5 tips for a more effective homepage for your small business

When someone visits your homepage for the first time, they are making an instant judgment about your business. Your homepage will form a first impression that can either drive traffic to your business or send them to a competitor.

Keep your design simple

Effective design equals better customer response.

Think of your homepage as the virtual lobby to your business. In your real lobby, would you have all kinds of clutter and immediately ambush people by trying to tell them everything about your business in the first 10 seconds they are there? Of course not, but that’s exactly what some homepages do.

They are so cluttered with images, widgets, social media links, maps, menus, product lists and other information, the poor customer doesn’t even know where to start. More often than not, the disoriented customer draws the conclusion that the business isn’t focused or doesn’t look professional and moves on to the next candidate.

If your website has this effect on people, you are losing business. To help, here are five tips to make your homepage more effective.

Keep it simple. There’s no need to make people drink from a firehose. In some cases, a few images might be all you need to entice customers for a visit. Take the Nemo Grille in Avon as a local example (http://www.nemogrille.com/). Even if you’ve never eaten there, within three seconds of visiting its website, you’ll know everything you need to know about what kind of food they serve and whether it might be a place to visit. In this case, the pictures do most of the talking with a brief text description communicating what type of food they serve. No clutter, just a clean, professional look that tells me everything I need to know.

Pictures may not always convey the full message and you may need more text, but keep the text in bite-size chunks. For more detailed descriptions of specific products or services, create secondary landing pages instead of cluttering your homepage with the details.

Don’t forget mobile. Make sure your homepage is mobile-device friendly. More people are now accessing the web from phones and tablets than computers, so don’t make users pinch and scroll more than necessary. This trend toward mobile devices crosses all demographics, so don’t assume it's only millennials that are shopping and looking for information on their phones. Mobile devices are only going to become more prevalent, so the more mobile-friendly your homepage is, the better off you will be.

Keep the material fresh. If you are going to create a blog, update it regularly. The same goes for calendar of events and widgets that display your social media posts. Nothing makes a business look more abandoned than checking out its website only to find that the last blog was from three years ago, the social widget displays a tweet from September of 2014 as the most recent and a big banner proclaims the company’s proud sponsorship of the homecoming parade...in 2013. The user is left wondering if the company is still in business. You are better off not having current-events related material on your site at all if you don’t have the time to update it.

The design needs to reflect your brand. If you are a conservative, Italian restaurant, the homepage design should be conservative as well. Bright colors, animations and other distractions should be avoided in this case. A simple color scheme that matches your signage or interior along with nice pictures and basic text is a better choice.

On the other hand, if you run a laser tag facility that blares hard rock during every match, the design should reflect this environment, but not at the expense of being effective or easy to navigate.

The homepage design, just like everything else you do, needs to reflect the values of the brand.

Photo quality matters. Just because every smartphone has a nice camera on it now does not mean you should use it for your business photography. Blurry, poorly composed or poorly lit photos send a message to potential customers that you are not professional. There’s nothing wrong with using real photos of your people and business rather than clip art, but have them taken by a professional using the right equipment and good lighting to make sure you are conveying the right image. If you are a restaurant or other destination-type business, the images on your website can make or break you. It’s worth the money to hire a professional.

Good photos can also be used to help you achieve the first point of keeping your homepage simple by making things like product categories easy to navigate. Check out this example from Elyria-based Pharmacy-Lite Packaging (http://www.pharmacylite.com/). Notice how the product categories are clearly illustrated with excellent photos. Everything about the photos says the company is professional and knows what it is doing -- that’s what you want your images to say about you.

There are many ways to design a homepage and no one design is going to work for every business. But if you keep these five tips in mind while putting together your design, you are more likely to convey the message to customers that they would be best served shopping with you rather than the competition.

Matt Beargie is a web developer at Emerge Inc. If you have questions about creating a better homepage for your business, reach him at Mbeargie@Emergeinc.com.

Emerge Inc. provides web, mobile, social and content solutions and is based in Avon Lake (Lorain County), Ohio.

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