By Juli Durante
As you plan a website redesign, the obvious question is “What are we going to do?”, but the often-forgotten question is “What big mistakes should we absolutely avoid?” And because your homepage is the online equivalent of a business’s front door, you definitely want to make sure you’re paying close attention to what visitors are seeing. The potential design crimes you make on your homepage are some of the most visible and can affect website key performance metrics like bounce rate, time on site, and number of pages seen. Committing the following homepage design crimes sets you up for failure:
Crime #1: Inclusion of a splash page as a homepage
When visitors reach your website, they should reach your website—not a splash page. In most cases, showing a page before the homepage is unnecessary. It creates an extra step for visitors to take and increases perceived load time, without any benefit to the user. Whenever possible, instead of adding a splash page, use your homepage in order to gather information you need and move buyers through their journey. For example, if your product has separate commercial and consumer applications, include a call to action for each persona on the homepage itself. As a bonus point, think about how you can use your homepage in order to effectively lead your visitor through your site, its content, and, of course, the buyer’s journey.
Crime #2: Failure to clearly define your value proposition
When visitors land on a page of your website, you have three to five seconds to capture their attention. If you fail to do so, visitors are quick to hit the back button and navigate to someone else’s site. This is commonly called the “Blink Test,” as you effectively have to get visitors to understand what you do by the time they blink. Your homepage should clearly define what your business does and the value your company offers to customers. Summarize your value proposition as succinctly as possible and display it prominently on the homepage so that visitors know what you do and why it solves their problems. Remember: Your homepage is not about you—it’s about your customers.
Crime #3: Neglecting to remove clutter
The homepages of yesteryear were packed solid with blocks of text, small images, and abundant calls to action. They were often cluttered and unfocused, with no clear path for visitors to follow. In time, marketers found that these busy homepages confuse visitors. When the clutter is removed, visitors can actually absorb the information that your company provides and understand how you solve their problems. Keeping the clutter at bay helps visitors identify what steps to take next.
Crime #4: Lack of relevant imagery
The photos, icons, and other imagery that you choose for your site should be relevant to your message and your personas. A candid photo of the design process for a fashion brand? Perfect. A stock photo of generic office workers around a conference table? Irrelevant. If there is nothing to gain from the image you plan to use, it is not the right image. Images are powerful; they can explain a process, humanize your brand, showcase products, and keep visitors on your website longer. On your homepage, the right images will draw visitors in and help you pass the Blink Test, thus keeping them engaged with your content longer.
Crime #5: Failure to include calls to action that align with the buyer’s journey
Kissmetrics found that 96 percent of website visitors are not ready to buy. That means that if your only homepage call to action is “buy now,” you should expect to convert few visitors into leads and customers. Instead, include calls to action for each stage of the buyer’s journey. Your navigation may include a “buy now” call to action; your main page header a “Request a Demo” button; and, farther down the page, links to additional resources such as e-books, your blog, and case studies. This way, every visitor has a conversion opportunity that aligns with their stage in the journey, whether they are just starting their research, are comparing solutions, or are ready to purchase. If you’re not sure what your buyer’s journey even is, your issue may not be with homepage design; rather, it’s a flaw in your planning process.
Crime #6: Lack of clear navigation
Website visitors have some expectations of what a site looks like and how they should interact with it. Navigation is one of those expectations. Though there are no set rules for navigation, visitors should easily see where they can learn about your products and services, find out more about your company, and access your resources. Users expect to see navigation at the top of every site page (except landing pages, which we’ll cover later). If your site does not include navigation, and visitors do not know where they should go next, they are likely to leave your site in favor of one that is easier for them to use.
Crime #7: Lack of logical user path
Your homepage is not a scavenger hunt. I repeat: Your homepage is not a scavenger hunt! Don’t make users hunt around for what they need next—deliver it to them. If you’re stating your value to visitors, the logical next step is to learn more about your solution, so ask visitors to request a demo or consultation and give them a link to learn more about your products or services. If you’re discussing a newly launched product on your homepage, provide a link to download spec sheets, to read a case study about a customer using that product, or to a call to action to purchase the product (or get a quote). The Blink Test still applies: Even if visitors know what you do in two seconds, if it takes more than five seconds to figure out where to go next, you’ve lost them.
Crime #8: Excessive use of sliders
Once fashionable, the inclusion of sliders (other names: carousel, rotator, gallery) on homepages has been largely abandoned, because they’re not particularly good for search engine optimization or the user experience. Research from Search Engine Land shows that fewer than one percent of website visitors will click a link in a slider. Also, sliders frequently cause slow load times, especially on mobile devices. They’re big, flashy content pieces that command a lot of visual attention but don’t improve engagement. Avoid them.
Crime #9: Use of auto-playing media
Your ideal customer searches online for a solution to his or her problem and ends up on your website. Suddenly, the video on your site’s homepage starts blaring music. The visitor, having now disturbed an office full of colleagues, panics, hits the back button, and vows never to visit your website again. Ouch.
Unfortunately, the above situation is all too common. If a video is good, an auto-playing video is better, right? Wrong. Not all visitors want to watch a video. The big play button that video-hosting sites include on top of an embedded video is enough of a call to action for visitors who are interested in watching.
Likewise, you should not include music or other sounds that auto-play. Like the sparkling GIFs and the serif-font Google Logos of yesteryear, auto-playing media should be a thing of the past in Web design.
What does this look like in practice? Check out this AOL.com article about a French bulldog that wants a reprieve from the heat (warning: auto-play video included!).
So, is your current homepage or homepage redesign breaking any of these laws? What crimes have you seen committed the most often? Let us know by tweeting us at @smartbugmedia and read the full Web design crimes ebook here.