One of the common mistakes in home page layout, next to including the wrong text and content, is actually too little text content. To see this, one has to think two ways:
Think like a web site visitor: If at least 25% of all decisions on whether to bounce or buy are made on the home page (and that percentage goes up in favor of ‘bounce’ if the home page does not provide the different things the various visitor personality types need in order to take the next step), then what information needs to be there? At a minimum, surely three core types – qualifying information (are these the right services in the right area?), market differentiators (why this provider, and not the other results I got?), and the call to action (what do you want me to do next?). In other words, if you also include a little about your company or yourself personally, there needs to be a bit of text on your home page.
Think like a search engine: When is the last time you searched for a plumber by uploading a picture of a plumber? It’s text that gets indexed for the purposes of most searches. Someone hands a search engine optimizer a page with a couple of photos, 3 sentences, and a search form, and says “optimize” and the right response should be “optimize what?” Without sufficient text, there’s little there to justify any SEO on the back end. Like human visitors, search engines tend to weight the home page more heavily than secondary pages, so offloading all your content to pages one click away can also significantly affect search results in the negative.
An emphasis on “clean-ness” at the expense of optimal marketing can lead us down the wrong path. It’s easy to think of a web site more as a sculpture than what it is – a multi-faceted marketing tool. It would be really cool to send out a flyer to your target audience with just one word – “Style” or “Change” or “Whatever” – white letters on a black page, depending on what sets you apart. But if that flyer were a web site, how would anyone find it – what search terms would Google index? And then what percentage of visitors who got there by other means (maybe by seeing that flyer) could have trouble qualifying your business as something they need, or just making sense of what you do? It’s not an either/or proposition, to be sure. Zen is good – use space, use style, but content is still king – make sure there’s enough of it.
Think about the following elements of a standard home page:
1. Qualifying Info (services)
2. Qualifying Info (locale & coverage areas)
3. Market Differentiators (why you, not them)
4. Call to Action (what next?)
5. Lead Capture form (no barriers to an immediate decision)
6. Latest Blog Excerpts (dynamic sites rank better)
7. Intro Video (50% of visitors like human interaction)
8. Professional Profile (if one primary person meets the public)
9. Industry Specific Content (rates for brokers, listings for Realtors, etc.)
10. Social Media (to add you to their Facebook or follow on Twitter)
11. Added Value or Content that Counters Objections (e.g. testimonials, a guarantee, or a special offer)
That’s 11 core elements of just the body of the home page, not counting the navigation, the header, and the footer that are part of the web site as a whole. It might sound a little busy, but how would you like to jump into a new car and not be able to find the turn signal or the brake? That’s no sale. That’s why home page layout is so important. It’s needs to have the things that create a buying response in the visitor (even if you’re a service provider and not used to thinking of it as ‘buying’), and even if the visitor doesn’t know he needs those things to get to that point. A good home page layout is a presentation – specifically a sales conversation, and it will:
* Get the right info in front of the visitor in the right order.
* Get the right info in front of search engines in the right order
* Organize the info efficiently and cleanly, but not hide it on secondary pages, so as to erect a barrier to the sale or reduce its significance to search engines.
By ‘sale’, again, we mean simply that the visitor executes one of your desired calls to action – e.g. calls you, completes a preliminary form, e-mails you, etc. We fully understand the differences between products and services, but we also get that even if you provide services, you are in sales, the visitor is a buyer (if your marketing is effective), and your marketing goal is to transform that hit into a contact (a person that takes the next step, which anyone in sales recognizes as a buying response). Make the site pretty, but certainly don’t fail to have “the conversation”, or else you’re leaving visitor interest on the table, by not completing the ‘sale’.
This interests us because, as we upgrade a lot of web sites, one of the key areas we pay attention to is home page layout, and one of the key areas of consulting we provide is marketing content. The home page is a microcosm of the web site as a whole. It needs to satisfy the minimum needs of four core personality types:
- provide enough information, for those who respond to facts and details
- be complete enough for the decisive who want it summed up in one shot
- be social enough for those who respond to opportunities for interaction
- be personal enough for those who respond to a direct human connection
This is all just another way of saying the same thing: there’s a certain amount of content your home page needs, and certain types of content. Nothing unnecessary should be there (you can bring the zen-ness by editing – remove the extraneous, lose the fluff), but don’t throw the baby out with the bath.