Create the Perfect Home Page
By Amy Africa
If your company is like most, 80 percent to 90 percent of the people who visit its Web site today will not make it past the page they came in on. Usually, this happens because you don't give users what they're looking for the instant they arrive.
Something to Look at
One of the first things customers look for on a home page or entry page is an offer—a reason to stay. In the upper right-hand quad of your site, you need to give the customer something to focus on. Deals, especially limited-time deals, work best, but you also can use this area to promote a special product or service. Use anything with a deal or a deadline to create a sense of urgency and get people to focus.
Customers also look for:
>How to get around.
>A place to contact you and a little bit of intro copy.
>Evidence that someone just like them has already been there. Pictures of people, customer testimonials and reader reviews all make good evidence.
The customer also will look for something to buy. So, if you're not selling something on your entry page, fix it fast. You need to showcase three to five featured products with pictures, headlines, a little bit of copy, price and buy now/more information buttons. This is imperative, even if you have a very complicated product. Your entry page is the window of your store—you've got to show shoppers something they want to touch and feel.
In the right-hand column of your entry page, give your customers many little attention-getting sales pitches: top-sellers lists work well, as do product features, tips and so on.
You also should include self-banners in the middle column of the top and bottom of your site. Self-banners work like regular banners, only instead of promoting other people's products and services, they promote yours.
It's your job to get customers to pick and click something they want to see next as fast as possible. If you don't do that, they're history. The best home pages tend to have very low seconds-per-view values. Get visitors off your home page and into something more interesting or relevant as soon as possible.
It's important to make your site load FAST. The average site loads in just under a minute on a dial-up modem, but the majority of people decide if they're going to stay on a site within eight to 12 seconds. That means they've decided whether or not to browse your site even before it's fully loaded.
Navigation accounts for at least 40 percent of your success online. Offer your customers several tiers of navigation: top navigation, bottom navigation and left-hand navigation.
>Top navigation shows the user what they're supposed to do on your site, whether it is to order or to inquire.
Sections that work include words such as "FREE," "catalog," "auction," and "Web specials." If you're driving most of your traffic from offline methods, include an "Express Order." Tie a visual such as a photograph or a graphic that tells your customer who you are and what you do into the top of your navigation.
>Bottom navigation is a regurgitation of the three to four items you listed at the top as well as links to your site map, privacy statement and contact information.
>Left-hand navigation tells users what's in your store and how they're supposed to get around. At the top of your left-hand bar, ask them to sign-up for your e-mail list or a newsletter. Underneath, you should offer:
1. A couple ways to search—pure text and drop-down boxes work best;
2. The highlights of your store—the three or four items you really want them to check out; and
3. Your subject categories and your content.
Content includes customer testimonials, company information, a satisfaction guarantee, etc. At the bottom of your left-hand navigation, be sure to encourage your customers to refer a friend or colleague to your site.
Somewhere at the top of your site you need to have a link to your shopping cart. The best-performing sites tend to be the sites that offer a perpetual cart, showing the user how many items are in the basket as well as what the dollar value of that basket is. You also should have a button for bookmarking the site.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make with entry pages is they don't change it enough. Look at your traffic patterns to see how often users are repeating. In a perfect world, your entry page would change every time a user came back based on his or her preferences. However, if you don't have enough resources to do this, change the page for your average user. If the average user comes back every 10 days, change the page every five to seven days.
Remember that changes don't have to be dramatic, they just need to make the user take notice. Changing the date, self-banners, featured products, and the offer box is more than enough to satisfy the majority of your users.
Amy Africa is president of Creative Results. Clients range from small, entrepreneurial start-ups to Fortune 500 corporations. She can be reached at (802) 878-8944.