6 Ways to Make Your Homepage Work for Your Small Business

When you walk down the high street, which shop attracts you and draws you in through the door? Is it the one with a broken sign and dirty windows with a pile of different products thrown in a heap by the door? Of course not.

Shops that look professional and well maintained — and give you a clear idea of what you'll find inside — are by far the most attractive. It's the same for your small business or startup website.

Like a shop front, your homepage is the first experience many people will have of your business. Its look and feel can give your audience a deep sense of certainty about what you do and whether it's going to be worth their time exploring the rest of your website.

Jargon, messy design, ugly images and lack of focus on what makes you special will bamboozle, annoy and erode trust. Done badly, a homepage will switch potential customers off completely, sending them bouncing straight back to the search engine results page from whence they came.

It follows then that it's worth taking the time and effort to make sure your homepage:

  • meets your audience's expectations of how a business like yours should look.
  • is clear at a glance about how your business benefits its customers.
  • looks professional and attractive.

Here are 6 ways to beat the bounce and build a brilliant homepage.

1. Know your market

Before you plan your website — actually, before you plan your business — give serious thought to your target market.

It can help to create a few ‘personas'; pretend humans who are your would-be customers. Think about:

  • Their age and gender.
  • Their family situation.
  • Their likes and dislikes.
  • Their physical location.
  • What challenges might lead them to seek out a business like yours?

Ok, some of these categories will be irrelevant to your particular business. If you're selling crochet baby gifts it doesn't matter whether your customers are in Penge or Penzance. Their location is less important than the reason why they need you: someone they know has had a baby and they would like to buy a gift.

In the crochet gift example the purchaser is buying for a particular type of parent — one who would happily adorn their offspring with crochet. This means you're designing not only for someone who's stuck for a gift, but also for their idea of what the parent of the person they're buying for would like.

Explore as many motives and expectations as you can because what you know about your audience will tell you a lot about what they're expecting to see when they turn up to your homepage.

2. Make it love at first sight

Research shows our decisions are essentially emotional. Yep, no matter how long you spend evaluating fuel consumption, maintenance costs, insurance options and resale value, the car you end up buying is the one that makes you feel the nicest.  These decisions are made by what psychologists sometimes call the stranger within, or your intuitive mind.

Once your intuitive mind has picked the red convertible, your attentive mind chips in with a few stats so you keep on believing you're a rational being. Ultimately though, the stranger within is in charge, which is why first impressions are crucial.

Subconscious decisions, such as those involving whether to stay on a website, are made extremely quickly.

In a matter of nanoseconds your homepage has to communicate what you do, whom you do it for and how it benefits them. It must also look attractive and professional, and match expectations of what a website like yours should look like.

Go back to your personas. Which words, colours, images and fonts will tell your customers they have landed in the right place?

3. Invest in design

Your homepage sets the scene for the entire experience a customer will have with you, so it has to project an image that fits what you do and what you stand for. It should match the emotional state of the people you expect to visit it.

I always recommend paying a designer to put together a visual identity for a new business. They'll get you a logo, design stationery and business cards, and provide a few colours to use throughout your website and customer communications.

Fonts are a powerful way to project a particular image which is often overlooked. Serif fonts are slightly easier to read. They convey warmth and personality but have a serious, intellectual feel. Sans serif works to convey a clean, crisp, no-nonsense feel. It works well for modern or technical content. I recently decided to emphasise the writing on my website, so switched to serif. Font geeks click here.

A great designer asks questions about your target audience, and is interested in you and your motivation. He or she can create a visual identity that projects the personality of your business; a serious image for a serious business, or something more relaxed, personable, quirky or fun.

4. Choose one hero' image that says everything

Increasingly nowadays you see websites that look like this:

And this:

Most of the top of the page is taken up by a large, beautiful image that encapsulates the brand message and helps to communicate what the company does.

If that's the way you choose to go, your designer can help you choose the perfect image. Images with people capture more attention, looking at the camera is the most grabbing. An image of a person looking at a piece of text switches the reader's attention to the text. Try to find imagery that brings emotion to your website.

4. Hook them with an enticing headline

Your headline can be something snappy and (slightly) clever, or, more clearly, a statement of precisely what you offer, in as few words as possible.

Which approach works best can depend on your business and the mood of your website. On this interview coaching company, I used a slogan, mainly because ‘Just the job' was clear, clever and the perfect fit.

If you can't think of anything witty, go with a statement of fact that includes a benefit. You can always change it later. The priority is to get your message across quickly. And take into consideration the general tone of your business and website. A quirky company fits a witty headline. An austere organisation is perhaps better served by a serious statement of fact.

5. Guide your audience to take action

A traditional homepage has a menu bar bursting with ways for people to find out who you are, what you provide, what your other customers think of you etc, via links such as About, Services and Portfolio.

You also need a button or prominent link slap bang in the middle of your homepage that takes visitors to a tangible action; a way to do business with you. For many businesses (mine included), this is ‘Contact Us,' or words to that effect. If you sell stuff on you site, you could prompt people to browse your products, or use the more neuron snapping ‘Shop Now.'

The scourge of Find Out More'

Imagine you're walking down the high street when you pass a shop you've never seen before. The window is full of beautiful clothes of a style you favour and a colour you love.

You stop to look at the pretties and wonder if they're within budget. Do you go in and announce to the shopkeeper ‘I'd like to find out more please!' or do you casually browse the clothes until you catch sight of a price tag? Lets say you find it hard to buy clothes that flatter your shape. Do you want to ‘find out more'? or do you want to know what sizes are available?

No one in the history of wondering about anything on the internet has ever wanted to ‘find out more.' When it comes to a new retailer or service provider, people want to know how much it costs, when and where it happens, whether it can be delivered to their faraway address, and any number of other self-motivated, specific questions.

In the interests of building transparency and trust, put the answers to these questions on the other pages of your website.

Your call to action is a way for people to take a step close to becoming a customer. It has to be specific.

6. Lose the jargon, build the trust

It's not clever to bamboozle your audience with fancy claims about your products and services. Whatever you say, say it clearly, even if you are a rocket scientist. It's tempting to frame a technically adept product or service in a very technical way, but not everyone who makes buying decisions is equally as technical as you. Say it so a ten year old would have a fairly good idea of what you do at first glance.

In fact, forget describing your product or what you do. That's mostly only relevant to you. Think instead about why people need you, and express your products and services in terms of the benefits they bring to other people.

For someone feeling cold in their drafty house, it may help to have new windows fitted. As a window-maker you can do that, but you're responsible for so much more than new windows. You make people feel warm and secure.

When you describe the impact you have on your customers' lives you start to have instant relevance to them, so frame top-level descriptions of the services you provide around the reasons why people want them, rather than just what they look like to you.

Conclusion

Your homepage really can make or break your business. Its images, words, colours and fonts tell a cohesive story about your business, what you do, who you do it for and why it is so important.

Get it wrong and your visitors could bounce back to Google without ever knowing that you were everything they needed.

If you'd like some help with your homepage, get in touch.