And it’s no wonder. It is now common practice to check an organization’s website before deciding to do business — regardless of whether the business takes place on or offline. Right now, potential customers are using your website to determine whether they want to do business with you. This interaction all starts with the homepage making it critically important that you leverage this valuable space.

So, what makes a homepage effective? You need to incorporate elements that attract traffic, educate visitors and invite them to take a desired action.

The idea is simple: Draw in your audience, introduce your offering, and finally, get them to take one step closer to your business goal. Depending on your overall website strategy, this can take several forms: singing up for a membership, downloading a white paper, clicking through to a product page, joining a newsletter or reading an article. The purpose of a homepage isn’t to convert the visitor into a customer, it should just invite them in the door. Once they step inside your other pages will guide them through the rest of their journey.

Here are 12 guidelines we follow when designing a homepage. It’s worth noting that this is not an exhaustive list and not all will apply to every situation. We trust you will find them helpful in focusing your efforts.

1. Make the site’s purpose clear: Explain who you are and what you do (you get 3-5 seconds)

Include a one-sentence tagline or unique value proposition that summarizes what your site or company does. This short sentence should specifically target your audience, indicate what makes your offer unique and set expectations for what the visitor is going to receive by continuing. It’s worth noting: Your visitor is likely to hit the back button if it takes longer than five seconds to communicate this information. Keep it concise.

2. Help users find what they need by focusing on the right people

Unlike other pages on your website where traffic is typically more targeted, on the website homepage your audience will be varied and coming from different origins. This may tempt you to cram everything for everyone onto the homepage. Resist this temptation. The focus of this page should be on the segment(s) of your audience that are the most valuable to your business. Offer a clear starting point for the main 1-4 tasks they’ll undertake when visiting your site. These will be the primary calls-to-action (CTAs) for the page and should be visible on the user’s screen without having to scroll down (referred to as “above the fold”). Where applicable, link these primary CTAs to various stages of the buying cycle.

3. Visually explain what you do

Most people are visual-centric. Use an image or video to quickly convey the primary value proposition. Show photos of real people connected to the topic. Avoid stock imagery or elaborate graphics that could be dismissed as ads.

4. Answer commonly asked questions

Who does your company serve? What are the features and benefits of not just your product or service but of doing business with you specifically? Any common objections? Quickly provide answers to these questions. Link to a product or other internal page for additional details where necessary.

5. Compel visitors to scroll

Homepage content that can only be reached by scrolling (a.k.a. “below the fold”) needs to be visually apparent. People will scroll. But only if they realize there is something to scroll to. Check this on various sized devices (mobile, tablet, desktop).

6. Include secondary Calls-to-Action

Secondary calls-to-action should be included to offer additional interaction opportunities for visitors who are not interested in your primary calls-to-action. These CTAs should be placed below the fold.

7. Feature examples of real site content

Don’t just describe what users will find on your site. Show some of your best or most recent content. If possible, update this featured content regularly and provide an unobtrusive link to an archive of recently featured content.

8. Provide social proof and success indicators

People naturally want to know about others’ experiences when evaluating a company. It helps them in setting their expectations, builds credibility and instills trust. This practice of social proof can take several different forms. Testimonials are the most common — include a few of your best ones. Make sure they are short and link to case studies where applicable. Raw quantity statistics are also good. Indicate how many people are interacting with your product, years you’ve been in business, or number of subscribers. Industry certifications, awards, clients and partners are also forms of social proof. These can be included as a small grouping of logos.

9. Offer resources and valuable content

Most of your website visitors are not ready to buy or become a customer just yet. As mentioned earlier, the majority are doing research. Because of this, it’s important to offer a link to a free resource center where they can learn. Generate leads by offering something valuable: a white paper, ebook, guide, membership, course or newsletter in exchange for contact information. Show your customers why you are the expert in your industry.

10. Make sure navigation is intuitive

Keep navigation simple and visible at the top of the page (and in the footer). The homepage is one of the few places where you can stray from default navigation in order to target audience segments. However, always remain consistent with the navigation’s placement across the entire site. Overall, make it easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for. Include a search box if you can.

11. Group all “about” info into one area

Finding out about you or your company is rarely a user’s first task. They are generally less interested in who you are and more interested in what you can do for them. That said, people do sometimes need these details. A brief “about” section with links to more in-depth information can be presented on the homepage — typically in the footer.

12. Speak your audience’s language

We don’t mean English or Spanish. Rather, be careful to not use industry jargon or any words that could confuse your audience. Unless your target audience has a high aptitude for technical language, (e.g. a website that targets programmers, lawyers, or doctors) all text and calls-to-action should be written with the assumption that technical words are unknown. These are better off accompanied by an explanation or replaced altogether with common alternatives. When in doubt, ask a member of your audience and adjust accordingly. In short, use the words your audience would use.

About the Author:

Dustin Czysz has been working with web technology since late 1997. A big-picture thinker, he has naturally gravitated towards UX design and strategy over the years but will never give up working with code. Dustin lives and works in his family studio in Wisconsin where he co-runs Klovera, a website management, and development agency. Find out more about Dustin on his website and follow him on Twitter.