5 common mistakes to avoid on your homepage

By far the most important page on your website is the homepage. This is where most of your visitors will land, and it also contains the content that will have the most important effect on your search rankings.

So what are the kind of basic mistakes you can avoid to make your homepage win customers rather than lose them?

1. It’s not friendly to new visitors
First impressions count for a lot. But how often have you visited a website and had to dig deep to find basic information?

Don’t make the assumption that anyone knows anything about your company. In fact assume total ignorance when it comes to the homepage of your website. Make sure your first two or three paragraphs give a summary of everything your organisation has to offer and why the visitor should choose you rather than your competition.

Most company websites are only visited once. The person you should be writing to on the homepage is the potential new customer, not the loyal old customers who are more likely to pick up the phone than search for you online.

A company summary on the homepage is also great for search engines because it will naturally include the keywords that people use when looking in your market sector. (The one exception to all this is if you are an online retailer when products and prices should be the stars of the homepage.)

2. All the news is old news
In fact the first thing you have to ask yourself is whether you need news at all on your homepage. If the only stories available to post are the new colour scheme in reception or your recent investment in new accountancy software, then you might ask if this is really going to wow your clients!

But if you do have a news section, make sure it doesn’t look like it’s gathering virtual dust. I can’t be the only one who gets the impression from some homepages that nothing has happened to this company since October 2009. The real purpose of a news section is rarely much to do with information: it’s to make your company look like a place that’s thriving and alive with activity. So make sure the news keeps coming, week in, week out.

3. The navigation is all over the place
Remember the homepage is a portal for your whole website, and think about those first-time visitors again. The buttons and links to the rest of the site should be super-clear and logically structured. Anything that’s the least bit confusing will have your promising new customer hitting the back button of their browser to return to the search engine listings.

4. It’s designed by the designer for the designer
As in any profession there are great web designers and there are not-so-great web designers. The latter are more common than they should be and know everything about font faces but next to nothing about marketing.

You’ll find their websites are often created in a similar style and structure no matter who the client is. Maybe they always suggest Flash for the homepage. Or perhaps they think it’s always a good idea to have a corporate Twitter feed on the homepage. Or they always insist you need the extra cost of a content management system.

All the above may be perfectly good advice, but not in every case. Before you employ a website designer, make sure you see the sites they’ve done for other people and decide for yourself if each one has been carefully and individually tailored to the services or products on offer.

5. There’s too much or too little
There are two sure ways to make sure a visitor leaves your homepage quickly. One way is to give them so little useful text that they decide it would be quicker to look elsewhere. The other way is to provide paragraph after paragraph giving every little detail of your products or service that simply looks overwhelming and – let’s face it – bloody boring!

Remember the homepage is the appetizer to a feast. Your link buttons are the menu for the main course which your visitor can select from as they wish.

A good freelance copywriter will make sure the homepage content is long enough for search engines to retrieve what they need from it, but short enough for the reader to digest the whole thing quickly and leave them hungry to find out more.