Is your homepage working for you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 by Richard Howe

Is your homepage working for you? In a world of high-speed internet connectivity and content overload, where information is available at the click of a mouse and users are increasingly time-pressured, designing a homepage can be daunting.

With only a few seconds to capture the attention of a visitor's instant gratification, how can you be sure of producing a homepage that users will latch onto?

In this blog post, we address the issue of effective homepage design.

Purpose

The first thing a new user will want to know upon arriving at your site is whether they are in the right place or not. Did the search engine send them to the place they wanted? Assuming that it did, your homepage needs to answer in the affirmative within seconds.

Whether it’s by use of headlines, images or copy, you needs to make the following things clear immediately:

  • What does your company do? What services and/or products do you provide?
  • What is your message and your ethos?
  • Who are your customers/clients/audience?

There are several ways to get this information across in a way that is quick, effective and compelling. The key is a combination of aesthetics, content, images and functionality. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Aesthetics

How your site looks is incredibly important. If it looks ‘unprofessional’, ‘unfinished’ or ‘untrustworthy’, users will click away immediately and the chances of them returning are highly unlikely. Here’s a quick run-down of elements to consider when designing the look and feel of your homepage:

Colours

  • Pick your colour palette carefully, perhaps using colours from your logo or something complementary or contrasting.
  • It’s often a good idea to use two or three base colours and something stronger for accents, but if you know what you’re doing, breaking out from these rules can result in something fabulous too. Planning is vital here.
  • If you have a central image on your page, you may decide to use key colours from within it on which to base your page. If so, make sure it’s an image you’re going to keep long-term.
  • color.adobe.com is a useful tool for playing with palette ideas and you can save and export your own colour palettes directly from the site.

Typography

  • Choose just two or three typescripts to use on your website. Any more than this will make your site lack visual cohesion and seem ‘bitty’.
  • Using one serif and one sans-serif font is standard practice, but there may be instances where you want to use a display font too, e.g. for a large heading or within your logo.
  • Make sure that the fonts you choose come in a range of weights for increased flexibility.
  • You need to ensure that you are using typescripts legally and that they are web fonts (and will therefore display correctly on all devices). Try www.googlefonts.com for a range of free, open-source fonts optimised for internet use.

Layout

The ultimate rule in all website design is ‘keep it simple’. If your user is confused when they first see your page, if they don’t know where to look first, or if there is just too much information on the page, they will likely click away. Simplicity is a critical part of gaining their initial interest.

Use whitespace to separate page elements and to create a feeling of space and calm. Homepages with plenty of whitespace exude a sense of professionalism and confidence, and allow users to focus on your core message.

Use a grid to set up your design, even if this is invisible in the finished site. Making sure that everything is aligned and well-spaced will make sure that your site has an ordered and uncluttered appearance.

Content

When writing homepage copy it’s important to remember that not everybody will read every word on the page, but that many (or most) people will be skimming and scanning to see whether your site is relevant to them. Your content therefore needs to:

  • Include punchy, attention-grabbing headings.
  • Be exceptionally well written.
  • Use compelling and informative vocabulary.
  • Be structured into short sections.
  • Not contain too much text.
  • Directly address the audience.
  • Point out the key features.
  • Be precise and accurate.

Using bullet points, subheadings and indented sections can all help readers to maintain their attention on your writing and pull out the most pertinent information.

Images

Images are so powerful that they can make or break a website homepage within seconds. Your images need to be:

  • Carefully selected and fit for purpose.
  • Meticulously edited (don’t forget this step; it’s more important than you think).
  • Relevant and consistent.
  • On-brand, demonstrating your ethos and message, as well as your products and services.
  • Appropriately sized. This will depend on how many images you have on the page, but often one large image can be more effective than several smaller ones.

Functionality

Last but by no means least, your site needs to work properly and your visitors need to know pretty quickly how to use and get around it. Here’s our advice:

  • Navigation should be clear and prominent so that users don’t have to waste time searching for it or finding out how to use it.
  • Check your homepage load time and take steps to optimise this if necessary.
  • A homepage should have minimal scroll, so try to keep most of your content ‘above the fold’.
  • Your homepage should be intuitive – if visitors have to think too hard about it, they might not stick around. Make things easy for them.
  • Follow conventions (at least, some of them!). If you have a well-designed site, following standard navigation and layout conventions won’t make your site boring. On the contrary, it will give your users what they want and make them feel at home.
  • Consider mobile users in your design, either through a mobile site or through responsive design.
  • Don’t forget SEO. Optimising with title tags, meta descriptions, alt images and so on will help you be found by search engines and allow those new visitors to find you in the first place!

Of course there are other things you may well want to include on your homepage, from promotions and offers to the latest news, your contact details and calls to action. All are important and can be tailored to your audience, your message and your brand.

But first things first. By focusing initially on purpose, aesthetics, content, images and functionality, you will ensure that your users stay on your site long enough for you to woo them with your services, your products and your story. After all, first impressions count.

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Richard has quite honestly been the best designer we have worked with and this is our fourth website!

From our first meeting through to the sites completion, his creativity and ability to deliver our brief was second to none and we have had countless compliments for our new website. We have also had a notable increase in work since the site went live, which I feel is largely down to the aesthetics he created.

We will undoubtedly be using his company in the future and will happily recommend his services.
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