Determining an optimal layout for your website is not a small exercise. And the homepage as the centerpiece is no different.
It has one job, but it’s one of those jobs where the employer just keeps adding things to the list of responsibilities. And it can get pretty long:
- clarify your message
- position your brand
- convey whats important
- list your offerings
- increase engagement
- get email signups
- increase conversions
- elevate your best content
- elevate underperforming content
- earn attention
- route users effectively
A site can have a bunch of responsibilities but without a target outcome you can’t really measure job performance… and it’s all about performance. So what’s the target outcome?
On the one hand we have what you care about like, “how many users can you make do a thing.” Give an email or buy something (dollar sign eyes with tongue out emoji).
On the other hand, we have what the user cares about, you know, the reason they’re on your site, their target outcome. In the above list, only #11 (routing users effectively) even remotely accounts for this.
Thinking about the user’s situation flips the script. Where do they want to go? How do we help them get there?
Sure, your goals should inform how your homepage is laid out. And there’s nothing wrong with multiple goals or calls to action for things you care about — sales and subscribers are healthy indicators that you’re pointed in the right direction.
The truth is when someone gets to your homepage, you really don’t know why they’re there. And there is no easy way to know. Home pages are one of the most linked to from other sites, one of the highest trafficked pages, and see a decent mix of returning and new users.
Your only inputs are your brain, maybe your web designer’s brain, and any data inputs you track – where are those users coming from at what mix of channels, referral sources, or pages on your site.
But you aren’t looking at that data.
Instead, you’re using your own mental model to wing laying out a homepage with your goals for your users and even if you are looking for the overlap between what you want and what your audience wants in laying out a homepage, you aren’t going to find it by guessing.
So what can you do?
There’s an excellent 2015 talk called Website Navigation For Link-Worthy Content Assets with Eric Ward, Shari Thurow & Garrett French. In it, Thurow explains that, “people abandon sites because they can’t find the right content.” She uses a great analogy of good information architecture of how we use elevators with the goal of going to the 7th floor:
- Where am I? (orientation – floor is clearly labeled)
- Am I in the right place? (arrival – elevator dings, door opens, “7” lights up)
- Where can I go? (navigation – elevator shows all available floors)
- How can I get there? (should I click this link? 7 = 7th floor)
In that talk Thurow also says fun things like “Content is king, but context is the kingdom.” And quotes a Nielsen stat that 77% of task failure is related to information architecture issues.
In my mind you don’t necessarily need to know everything about your users to do a good job of showcasing what you and your site is about and how they can easily get to where they might want to go.
That’s the homepage’s job. In our elevator analogy, the homepage is the hotel lobby.
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