Attracting targeted traffic to your website is only half the problem. The other half is engaging those visitors once they arrive and converting them into customers. Since most visitors will find their way to your home page, it had better be a conversion powerhouse. How do you create the best home page for your business website?
Create your best home page by thinking like a visitor
If a visitor already knows you and was referred to your website, then the home page design is much less critical. They are already “warm prospects” and will go to extra effort to engage with you via your site, even if it’s painful to do so. So ignore this group.
Focus instead on first-time visitors. They could have arrived from anywhere. They don’t know you. They don’t know what you offer. They don’t know if your offer is for them. They don’t know if they should trust you. And they’re not prepared to spend more than 5 seconds on your site unless you immediately answer these questions for them. Yikes!
The best home page is one that effectively engages these first-time visitors.
The sequential thought process of a new website visitor:
- First impression
Every new visitor proceeds through these steps in sequence.
It doesn’t matter how good your proposition is if your first impression is awful. It doesn’t matter how trustworthy you are if your proposition is unclear. It doesn’t matter how clear your next steps are if you haven’t provided reasons to trust you.
If your home page fails at steps 1, 2, or 3, then your visitor will never take the action (step 4) that you want them to.
1. First Impression
First impressions matter. Studies show that visitors to a web site will form an initial emotional reaction within 1/20th of a second!
They don’t read anything during this short time (they can’t!). The reaction is entirely visual and visceral.
The initial emotional experience is about meeting visitor expectations:
- If they were expecting a service site, does it look professional?
- If they were expecting an entertainment site, does it look fun?
- If they were expecting a product site, does it look like a catalog?
- If they were expecting a blog site, does it look like a collection of posts?
It’s also about demonstrating best practices for web visitors:
- Is the page loading quickly?
- Is your color scheme consistent and visually comfortable?
- Are your fonts consistent and readable?
- Are your logo, navigation bar, page content and links in expected places?
With effort you can create a fantastic first impression, but it’s not necessary. The most important thing at this stage is to not repel your ideal customers by creating an unpleasant or unexpected experience. The best home page provides a coherent experience free of negative surprises.
Bottom line: Don’t give your visitors an emotional reason to leave before they read even one word on your page.
Congratulations. Your first impression was OK, so now the visitor will give you 5 more seconds of their attention. What will you do with that precious time?
You need to do one thing in those 5 seconds — convey your proposition.
An effective proposition answers these critical visitor questions:
- What can I do here?
- How is it special?
- Is it for me?
You can answer these questions with a combination of images and brief text. Well-selected images convey ideas more quickly. Text must be kept very brief and scannable because the visitor hasn’t yet committed to spending the time required to actually read anything.
If you fail to immediately and clearly answer these 3 critical questions, your visitors will likely leave. The internet provides unlimited choices. Every visitor knows that if your website doesn’t meet their needs, they can probably find another one that does.
The best home page convinces a visitor to stop looking. It gets them to say “Wow, I get it! This is just what I was looking for!”
For more on how to create an effective and succinct proposition, I highly recommend “The Irresistible Offer” by Mark Joyner.
Bottom line: Immediately convey your most compelling proposition.
If your proposition connects with a visitor’s needs, they will next look for reasons to trust you. This can be conscious or subconscious on their part.
And if they really like your proposition, they will want to find reasons to trust you. Make it easy for them.
Trust can be conveyed in many ways. You’ve already earned some trust by effectively navigating steps 1 and 2 above. Additional trust building generally comprises professional endorsements and social proof, with the latter being more important for many businesses.
Professional endorsements include:
- Professional degrees
- Industry awards
Social proof includes:
- Case studies
- Client logos
- Social media share counts
- Other numerical customer claims
Which of these is most important for you will depend on your business type.
But in nearly all cases, testimonials and case studies are immensely valuable and should be proudly featured on your home page. When your visitor can see himself or herself reflected in another customer’s raving testimonial or results-oriented case study, that confers immense trust. Include pictures and names to make them more believable.
The best home page gives the visitor clear reasons to trust what you promise in your proposition.
Bottom line: Substantiate your proposition claims with compelling trust-building page elements.
Now that we’ve effectively fulfilled your visitor’s needs, it’s his turn to fulfill your needs. Now he’s ready and willing to engage further with your site. What do you want him to do?
Next actions that can benefit both you and your visitor include:
- Clicking through to begin a flow (such as a wizard) that promises a helpful/needed/fun personalized experience
- Clicking through to read another page that answers further questions or provides more detail about how you address their needs
- Submitting their email address in exchange for access to a helpful download or newsletter
- Subscribing to your RSS feed or social media page
- Submitting a form to request further engagement
- Making a purchase
You need to decide what actions you want your ideal customers to take after landing on your home page. Best is a single action. Next best is a single emphasized action with additional de-emphasized actions.
Why is singular action focus important? Because choices often lead to hesitation and confusion, which lead to clicking the dreaded “Back” button.
Your visitors don’t want to be offered a buffet. And they certainly don’t want to be invited to rummage through your site like a filing cabinet. They want to be led to their ideal experience.
The best home page provides a single, clear, compelling call-to-action button.
For the best book on the subject, read “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.
Bottom line: Know the action that you want your new visitors to take, and lead them clearly to it.
Let’s look at a stellar example of effective home page design: www.freshbooks.com.
I chose FreshBooks because I love their site! I use it for all my business accounting, invoicing and time-tracking. The entire site is designed with the customer in mind, and it begins with a nearly perfect home page.
Let’s look at it through the thought process of a new visitor.
1. First Impression
Loads quickly. Modern. Clean. Great use of a bold primary color (blue). Attractive visual. No nasty surprises. Check.
Unfortunately, it takes a little looking around to piece together the full proposition. But the concise text makes it relatively easy to do:
- Small business accounting
- Accessible in the cloud
- Painless billing
- Easy to use
One thing they could improve is giving a sense of how their solution is better or different than competing cloud accounting solutions. They instead choose to claim that they are the #1 solution and ignore the competition. This is a tried and true old-school marketing approach, so we can’t fault them too much.
The FreshBooks home page oozes trust. And it needs to since it’s about managing your money.
At the top of the page they have:
- Client logos showing they’ve been featured on CNN, Forbes, etc.
- A claim of over 5 million users as solid social proof
Further down the page they have:
- Highly relatable testimonials (with photos) and endorsements
- Conveyed trust via Rackspace and TRUSTe partnerships
- Links detailing Privacy and Security
The action they want you to take is clear: “Try it Free for 30 Days”.
This is emphasized in a strongly contrasting green button, repeated 3 times on the page. You can’t miss it.
And if you aren’t yet ready to sign up? The primary CTA in the middle of the top of the page has exactly the right secondary (de-emphasized) link next to it: “Take a Quick Tour”
If you’re driving targeted customer traffic to your web site, and especially if you’re paying to do so, you need your home page to convert those new visitors into customers.
To do this, you need to understand the sequential needs of your visitors and then design your best home page with them in mind.
Web design is part art and part science, but it’s not magical. Follow these steps, and watch more of your visitors become great customers for your business.
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