Your Home page is the most important page of your Web site, and not just because it’s by far the most visited. It’s where first impressions are formed (the oft-quoted “where am I and what can I do here?“). It must highlight your business goals, address customer needs, be interesting, have SEO content, and change regularly — all while seeming clean and simple. Hah — good luck with that.
Home pages take different forms, depending on the business and its needs. Recently, I needed to send some thoughts to a client about their Home page. I’ve generalized them here. It’s not complete, but it might get you thinking…
KEEP YOUR MAIN FOCUS: The old days of placing the boring-and-sterile Mission Statement on the Home page are (thankfully) gone. But site visitors still need to know where am I and what can I do here? It’s the absolute most important thing for your Home Page, and I can’t stress that importance enough. It’s easy to get too close to your own trees and forget that for many of your visitors, the Web site will be the first impression of your business. Clutter it up and watch them flee.
NEWS: One strategy for the Home Page is to use it for all news & promos — sort of like a news magazine. Whatever’s coming up that’s worth highlighting gets brought up front and center, with other news items (text and/or photos) placed below. So instead of on block of text, it’s a constantly-changing array of snippets… member news, promotions, events, etc. CMS products such as WordPress and Joomla make it much easier to keep the ever-changing information up to date, so a Home Page like this is no longer such a full-time job. It will require an editor’s touch, though.
If your Home page becomes like a newsletter, then you might need to rethink the newsletter a little. On the other hand, some people need their news pushed to them, which a newsletter is better at doing. Make these tools complementary, not duplicates.
PROMOS: Some sites install a promo “slider” – which animates through several promos in one space. There are several scripts out there, and they’re pretty easy to set up… but they need to be kept current with new items. I usually recommend pre-creating several general items to haul out whenever there aren’t time-sensitive items to promote. I also recommend setting a schedule in advance to be sure your promotions are posted in advance of the events.
COMMUNITY: More and more sites are integrating their various social media activities, such as using feeds to bring in their Tweets, Facebook posts, etc, or incorporating public comments and discussions.
The grand idea is to convert the site from a one-way information provider to a two-way communication platform, where all (members or visitors) have a voice. In this case, the official organization news lives alongside submitted content, and many people can be creators of the content on the site. In practice, of course, a few people will be very active, while others will not participate at all. Some care must be taken to be sure the quality of the communication is preserved in cases like this.
A big change in all this is a move from static to active. Instead of this is how our site looks, it’s this is how our site looks… right now. In a few minutes or days or a week, it’ll be different. To really make that transformation work, you have to start thinking of your site as a fluid thing.