A content and social media marketing specialist, Ben Jacobson joined the Lean Labs team in the summer of 2014. Ben has been active as a digital branding professional since the early days of social media, having overseen projects for brands including MTV, National Geographic, Zagat and Wix. His writing has appeared in Social Media Explorer, Search Engine Journal, Techwyse and the Mad Mimi Blog. Ben resides just south of the Carmel Mountain ridge in Israel with his dashing wife and two sprightly descendants.
If your homepage offers a user experience that fails to get visitors interested in your business, then all of the efforts you invested in building it are essentially negated. On the other hand, if your homepage is inviting, immersive and compelling, then your visitors will be inspired to get to know you, will come back often and will potentially convert into loyal customers.
7 Characteristics of an Effective Website
To ensure that your homepage can do its job, confirm that it meets all seven of these critical criteria:
1. An Instantly Clear Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
Competition for online business is cutthroat, so you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Make sure it's super-apparent to visitors why they're better off doing business with you. Don't hide your UVP in the inner pages of your website; it must be front and center, because visitors won't bother to dig around looking for what makes you special.
The UVP on Salesforce.com, for example, is the most prominent headline on their homepage: “Connect to your customers in a whole new way.” In just one sentence, you understand that this is a product that enables interactions with customers and that it uses advanced technology to do it.
2. Clear Navigation and Clickable Options
Your homepage is not a puzzle. Users should not have to examine numerous buttons, banners, text areas and navigation links to find what they want. Make sure they don't get confused by opaque, cryptic section titles. For example, it probably makes the most sense to give your dynamic article content the label "Blog" instead of “Expertise” or “Random Thoughts.”
Your homepage should be uncluttered, with easy-to-find and easy-to-understand buttons. When people who don't yet know you arrive on your homepage, they should instinctively know what to click on to drill down and find out what they want to about your solution.
3. Connected, Relevant Imagery
You may have stated your UVP clearly in your homepage's text, but what about your images? A prominent visual should complement and expand on your UVP, so customers can quickly connect emotionally to your brand as well. Don’t use a slider, because users generally spend two to four seconds viewing a page before moving on. Only the first slide is likely to be displayed, and if visitors happen to notice the other ones, they're likely to get annoyed by the interface.
The best imagery represents several manifestations of your UVP. For example, a recent Google Nexus TV ad demonstrated the product's UVP by showing the viewer all the things that that the tablet does well. The emotionally evocative story of the little boy who fears public speaking is conveyed entirely with imagery that showcases product features. As a result, the viewer internalizes the idea that the Nexus powers tools that boost confidence and that unlock users' ability to achieve.
4. Social Proof
With so many scammers operating in virtual spaces, legitimate internet business success hinges on establishing trust. Customers need to know a brand is trustworthy before they will even consider doing business with it.
B2B customers want to know who else you've worked with, so logos of customers and partner brands can help make an impression. If the numbers are impressive, display how many people follow you on social media, so customers see that you are engaged with a community of loyal followers and concerned with customer service. You can also list how many people bought a certain product, so prospects will want to jump on the bandwagon and buy it too.
5. A Clear Call-to-Action
Surely there is one action you really want new visitors to take after reaching the homepage. You may want them to buy a product, subscribe to a newsletter, download a whitepaper or fill out a contact form. Although there should be numerous options on the homepage for clicking away from it, there should also be one primary call-to-action (CTA) that speaks to prospects and tells them what you'd like them to do next. Place a prominent, instant gratification-oriented CTA above the fold where visitors can’t miss it.
Hootsuite, for example, wants visitors to sign up for its free plan, the first step in the conversion funnel for "freemium" SaaS. In big letters, right up top, the homepage tells us to “Get Started – Free.” Immediately underneath are colorful buttons offering various ways to connect Hootsuite. Users are drawn to this CTA and are likely to come back to it, even after exploring other parts of the website.
6. Solid SEO
While your blog posts will drive most of your social referrals and organic search traffic, your homepage needs to have solid SEO for the primary keywords that describe your company. For instance, a limousine service in San Diego should center its homepage SEO around extremely relevant and literal phrases like "limo service in San Diego."
SEO is a constantly changing discipline with many layers of knowledge involved, but the basics are straightforward and universally applicable. Your homepage's onsite SEO must include a site title, an H1 tag, a meta description and image alt tags at the very least. Just make sure not to overuse your target keywords. When it stops looking natural in the content, you are overdoing it. Don't let your impression of what the search bots want trump your sense of relevant content that visitors will enjoy reading.
7. A Holistic User Experience
Sorry to break it to you, but you're not the best judge of how great your website is. Only your audience can indicate what version of your homepage performs best. In order to get a feel for how users feel about your website, ask them. Interview real customers and survey them about what they like and don’t like about your homepage. Managers, marketing staff and salespeople are not web designers. Sometimes they forget this and start telling designers how to do their jobs. This usually results in a homepage that doesn’t appeal to customers at all. Avoid these pitfalls by letting your designer create the website you hired him or her to design and by asking customers to provide real and relevant feedback.
If your homepage is confusing, ugly, or difficult to understand, visitors will bounce. Make sure your homepage offers an overall positive user experience, which avoiding ugly color combinations, inaccessible navigation, auto-playing video, banner clutter and too many CTAs. Anything that detracts from a positive user experience should simply be killed.
It's Your Home
Remember, you only have a few seconds to convince a new visitor to your site to give your business a chance. Your homepage is what gives people their first impressions of your company, so make sure it offers a top-notch experience. Invest time and effort into creating a homepage that draws the user in and converts leads.
Even if you are satisfied with the way your website looks, it’s important to keep testing and asking your customers how they feel about it. Website design and UX are rapidly changing fields, so even a killer website needs reviewing and updating every few years.
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