Sunday, May 28, 2006

Top 10 Home Page Tips

Since my wedding on May 21 I haven't been basking in the glory of marriage but rather have been working my bum off catching up and planning for my future. I've also started to catch up on some of my millions of email newsletters and blog feeds that I get. While this was overwhelming at first, I make sure that I only subscribe to the what I feel is the most useful to keep my ear to the technology highway and what will help me sponge up all I need to know. Here are some home page tips that I've come across from my various reads as well as from my experience as a consultant (Ok, you can laugh now and make all of the rude remarks you want in the comment section about consultants):

Top 10 Home Page Tips:
  • What do you want to achieve?: Don't just redeisgn your web page because marketing wants to launches its new fall collection with a cool green background. Get your team together (typically consists of people from across departments) and determine your objectives in a way that can be measured. For example, increase home page traffic by 20%, increase conversions (needs to be flushed out) by 5% etc... Make sure there is buy in from all involved.
  • Examine the lay of the land: This primarily means, look at your webstats. When I say look at your webstats, that means actually examine where people are going from your home page and understand what are the most successful conversion paths. Note the things that work and that don't. For example, if you have a newsletter subscription that people are ignoring, perhaps this needs to be moved to a more prominent position.
  • What do people really want to see?: That's wonderful that Jan in marketing designed these super non-gender, non-racial cartoon heads that look really colourful and appealing. However, is that what people really want to see? Focus on your objectives which includes who your target market is. Before you get moving with the design creation, do some informal web/mail surveys and perhaps some informal interviewing. For example, if you're a pet store, I would want to know how I can get a dog. Create use cases (scenarios) based on the feedback that you get.
  • Get Shorty!: People don't have time to wade through a ton of content on your home page. Keep it to 3-4 key messages, and use point form. If you have a key offer, make it stand out by using bold, capitalized letters like "DOWNLOAD CATALOG NOW" or "LEARN ABOUT CRM". Make sure that your target audience will understand all of the acronyms that you use on your home page. Most importantly, keep the content above the fold so that your users don't have to scroll to see anything. From glancing at your home page, people should be able to explain what you're all about in 5 words and be able to relay that back to you.
  • Keep Google in Mind: As we all know, search engines are key. Images that reflect what your organization or product is about are good for the home page as long as they are not there just taking up space. The problem with images is that if you place text in an image, it typically doesn't get indexed. Therefore, make sure your home page includes text that describes what your organization does in a way that helps people find your site when using the top search engines. I'm not going to get into a discussion on SEO (search engine optimization here).
  • TEST, TEST, TEST, TEST, TEST and then TEST, TEST, TEST: Web designers, developers, and consultants don't count. Even people in your company or your clients don't count. Get some of your friends or family (excuse me Jakob Nielsen but name me an SMB that has time and/or $$ for true usability testing) an exercise in which you ask them to carry out an action such as finding all of the poodles on your pet website. You can also get them to randomly click around and record their feedback. Their are also some great forums out there such as MarketingProfs in which you can ask for feedback from the "general" public.
  • Keep Google in Mind 2: Home pages are not what they used to be. Web users used to start off at your home page and then drill in from there. Today, people use Google and other search engines to find what they're looking for and may never touch your home page. We just don't have the patience or time anymore. Make sure that you don't have some key content or features that are not available anywhere else on your site. For example, if you have an upcoming webinar, don't just have a key link on your home page, advertise this throughout your site.
  • Keep navigation simple: While it's quite tempting to squeeze your whole site map into your navigation and have this cool multi-flyout floating, flashing, scrolling, multi-colour menu system.... think again. Take a deep breathe, go back to your usage scenarios based on your target audience and ask yourself what they would want to see and not this flashing podcast button that Jill in marketing is saying is a must have. In "Keep Google in Mind 2" I mentioned that people are now finding their content via search so don't worry too much about having every single link available from the home page. If your site is content heavy, consider adding an internal search box as a standard feature on every page. Search is king over browsing so let people do what they've been taught to do.
  • Look at your competitor's sites and the proven sites: There's a reason that is Let them spend the $$ on usability and copy some of the best practices that they use. However, don't get too caught up in copying their entire layout and design - especially when it comes to your competitors. Think about what makes your company stand out and why people either buy from you or use your services.
  • Keep in mind - Anything Goes: While I have provided some useful tips above, keep in mind that anything goes and that you need to keep testing. You never know what is going to catch your intended audiences' eyes so try out some really strange ideas that make you stand out from the rest. You never know unless you try.
I hope that you find this useful and please let me know your thoughts or if I've missed anything.

Chad H.

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