Your homepage is the most critical online presence that you own. If you create the right first impression, users will continue to click through your site and you'll have the opportunity to entice them to buy. Mess up the homepage and selling online will be an uphill battle.

First things first

Your homepage needs to:

  1. Tell users what your website (or the company it represents) does simply and clearly.

    Creative Cards – we offer lavishly colored greeting cards printed on richly textured papers, suitable for very special people and occasions.

    Garden tools for less – no glitz, no glamour – our hard-working garden tools don’t need designer labels – they sell because they are durable, useful and low-cost.

  2. Differentiate your products or services from the competitors:

    'Exclusive suppliers of pima cotton from high in the Andes Mountains.'

    'In the 2007 best new scrapbook products survey, crafters rated our brands the best for combined looks, performance and price.'

    'The largest selection of toasters on the Internet from over 40 countries around the world, sold with our 100% money-back guarantee.'

  3. Show your users how to get to what they need on your site.

More on this topic later.

Combine relevant text, photos and graphics

Have you ever seen a webpage that has lots of cute graphics but they really have nothing to do with the substance of the site? Don’t waste this valuable space! Yes, photos and graphics are good – many users don't read well and if you are selling to international audiences you may be able to convey more information with pictures than with language. But, every photo and every graphic must be relevant. Photos should be of products, customers using products, staff supplying services, relevant settings for your products.

Craft the text with care

Jargon turns people off! Plus using jargon presupposes that everyone who visits your site will understand what you're talking about.

The medical supply site that offers:

'DME reimbursable under most third party contracts, with appropropriate physican approval and pre-authoriasation required in some cases.'

may never attract all of those people who need to read that:

'We supply wheelchairs, walkers and other home medical products. If your physician writes that the equipment is necessary, most of our products are covered by health insurance.'

Or, even better:

  • Wheelchairs, walkers and other home medical products;

  • Most products covered by health insurance (may need physician approval)

In general, the homepage does not require text with complete sentences; use phrases and summary text to quickly convey your message. Break up text with bullets, highlighted phrases or underlining. However, don't keep changing font; that appproach often detracts from the message and can be confusing to the reader.

Avoid banners and advertising

If you want to make your site like thousands and thousands of other sites that are desperately trying to make a buck with banner ads and other advertising formats cluttering the home page, you will find that the small extra revenue you might gain is probably offset by the number of users who don't want to be bothered picking through the page to get to what they wat.

Display your product but not your inventory

If you sell pottery, of course you should place pcitures of your products on your home page. However, the home page should not be the catalogue. Use the home page to show stunning examples of your products, to categorise your inventory, or illustrate the use of your products in a lovely setting. Draw the viewer in to look more carefully; don't ask them to sort out image after image on that page.

Make your search area easily recognizable

If you offer search capability (and you must), be sure that the search function is represented by a little box that can be typed into – that's what people look for – anything more stylised is confusing.

Headings and links should be explained

Lead the user through your site with links along the side and/or across the top. (Beware of putting important information along the bottom of your site; many people never scroll down to look at the whole page.

Which links are more interesting?

It will depend on your context, here is an example:

  • About Us
  • Products
  • Background
  • How-to
  • Wholesale
  • Contact Us
  • News and Awards

Frankly, it's not too hard to create a website that's much, much better than the majority of websites out there, particularly e-commerce sites. Put yourself into your customers' shoes and ask which first impression you would like to have when visiting your home page the first time. Then convert your concept into a design following all or some of the recommendations outlined in this article.