Homepage design has always been kind of an art of its own alongside other activities that go into building a complete website design.
In some way, a good homepage needs to be able to stand as a separate creation – one that achieves its specific goals. Those goals, even though they have a direct connection to the overall goal of the website as a whole, should be much more laser-focused.
I do realize that this might sound a bit vague, so to make it clear, let’s look into the eight myths on homepage design that everyone should know.
Myth #1: A homepage needs to be pretty
Granted, no one enjoys looking at an ugly homepage design, but that being said, a homepage being pretty is not the end game.
In other words, focusing only on making your homepage design pleasing on the eye won’t get you far in the direction of making your client happy (at least over the long haul).
There’s one thing that matters a whole lot more than just the visual attractiveness of a homepage, and that is the homepage’s ability to achieve its main goal.
Every homepage should have its purpose – the main reason for which the homepage was created – so when working on the design, one of your most important tasks is defining that purpose.
You can try answering the following question to make your work easier:
What is the main thing that you want your visitors to do after they see the homepage?
For example, is it subscribing to a newsletter or some kind of a membership program? Maybe it’s going to the blog and interacting with the posts there? Maybe it’s looking into the products/services offered on the site? Whatever it might be, make that your no.1 goal when designing the homepage.
If it ends up being an eye candy too, then it’s just a side bonus.
One of the best examples of goal-driven homepage design on the web is … Craigslist. It’s ugly, but it gets the job done:
Myth #2: A homepage needs to cater to everyone
Or in other words, the myth says that no matter who comes to view your homepage, they should be catered to and happy with what they find.
However, this tends to backfire more often than not. Even though it may seem counterintuitive, alienating some of your visitors right away can have a positive impact on those visitors who do decide to stay. This is because, at that point, they already know that what the website has to offer is almost tailor-made for them.
Let me give you an example from an entirely different kind of business – the restaurant business. It’s a common mistake among many restaurant owners (at least judging by watching Kitchen Nightmares) to offer a multitude of dishes and thinking that this way, “everyone will find something for themselves.” But in practice, it backfires because the average customer has no immediate indication if the restaurant is a good fit for them.
For instance, if you fancy a pizza, you will go to a pizzeria almost 100% of the time. You won’t go to a place that serves tens of different dishes where pizza is just one of the items on the menu. Does the pizzeria alienate some of the customers just by saying right away that their main dish is pizza? Yes, of course. But do they lose anything in the long run? Not really.
Therefore, make your homepage design a pizzeria, so to speak. Show that what the website has to offer is pizza, and make it clear that if someone doesn’t like pizza, they shouldn’t be there.
Myth #3: A homepage needs to present a lot of information
We can safely say that the age of elaborate homepages is behind us.
Homepages simply no longer need to be huge in order to achieve their goals.
In fact, less is more.
Less has always been more.
As we’ve already discussed here, the main job of a homepage is to give the visitor a nudge towards a certain action that you want them to take. And as it turns out, displaying more than a minimum-effective-dose of information works against you.
This is confirmed by Nielsen Normal Group in one of their studies. They say that around 79 percent of users scan every new webpage they see, while only 16 percent read it word by word. So in the end, making a page more concise results in a 124 percent increase in usability.
Let’s take a look at the homepage at Contently.com, for example:
There are just three lines of text there, followed by two calls to action: “learn more,” and “talk to us.” After reading those three lines of text, the visitor already knows if they’re intrigued enough to click either of the buttons. And that’s all you need when building a homepage.
Myth #4: A homepage needs a slider
Designing with sliders is an incredibly lazy approach.
After all, it’s quite easy to place a slider right beneath the main navigation and put some banner-like graphics in it. Most commonly, you’d use 3-4 slides and put them on an automatic rotation. It’s a very popular technique and thousands of homepages opt to do it.
However, as data confirms, sliders are incredibly ineffective at getting conversions, retaining visitor’s attention or doing anything else that would produce a positive effect.
For example, here’s what Chris Goward of WiderFunnel had to say about them in one of his research posts:
“We have tested rotating offers many times and have found it to be a poor way of presenting home page content.”
At the end of the day, the information we have at our disposal these days simply suggests one good solution:
Don’t ever use sliders on your homepages.
Myth #5: A homepage needs to talk about “you”
Where by “you” I mean the person/business you’re building the site for. So for example, “you” means talking about the products that the business has to offer.
Now, just talking about “you,” per se, isn’t bad at all. You have to do it to some extent, otherwise you won’t create any sort of a connection with the visitor.
However, what matters here is the wording you’re using.
For instance, saying something like, “We’ve been in business since 2004. See our offer by clicking here,” doesn’t achieve anything at all in terms of resonating with the visitor.
What will resonate, though, is building your homepage design around the concept of, what’s in it for the visitor.
For example, let’s take a look at the homepage at Due.com:
It doesn’t say, “We’ve been in the tracking business for X years.”
It does say, “Due.com helps you keep track of your time and lets you invoice like a pro.” It is almost entirely visitor-centered.
In a nutshell, make your homepage about them, not about you.
Myth #6: A homepage needs to showcase company news
Really, please don’t.
People generally don’t care about what’s going on on the inside of a company.
Why? Again, there’s nothing in it for them.
In essence, any sort of company news has very little connection to the visitor and their needs, unless the visitor is an investor or the website is meant to be an internal company website, in which case, you are clear to show company news on the homepage.
Myth #7: A homepage needs to look the same on all devices
The idea of designing websites for multiple devices is quite a new chapter in web design history. Not that long ago, the only thing we had to consider was whether our site was looking as good on 800×600 as it did on 1024×768.
But times have changed, and now we have a multitude of screen sizes and resolutions to deal with. However, thinking that your homepage needs to look the same on all of them is a dangerous route to take.
The main problem with this reasoning is that a person visiting your site from a mobile device is probably in a completely different mindset than a person visiting from desktop.
For instance, if someone visits a restaurant’s website from desktop, they probably want to get familiar with what the restaurant has to offer, what’s on the menu, and so on. But when they visit from a mobile, the no.1 thing they’re interested in is the address and the opening hours.
Good homepage design should at least try to cater to different sub-groups of visitors based on the device they’re using.
This can be achieved with responsive design to some degree. Through CSS classes, you can set certain HTML blocks to have more focus, or to not get displayed at all.
In short, a homepage doesn’t need to look the same everywhere, but it needs to help the visitor in solving their current issue.
Myth #8: Once you build it, it stays
Homepage design should never be a one-off task.
The unfortunate thing is that your first attempt at designing a homepage for any site (that’s any site) won’t produce the optimal result. This is all due to the fact that you simply can’t predict how the homepage is going to perform in the real world.
You can only assume how the visitors will interact with the homepage, but you can’t know for sure. This knowledge comes with time and by testing different concepts.
Therefore, rather than hoping that your design is going to rock right off the gate, build at least two alternative versions and split test them against each other.
How different do the designs need to be? This is up to you. You can start with some simple differences in copy, or more significant differences in the overall layout. The point is that there needs to be a difference and that you need to set a metric in place that will allow you to judge which version is better (this is usually done by tracking clicks on certain links or the occurrences of a visitor filling out a form).
Once you have some raw data, you can scrap the lower-performing version of the homepage, create a completely new version, and then run it against the previous winner.
Doing this at least a couple of times is how you build a quality homepage.
There’s a lot more that could be said on the topic of homepage design mistakes, and we didn’t even get to the technical issues (like using images that are not optimized, or fonts that are too small).
I guess we’ll leave that for next time.
So what do you think, are you guilty of falling for any of the myths described here?