A website homepage is like a cover of a book – many people will judge the contents of the site by looking at the homepage, often in a matter of seconds. And if it doesn’t instantly convey what they are looking for, and isn’t well optimized for a good visitor experience, chances are they will leave your site and go to a competitor instead.
Therefore, its very important to make your homepage be as good as possible for first time visitors. But before I discuss ways to help improve your homepage, it’s important to know what metrics to look at for understanding how successful your homepage is, and how much potential you have…
What Determines a Successful Homepage?
Firstly, here are the three most important metrics that you should be looking at to determine how successful your homepage currently is, and after you improve it:
Low Bounce Rate (definition: single access/entries*100)
This takes into account interest from visitors directly arriving on home page from offsite. Anything over 50% is considered bad, below 15% is considered excellent.
Low Exit Rate (definition: exits/visits*100)
This takes into account interest from visitors arriving at your homepage from within your site. Again, over 50% is bad, below 15% is considered excellent.
High Click-Through-Rate (definition: total clicks/total pageviews*100)
Also known as CTR, this is a sign of visitor engagement – if your visitors aren’t clicking through your homepage, then its a sign of trouble. Anything over 50% is considered good. Below 20% is considered poor.
How to Improve your Homepage:
So now that you know what metrics you need to be looking at to determine current and future success of your homepage, here are some of the most important things you need to do to your homepage to improve it:
1: Place a tagline near your logo. Ideally in less than 10 words, having a good tagline will help give your visitors an instant idea of who your site is for and why they shoud use it. Ideally your logo should be in the top left hand corner, so visitors see your logo, and then can read your tagline to help them understand what your site is about.
2: Prominantly display your unique value proposition. This is kind of like an expansion of your tagline – it needs to explain the main benefits of your website for its visitors, and more importantly, why a visitor should use your website rather than a competitor. And if you don’t even know your unique value proposition, then start thinking about it – and don’t confuse it with your mission statement either.
3: Place a site search in the top right hand corner. What makes this so important? Well, if a visitor can’t find what they are looking for, there is one last thing they will do before leaving your website. And thats running a site search for what they are looking for. So if you don’t have your search in an easily findable place (or worse still, don’t even have one), then you are going to be increasing your bounce rate, and losing potential repeat visits.
4: Have an easy to use navigation menu. Your navigation menu should also be clearly labelled, have obvious names of the tabs (don’t make them guess), not be too hard to move around without dropping off, and should make use of drop down menus. These allow the user to explore your site without having to actually click around it. Very user friendly!
5: Use images that support your unique value proposition. Images should not just be used for decoration or to fill in space - they should give value to the visitor and help convey your unique value proposition. You may want to make use a slideshow, so you can portray several things about your value proposition at once. But don’t use too many images or too much flash as this will slow down your homepage and increase its bounce rate.
6: Have a section for your latest news and products/services. Its important to keep your visitors up to date with your latest and greatest. In particular, this is great for repeat visitors, and if they know to expect it there, it will give them another reason to come back to your homepage in the future.
7: Shorten up your homepage and offer less choices. Recent studies have shown that the more options you give someone to choose from, the more likely that they will actually choose nothing, and simply leave your site. So ask yourself this about all of your homepage content - ‘do my visitors REALLY need to see this on the homepage?’ If you have any doubt, leave it off.
8: Consider removing at least one advert. A page with too many adverts is a common complaint from visitors – and having that feeling about your homepage is a very bad first impression in particular. Losing just one ad on your homepage shouldn’t be financially damaging, because you will ultimately please more people and get more clicking through and seeing more ads on your interior pages. In particular, if you are selling something, and not a media site, consider removing all ads from your homepage.
9: Personalize your homepage for visitors. Usually the hardest of all these things to improve, but you should try and personalize the homepage for logged in/cookied visitors. You can show the visitors name in the form of a welcome, personalized recommendations based on what they bought before, or show content/modules they want to see, ala My Yahoo or Google homepage. Doing things like this will help improve repeat visit rate and reduce bounce rate.
10: Test, test and test! Don’t just take my word for it with these improvements – you can test implementing these yourself and their impact with a tool like Google Website Optimizer. Some of these improvements will work better for different kind of websites, and you can try coming up with your own variations to test and improve your homepage. The main key is to keep testing!
So there we have it – hopefully after reading this you will have more people loving and using your whole site, rather than just looking at your homepage and immediately leaving and going back to Google to click on a competitor. And remember to keep monitoring those metrics I mentioned at the start to see how you are improving over time.