The homepage was once considered the unrivaled window to the world for every website. But in 2014, magazines like Forbes and The Atlantic followed a report that showed homepage visits for one of the biggest news sites in the world, The New York Times, had fallen by almost 50%.
Why? The culprit was social media that allowed users to access the content they wanted more immediately without visiting through the front door. They declared this the death of the homepage. However, the landing page (as anyone following their analytics will tell you) is far from dead. Up-and-coming companies understand that the role of the page has simply evolved and changed to facilitate the very “side” access that the articles in 2014 bemoan.
The homepage is no longer to be looked at like a book cover or a front window, but rather as a hub—a place to start a journey. But how is it possible to facilitate that journey in an efficient and user friendly way? A recent study by Creative Market took the top 1,000 homepages from the 2016 Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies and discovered important trends that these successful businesses follow. The biggest lesson to learn? Don’t get too creative with content. Instead get smart about user experience.
Be Clear and Clean
Facilitating improved engagement on your homepage is a kind of science that includes consideration of design elements and the psychological understanding of what is pleasing to the eye and brain. When considering fonts, for example, sleek modern iterations like Arial and Helvetica populate most of the successful sites. 70% of companies use a sans-serif font and many feel that these are simply more readable on the internet and have a modern element to them. A standard font size for your homepage to encourage readability is between 13-16 pt.
Use High Contrast
Again, legibility is something you want to prize on your site. By far the most popular text color is traditional black (with some dark grays also in the mix). This kind of contrast with a light or white background makes your site easy to read, but also is important for accessibility—around 10% of people have some level of color blindness. Even more have low vision. Don’t alienate your market by getting too imaginative with colored themes.
The average amount of text for a homepage on the top 1000 sites was 605 words. The moral is: be as brief as you can. Give wayfaring elements like menus, tabs, or search bars, the presence they need to create a clear method of user engagement. Again, the homepage is no longer a place to worry about informing your audience about everything that’s happening in your company—let them be led to the content they want.
Headline and Call to Action
The best headlines are 6-12 words and sum up a business clearly while creating an idea of welcoming. In addition, include a call to action in a clickable form (like a button) and give this actionable wording that entices a user to click on it.
Large files like video or many high resolution images can weigh down your homepage causing it to load more slowly. Unfortunately, a long load is shown to contribute to a higher bounce rate. The 1,000 successful sites studied had an average load time of under 1.5 seconds. Keeping your content simple and sleek will help.
A Central Dynamic Image
That is not to say that you want no high resolution images, but keep these to a minimum and make sure they are relevant to your business (not just attractive).
The Future of the Homepage
Don’t get cozy though. Even after following these design ideas, the future is likely moving toward more individualized content. Already the idea of several targeted homepage designs have shown the ability to improve on bounce rates and conversions. Cara Harshmann shares on Moz about how trends in personalization have reached the homepage specifically.
She notes Optimizely, which provides consulting on this technology, is using 29 homepage iterations to target users that come from different places, including those that come from places like a Target.com ad or a travel site. The implications of this are enormous. Personalized pages may be rough on SEO (though Harshman claims to have solved this issue), but generally encourage better conversions—Optimizely demonstrates an 117% improved conversion rate.
With the death of the traditional homepage, a new era of possibilities begins. Targeting user experience first and foremost will allow your landing page to thrive and make the right first impression.