6 Essential Components of Winning Homepages
- Written by Valentin Barbu Valentin Barbu
- Category: Marketing Marketing
- Published: 06 January 2014 06 January 2014
Designing a homepage is among the most important and most dreaded responsibilities online marketers take on.
Use this list of essential homepage components when building a new homepage or revamping an old one!
Have you ever experienced the phenomenon when you're learning a complicated concept, and once you understand it, you find it impossible to explain simplified to others? Or you become frustrated with explaining what now seems intuitive, but used to puzzle you? Or worse, you just begin operating and communicating under the false assumption that everyone in the world has the same knowledge you just obtained?
This happens to marketers all the time. We spend all day writing copy and developing collateral for products and services that we become so entrenched in, we forget that the rest of the world is still on page one of the "getting to know you" brand book.
If you want to create a truly great homepage, you need to take a big spoonful of empathy, and get back to simplified communication.
The headline is one of the first elements visitors will see when visiting your page, so it's critical that you seize the opportunity to inform and engage them. Don't utilize jargon, and don't assume everyone visiting your page knows what your brand does.
Headlines should be concise enough to mentally digest in a few seconds, and equal parts informative and intriguing.
If you're not alread sitting down then I suggest you do so, because we've got a major cliche coming up:
If a headline says a handful of words, images say a thousand.
I know you're cringing at my banality, but it's so true. While a headline informs the reader, aesthetics tell the visual story behind it. As simplified design grows in popularity, audiences are expecting less text and more images.
Jump on this opportunity to skip the excessive telling and get right to the showing - the emotions elicited by visuals will spare your time writing and your visitors' time reading.
Take a 3-second pause from skimming these words and answer this question for me: what is the WORST thing you can do on a homepage?
If you said "not have one", then touche.
Excluding witty responses such as the one above, the single greatest misstep in homepage design is the failure to direct user action. In a nutshell, this means you need to tell people what to do.
No, I don't mean you should be bossy. And I definitely don't mean you should inundate your page with dozens of "Click here!" links.
Rather, the use of select and strategic calls-to-action can help direct different audience segments, at different stages of the consideration process, to the most relevant parts of your site.
Think of a Call to Action as a sign on the side of the road. As a user proceeds down the highway of information seeking, you're providing them with clear indicators of their best route.
Here's a great example from SalesForce - note how they have different Call to Action buttons for different stages of the purchase funnel, and also different information sections for their buyer personas:
4. Easy Navigation to Important Sections
All that talk about directing action and attention leads to our next essential element, which is simple navigation.
If your idea of navigation is creating a menu item for every article and dropping them all on the main menu, it's time for a big change.
The menu is one of the most important parts of your homepage, because it's where users will go when they're actively seeking specific content. Structuring your navigation to best suit those informational goals is the difference between someone engaging with your site and clicking off to the competitor's.
You don't have to go in depth on everything your business does on the homepage, but you do have to make it intuitive and fast for readers to get what they're looking for in a timely manner.
Check out this article from KISSmetrics on common navigation mistakes to give your's a revamp.
5. Optimized for Search Engines
I feel like I say this every day, but it's important: SEO is not dead.
Yes, Google has taken away a LOT of the free insights they used to provide about search behavior. Yes, you will now be penalized for engaging in many of the same tactics that gave your site a major boost only a few years back. But SEO, in it's truest sense, is alive and kicking.
If you consider the basic premise of SEO, which is to make your site easy for engines to crawl and therefore index in relevant searches, not much has changed about core practices.
Your homepage should still [naturally] include keywords, your images should still have appropriate alt text, your copy should still be high quality, you should still be utilizing meta descriptions, and you should still be aiming to get authentic links back to your site.
If you set out to at least begin your focus on these basic tactics, you'll be in good graces with Google.
6. Answering the "Why?"
Really great marketing, and web design, is a cycle. You research, you plan, you implement, and you start over again. As it turns out, this list is no exception!
Think all the way back to five minutes ago, when we declared that marketers must have empathy and engage in simplified communication to meet the informational needs of their website vistitors.
Once you make it through the checklist of essential website components, it's important to take a trip back to the start and ensure your site is answering a one syllable sentence with catastrophic implications: "Why?"
It's important to explain your offering in a headline. It's important to illustrate that offer with visuals. But it's essential to communicate why those things matter: people only care about a solution if they understand that they have a problem.
Check out this article from Marketing Experiments for an awesome case study on the matter.
Mastered all of the homepage elements above, and want to give your page some extra pizazz? I get that, I was always a sucker for an extra credit opportunity.
Here are a few above-and-beyond tactics to consider: