The home page is one of the most misunderstood pages of modern websites. In some ways the most critical page, in other ways a skipped-over obligatory page, your homepage serves a few specific purposes – but they may not be what you think.
“The homepage is important because it’s the first page people see.”
Believe it or not, this is a myth – under most circumstances. This is often true for direct traffic, meaning people who type in your URL directly into the address bar. However, most other traffic sources, including organic (SEO), paid (SEM and ads) and referral will be directed to a specific page on your site.
For example, if you google “Luminus Website Design”, the link Google shows you takes you directly to our website design page, not the homepage. That’s because, unsurprisingly, Google knows that luminus.agency/web-design will have the most relevant information for that visitor based on that search term.
If you’re running ads, such as paid search or social media, those ads are taking people to whatever page you (or Google dynamically) specify. Ideally, that’s either a campaign landing page or a highly relevant landing page with a strong conversion point.
Since most of your website traffic comes from indirect sources, it’s safe to assume that ~50% of your website visitors will not land on your homepage as an entrypoint onto your website.
“The homepage should answer the most important questions from our audience.”
This is true – with some caveats.
Caveat 1: Do you know what questions your audience is asking first? This isn’t a trick, but it’s also not as obvious as business owners sometimes assume. The questions your website should answer first are likely not the same as the questions you’d answer first on the phone, because the touchpoints are different. A website visit is often the very first introduction to your business. A phone call is typically much farther down the funnel. What are they actually looking for first?
For example: If you’re a restaurant, when are you open? Where are you located? How do you make a reservation? It sounds like common sense, but you’d be amazed how often you have to dig around for that information.
Caveat 2: “the most important questions” means 2 or 3. Not 10. Humans have a short attention span – you have about 5-8 seconds to get them to the next step, or they’ll move on. In other words, if everything is important, nothing is important. We’ve seen so many homepages over-designed to oblivion by business owners trying to cram a whole website’s worth of information and links onto the homepage.
“People will navigate from the homepage to other pages in a systematic way”
This myth is rarely said out loud, but an extremely common trap when thinking about your website. It’s something a good UI/UX designer is specifically trained to account for.
The buyer’s journey is an amalgamation of common questions and actions. In reality, we cannot accurately predict what every user will specifically be looking for. It depends on what they already know, what interactions they’ve already had, if they’ve visited your site before, if they’re doing research, if they’re ready to buy, etc.
For example: Website traffic analytics show us that for most of our clients, people aren’t using the homepage to navigate deeper into the website. They’re jumping right to the top navigation links or the larger menu overlay and visiting a more specific page. They’re bypassing categorical landing pages in favor of last-stop detail pages with targeted conversion points.
And that’s actually good news. Your menu can act like a table of contents, giving people direct access to the pages they most want to visit in a way that a homepage cannot (at least not without sacrificing UI design).
“Desktop and mobile design are equally important.”
This is true! But another area that deserves some extra context.
At this point in time, on average across all websites, desktop traffic is roughly equal to mobile (including tablet) traffic. But that number is unstable, and the shift will likely keep swinging towards mobile users.
That means that you can have a totally badass homepage design that draws visitors in on desktop browsers and gives them the right information in the right order, but if it’s not responsive or gets cluttered/messy/broken in mobile layouts, you still don’t have a good homepage design.
For example: creating a homepage design around a large-scale infographic or background photo, or interactive module requiring hover states, means you may have to significantly streamline or change the design to create a good mobile experience.
If you’re making decisions based on the way it looks on desktop and ignoring the mobile experience, you’re alienating 50% of your traffic before they learn anything else about you.
How to design the best homepage for your business.
In short, keep it simple. Opt for clean design that draws the eyes to the right features. Avoid anything overly complicated unless you’re in an industry that relies on bleeding-edge innovation to win over your audience. And most importantly, develop a smart, strategic content plan before you make any decisions about your homepage.
At Luminus, our clients are often surprised to learn that when we’re content planning, the homepage is often the last page we worry about. Why? Because the homepage should be a hub to all the rich, important, engaging information you have planned for other pages – not the other way around.