by anthony on 05/12/11 at 3:25 pm
What kind of first impression does your website make? A lot of that depends on how you design your home page. The home page is the front door of your website. If your home page isn’t designed well, you won’t keep users on your website for long.
That first impression can either get users to browse through and read your site, or leave with disappointment. Here a few bad practices to avoid and best practices to follow, so that your website doesn’t end up disappointing your users.
1. Don’t welcome users with a “welcome”
Many websites feel inclined to welcome users with a literal “welcome” when they visit their website. This does very little in telling users what they can expect from your website. While this might work well in a face-to-face setting, it’s rarely needed on the web.
What users really need is a visible headline or tagline that explains what your website offers that is of value to them. If what you offer is useful and unique, you should have no trouble keeping users on your website.
2. Don’t stock your page up with stock images
Another way to make a bad first impression is to stock your home page up with stock images. If you think using stock images makes your website look more professional, think again. Most stock images are easy to spot because they often look fake, ornamental and remotely relevant to the website content. That’s not the impression you want to give users when they first visit your website.
If you want your website to look professional and authentic, look no further than to images of your own content. When the images you show look closer to the real thing, it makes your website look and feel more authentic, which adds to your website’s credibility
3. Don’t splash users with Flash intros
If you didn’t get the memo yet, Flash intros are a thing of the past. The reason is because they do very little to inform users, load incredibly slow and block users from getting to real information. Possibly the worst experience you could give users is to force them to wait for the progress bar to hit 100%, so that they can sit and watch a fancy, meaningless flash introduction.
If you want to put your design skills to use, forget the Flash intros. Use your skills to design some icons or graphics you can use to brand your website. Use your development skills to speed your site up, so that users don’t have to wait to view your content.
4. Don’t keyword stuff your page titles
There’s a disease going around the web and it’s called SEO-syndrome. Some designers feel the need to stuff each page title with keywords for better SEO. Sometimes they’ll even do it at the bottom of their page near the footer. When you do this, you’re making your website look messy, incoherent and unprofessional.
There’s a better way to optimize your website for search engines. Include those keywords in your headings, sub-headings and paragraph text, so that search engines can pick them up naturally. This not only makes more sense to search engines, but to users as well. You’ll also avoid getting penalized for uneven keyword distribution.
5. Don’t put “.com”, “homepage” or “LLC” in your page title
Along with keyword stuffing page titles, some designers feel the need to put “.com”, “homepage” or their company abbreviation in their page title. There’s no need for this. Your domain extension displays in the address bar, where users can easily see it. They’ll know if they’re on the home page of your site by looking at the URL or the page itself. And not many users are going to know what your company abbreviation means, much less care.
Save that valuable space in your page titles for the name of your website and a tagline. Taglines are short, memorable sentences that sum up the tone and premise of your brand. A website with a good home page title is ESPN’s:
- ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports
If you look at their page title, it begins with the name of the site (without any excess words), followed by a unique and memorable tagline. ESPN’s tagline also includes the keyword “Sports” and is short and scannable. Compared to a page title stuffed with keywords, this works wonders for users.
6.Don’t use paragraph text to explain everything
Paragraph text will work for every other page, except the home page. When users get to your home page, they don’t want to read large blocks of paragraph text to know what your website offers. This is too much work and users don’t have the time nor patience for that. You have to make your home page scannable to spark interest in users.
The easiest way to do that is to use attractive headlines with teaser text. Teaser text are short snippets of text that tease users into wanting to learn more. Once users click-through the home page to learn more, paragraph text can then do its job.
7. Don’t make your home page look like every other page
The home page is a special page. It should not look like every other page on your site. Its layout should look different enough, so that when users land on it, they’ll know they’re on the home page. A defining characteristic of home pages are focal points.
Every home page needs a strong focal point. This is where users’ eyes first go when they look at the page. It’s the center of attention that usually has new or featured content. There are many ways you can make your focal point dominate the page. Using great size, contrasting colors and center positioning are some effective ways to create a focal point that makes your home page stand out.
Make sure to steer clear of these bad practices when designing your home page. The goal of the home page is to spark the user’s interest, not overload them with unnecessary information. Simplicity and clarity are your friends in making this happen. The window of opportunity to grab the user’s attention when they first enter your site is small. But when you make a good first impression, their attention for you will start to grow. Sooner or later, you’ll find them looking at more than just your home page.