Home page design can be challenging for some. Should they look the same as the other pages of your site? What content should you include? What exactly is the goal of your home page? With all the different ways someone might enter your site is the idea of a home page even relevant any more?
Home pages don’t have to be difficult. The key to creating them is to first understand the goals of the page and then design the page to meet those goals. Your home page has 3 main questions it needs to answer and answering these questions is the goal of your page.
- What is this site about?
- Where can I go next?
- What’s new here?
We’ll talk about each in detail in a bit. You can also think of 3 different types of people visiting your home page
- 1st time visitors
- Repeat visitors
- 1st time or repeat visitors reorienting themselves within your site
What is this Site About?
Answering this question is the primary goal of any home page. When a first time visitor lands on your site the first thing they want to know is if they’re in the right place. They’ve likely visited with some goal or task in mind and before spending any time trying to achieve that task they need to determine if there’s a possibility for success.
Naturally this is also more important for 1st time visitors to your site than repeat visitors, but before anyone can become a repeat visitor they need to be a 1st time visitor.
You can’t tell a new visitor everything that’s on your site in a single page, but you can at least let them know what they’ll likely find.
If you offer web design services make that clear immediately. If you blog about pet nutrition, make that clear immediately. What ever it is that sums up what you do, make sure that information is immediately obvious to anyone visiting your site.
An easy way to do this is through a logo and tagline. I’ll point to my own logo and tagline as an example. The site name is Van SEO Design. The last two words (seo and design) are descriptive of what this site is about. The tagline, “people friendly and search engine friendly web design,” expand on the description in the name.
Of course, there are other ways you can answer the what is this about question. Your pet nutrition site could have images of pets for example. You can also write a sentence or two telling people exactly what your site is about. If you design websites, tell people you design websites.
Don’t be afraid to tell people what the site is about, though don’t try to tell them everything. The goal is to quickly let the visitor know they’re in the right place. If your visitor can’t tell what your site is about in a few seconds they’ll be off to the next site.
One last thing to consider here is how well your site is branded. I’ve never been to Nike’s website, but I have a pretty good idea what Nike is about. As long as I see the name or the swoosh prominently on their home page, I’ll know I’m in the right place. Most of us though don’t have the brand of Nike and will have to do a little more. That’s one of the advantages of building a brand.
Where Can I Go Next?
The next question you need to answer is where can your visitor go next. This is important for both new and repeat visitors. Having determined they’re in the right place visitors want to find what they’re looking for.
Your home can only do so much. Your visitors are going to need to see more than your home page to decide to buy from you or hire you. You need to get them deeper into your site.
The main thing here for repeat visitors is to provide a consistent navigation across your site. Make it easy for them to get to where they want to go and otherwise stay out of their way. Search functionality may also help.
Consistent navigation and search can also help 1st time visitors, but even better on the home page is to quickly highlight main sections of the site. This helps answer the what is this site about question while also leading people quickly to where they can go next.
Think about who your visitors are and what they want to accomplish on your site. Find a way to highlight where the visitor can achieve his or her goal and get them there as quickly as possible. Don’t assume everyone will dig through your navigation to find what they want. Direct people to the places they want to go.
You can highlight sections of your site based on your business priorities, your visitor’s likely tasks, your visitor’s personalty types or ideally all three. Choose a primary, secondary, and one or two tertiary goals and direct visitors to them.
Answering this question will be most important to repeat visitors as they’ve been to your home page before and have already absorbed what’s there. Everything on the page is new to 1st time visitors, however, showing 1st time visitors what’s new lets them know the site is active and maintained.
Repeat visitors have been to your site and know what’s there and after a time know how to find things. Showing them “what’s new” increases their interest and rewards them for coming back
Presenting “what’s new” is similar to highlighting sections for 1st time visitors. You’re highlighting what may not have been there the last time they visited and helping them get there quickly. You might also highlight sections of your site that don’t seem to get visited as often as you’d like or that may not be as obvious to find.
You can take “what’s new” a step further and show your visitors “what’s coming.” This can help build anticipation and make another visit more likely. I can visit your site anytime and see what you’ve been up to recently. If you tell me that next Tuesday you’ll be offering a new version of your application or you’ll be posting something I’m interested in, I’m more likely to visit next Tuesday as opposed to sometime in the future.
If you sell products you might have a section for “featured products” or the month’s discounted items. Each rewards people for coming back to your site and gives them something different than the last time they visited.
Example Home Pages
I’ve shown three screen shots of home pages above and below in this post, the current home page here, the atebits.com home page, the apple.com home page, and the home page of Enviro Media Inc.
Van SEO Design
I pulled the home page here, because I tried to do everything I talked about above when creating it. I’ve already mentioned the logo and tagline. Right below both is the heading of the page, which is essentially a rewrite of the tagline. It’s clear in telling you what this site is about and it’s one of the first things you see.
