Although it is true that nowadays we do not need to start from the homepage to visit a website (maybe we accessed directly a blog entry of the site through a social media link, or a specific product page from an advertisement), the homepage is still the page that many users will visit afterwards if they are interested in knowing more about your website. Therefore, the design of your homepage is crucial to keep the users on your site and potentially make them come back.
According to one of the most influential experts on web usability and user experience, Steve Krug (2014), every homepage should answer immediately the five questions users have in their mind when they enter a new site:
- What is this?
- Why should I be here (and not somewhere else)?
- What do they have here?
- What can I do here?
- Where do I start?
I will explain these questions below, and I will show you how you could answer them by including some elements in your homepage design, no matter if you are coding it directly with HTML/CSS/Programming, or you are using a web content management system such as WordPress.
What is this?
It must be clear what the website is about at a glance. To do that, include in your homepage:
- The site identity: the title and the logo of the website. These elements are very important for navigation purposes too, and they should be included in every page of your site, not only on your homepage. Remember that on the Internet it is very easy to move from one website to another without even noticing (not like in physical stores), and therefore the users need to know at each moment where they are.
- Another element at the top of the page (visible without scrolling) that helps to clarify what the site is, such as:
- A clear, informative, specific, concise tagline.
- A welcome blurb, which should include some media aligned with the message (such as a slider, introductory video, a background picture with a text overlay, etc.) to reinforce it.
Why should I be here (and not somewhere else)?
Make it clear why the user should be at your website and not somewhere else. Include some elements (text and media) in your homepage that highlight your strengths, and what is special/different from others. Clarify why your site is unique and why the user should stay there (and potentially come back).
What do they have here?
Show what kind of content users can find on the website, and do that using the following elements:
- The main navigation menu. The main navigation menu should always reflect the structure of the website, and therefore, it will help the users to understand the content of your website and access it. Of course, the main navigation menu should be included in every page, so that users can easily navigate through your website.
- A search bar. Even if the main navigation has been perfectly defined, a lot of people prefer to search directly in the box what they are looking for instead of navigating through the predefined structure. Therefore, do not forget to include the search bar too.
- Section descriptions. Again, a well-structured main navigation menu could do the job, but sometimes, the short names that are normally included in the main navigation menus are not precise enough to clarify the content that each menu item will lead you to. Then, it is also a good idea to include additional elements in the homepage to clarify the structure of your website (such as icons/pictures together with a heading and a description placed in several columns/rows).
- Teasers. And do not forget to highlight some special elements: promos/sales, new content (latest posts or products), new features, most frequently requested pieces of content (such as most visited post or most sold product), etc. These elements also give the user some sign of life, so the users know the site is active.
What can I do here?
In addition to the content, it should be clear what the user can do online (features, actions). Can they buy something? Play a game? Register? Search? Make all these actions available on the homepage, and always use meaningful names for them.
Where do I start?
At this point, if you have followed the previous recommendations, your homepage might include already several elements. So, what do you want the user to do first?
- On the one hand, if the users need to do several steps to perform an action, it should be very clear from where the user should start. For instance, does the user need to register before doing a task? Or if they want to request something, do they have to fill in the form first? Clarify the order of the steps.
- On the other hand, even if your website simply has content (and not actions), you can also organise the content by highlighting the information that you want them to start reading. For instance, if your main goal is that the users call you because you will do it better by phone, highlight the contact info. Note that you can always use different levels of emphasis for different elements, but remember not to highlight everything as the most important content: if everything is highlighted, it is the same as nothing being highlighted (or even worse if they get overwhelmed).
And that is all for today. I hope that you find my (and Steve Krug’s) recommendations useful and that they help you design your homepage effectively. And do not hesitate to contact MIUC if you would like to learn this and much more with us.
- Krug, S. (2014) Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. 3rd ed. New Riders.
- Firmbee (2016) Scrabble tiles and smartphone. Available at: https://unsplash.com/photos/gcsNOsPEXfs (Accessed: 05 May 2021).