The New Shop Window / Home Pages That Sell
Is your website working for you? Is it driving your sales, is it driving your brand image - or is it simply an after thought? The ugly duckling of the family trudging along your other marketing efforts? With the web becoming so important in business these days, one of the ways you can improve how your website delivers is by making your home page work for you. This article gives an outline of how this is possible.
A homepage is the first page the user comes to when typing in your url. This page would normally introduce your site in someway and it is the way in which your site is introduced which we want to focus on. One thing we want to make clear is that a "holding page" is not what we would class as a home page. A homepage offers you the navigation for the site and is "functional". As a side point, Flash introductions and pages which say "click here to enter", are not only terrible from a search engine perspective, but also from a usability perspective. So we are not talking about holding pages, in fact we don't even believe in them.
The Home Page is different from the other pages on your website. Why? Because the user has not asked for any specific information that they will see there. They have not clicked on an "about us" button or an "our services" link. The Home Page is all about what YOU WANT the user to see. It's a portal to show the user what's in the website and sell the information held further within the depth of the site. When the user clicks through to another page that page will display the info the user has requested - but on the home page the user hasn't request any information yet. To keep users on your site you will need to show the user at least one of two things 1) What they came to the site to see or 2) Something that they didn't expect but, upon seeing it, they will be interested in. For example you may go to a supermarket for milk but at the checkout you notice the chewing gum, nicely and conveniently stacked by the side of the till. The next thing you know is you have bought the chewing gum as well - something you didn't go into the shop to buy! This principle can be used within your home page design. Normally, what you want your Home Page to do, is to give a balance between showing the user what they expect to see and attracting them to areas of your site they might not have known about but that you want them to be tempted by.
Retail shop windows carry massive lessons for home page designers. Take a high street fashion shop for example. The shop window will typically contain the following - the logo of the shop, some attractive graphics, some plastic models displaying a wide range of garments which are sold in the shop.
Now a website is slightly different but the ideas are the same. The logo will give the overall authority and brand recognition to the website as it does above a shop window. The attractive graphics mean that the user's eye goes to the area of the site which you want them to go to. These graphics may carry key messages which entice the user to go to that section of the site. Then there is a wide display of tasters from different areas of the site like the wide range of garments used in show windows. All of these things need to sit within an overall structure so the user can navigate simply and effectively.
Another lesson that can be learnt from shop window displays is that they are always changing. New products, new displays, new seasons. If there is a sale red "sale" words appear. They are always changing. This brings interest and attracts attention. It's the same with your website. Update the information, change the main image / messaging graphics. Do you have a latest news section? Pull areas through to the home page. These things help to keep your site looking fresh.
When designing a Home Page though, because there will be so many areas of your site which are important, you need to make some decisions. Firstly you need to ask; "what areas do I want the user to go to"? Then ask what areas will the user probably want to go to. For example you might find with a bit of research that people are coming to your site to read your blog - which is nice - but you want them to buy your products. Once you have established a user pattern you need to decide on the priorities of each section of the site. This will help you to create a Home Page which will have the balance. It will have enough of the things the user will want to see to make sure they don't go away, but it will also have those things which you want the user to see. How do you find out what your users are doing? Install Google Analytics - It's the best free website tracking software. Poynter have some very interesting research results. Basically they tracked where users eyes go over a site. Top left is most popular - bottom right is least popular. See the example below:
The above is of course, just a guide because if strong graphics were used on the bottom right the eye might levitate to that area. However it's important to understand how people will naturally look at your website and make things easy for them.One thing which is essential is that you give the user an easy way to navigate and that they can clearly see they have come to a website owned by your company. Normally this is done with a consistent header bar which includes a logo and the main sections of navigation for the site.
The problem that some people have is that they want to say so much to a user that they cram everything in their home page. Remember sometimes less is more. Consider the apple site below:
The user clearly sees what Apple want them to see, although areas which the user might want to look at are displayed in four boxes below or they will be able to access them via the navigation at the top. In this example Apple have basically got 4 levels of priory. 1) the main message area, 2) The 4 boxes 3) The navigation and 4) the footer. Obviously things may be different for your company and your priorities may be different from an established brand like Apple.Heres another example from Skype. The text can be picked up by search engines but there really is only one thing they want you to do - download their software.
Last example - Ebay below - they have a few things they want users to do.
If you are not signed up, they want you to do so, so thats there as a priority. However what they also want people to do is get shopping so they have a few ways of doing that. One is a list of areas of products, another is by pulling our collections which may interest the user. All have the main aim of getting people face to face with the products - but all communicate what Ebay does best.We could of course feature many more sites but we're confident by now you will be able to take the form of thinking we are promoting and apply it to your website. Get those priorities right and then your home page will start working far more effectively than if you haven't thought things through...
Just as a retail store may keep giving it's shop window frames a fresh lick of paint and changes it's window from season to season, so your site will need to be updated on a regular basis. Is your site a couple of years old? Chances are that web-design has moved on, even in 2 years. There will be new technologies, better techniques and new design styles.Also consider that peoples browsers change - IE6 might be the most popular browser for your audience today but maybe IE7 will be in a years time. What if your website falls apart in IE7 because it was not tested for the latest version. It's important to review your site on an ongoing basis to ensure you maximize what the web can do for you.
Search engines have a massive influence on how many people will visit your website. This is where Search Engine Optimization comes in. Your home page is the main page of the site that will feature in the rankings. It's worth getting an expert to analyze it and suggest improvements so that you can rank higher than your competition for key search terms.
Want to find out more - well folks if you liked that you'll love these:
So there we are, a brief outline of how you can improve your homepage, your online shop window. If you have any comments or suggestions that could help others please leave a comment...
This article can also be found on Fadtastic