Below this heading there are three boxes, one for my design services, one for my seo services, and one for the blog.
Moving to the right you see the sub-navigation for the section, which is connected to the main navigation for the site The far right is all about what’s new. There are icons to subscribe to the blog as well as popular and recent posts.
It may not be the best home page out there, but it does answer all three questions.
The atebits home page does a great job of directing visitors to any of the three products the site offers. If you’ve visited the site it’s likely that you’re there for one of those products.
Highlighting those products also helps make clear what the site is about. There isn’t any what’s new content on the page, but there is a link to the blog.
Apple’s home page is frequently changing. The basic look is always the same, but the content varies over time to emphasize one product or another. The design itself is set up to quickly direct you to one of these products.
The name of the site isn’t mentioned and the logo is hardly emphasized, serving double duty as the home page link. However Apple is a very strong brand and you’d likely already know you were in the right place landing on their site.
Still pretend for a moment you didn’t know the brand do well. The images alone would be enough to let you know what the site was about.
Envira Media Inc.
I discovered Envira Media Inc. by looking through some gallery sites and chose it here to see how quickly I could determine what the site was about and where to go next.
The name Envira does give a sense of something environmental.
The first thing you see is the text “We plant dreams and ideas. Then grow successful business models.” Words like “plant” and “dream” also convey an environmental theme and “grow successful business models” leads to thoughts of startups.
Reading the very first paragraph of the content we see:
Envira Media is dedicated to sustainability. We support and fund environmentally sound business models, as well as manage some of the best socially responsible sites online.
That’s very clear and in a matter of seconds we know what the site is about.
The site also uses consistent navigation and if you scroll down on the home page you see sections for Recent Events and Recent Launch, which I presume are updated periodically.
The home page answers our three questions well and quickly.
Are Home Pages Still Relevant?
Is your home page really the 1st page someone is going to visit? Can’t someone enter your site through any page? If every page of your site is potentially the 1st page a visitor sees, how relevant is it to have a dedicated home page?
In preparing this post I thought it would be interesting to check the stats for this site and see how often the home page is visited 1st and visited in general. The information below is for the last month.
- The home page was the 10th most popular landing page accounting for 1.52% of all landing pages
- The top landing page for the month accounted for 25.75% of all landing pages
- The home page was the 8th most visited page on the site accounting for 2.54% of all page views
- The most popular page on the site accounted for 21.15% of all page views
- Half of the top 10 pages in terms of page views were recent blog posts that have a lot of traffic for a few days before trailing off
- Page views to the home are relatively consistent from day to day
- If I remove the short term early traffic for blog posts the home page is the #3 most visited page on the site and the #4 landing page
- The home page has a low bounce rate, a low exit rate, and visitors spend a fair amount of time on the page on average
While my home page isn’t the top landing page it’s still a fairly popular entry point for this site. That it rises in popularity when looking at page views shows that many people entering on another page still click to visit the home page.
Some will argue that home pages aren’t that important since they aren’t the first page people see most of the time. I suspect that while they may not be the first page people see they might very well be the 2nd or 3rd page seen. How often have you visited a page of a site, liked it, and then immediately clicked to the home page to learn more about the site?
I’d also suggest that home pages serve to reorient people within a site. You enter a site on some random page and click around exploring. At some point you want to orient yourself within the site, which you do by visiting the home page.
Home pages are still very relevant, even if they are less likely to be the 1st page a visitor sees than in the past.
Every Page is a Landing Page
Since every page of your site might be the first a visitor sees, it’s important all your pages do some of the work that a typical home page does. It’s important for every page of your site to answer the three main questions a visitor has, especially the first question.
- What is this site about? – This is why answering the question with your logo and tagline is such a good idea. Both will be present on every page. A brief intro sentence in your header can also work well here.
- Where can I go next? – Consistent navigation across your site answers this question on every page. Additionally you want to add links within your page content to other pages where your visitor might go next.
- What’s new? – You can add a what’s new section in your sidebar so it’s shows on every page. You could also customize your sidebar to show what’s new in the current section or highlight other sections of the site, featured products, etc.
Your home page needs to answer some very important questions, the most important being what is the purpose of your site. If you fail to answer this question expect very few repeat visits and very few visits that last beyond a few seconds.
Consider who your visitors are and why they’ve visited your site. Help them achieve their goals as quickly as possible and give them reasons to come back again. Stay out of their way on repeat visits and let them know what’s changed since their last visit and what they have to look forward to in future visits.
Home pages do not have to be hard to design or to choose what content should be on the page. Home pages are different (pdf) from the other pages on your site, though. You’ll find it easier to first design your interior pages, starting from the most specific content and working back to the more general home page and using the home page to direct people to those more detailed pages.
Above all understand the goal of your home page is to answer the basic questions a visitor will have when arriving at your site or visiting again.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.