First impressions matter in life. Whether you are trying to impress a member of the opposite sex, a potential employer or a new client, you have to do a great job of getting their attention and holding it.
The same applies to your website. Your homepage is your first impression.
When people visit your website for the first time, the decision to stay or go is usually made within a matter of a few seconds. If you can't create a "love at first site" experience for your visitors you are doomed to fail.
For those people who are return visitors to your site, you must keep the romance alive. Give them fresh and useful content, teach them something new, offer them something you haven't offered in the past.
How do you make that first impression? You do it with clear, simple and compelling content. Get your message across with quick bursts of useful information and images. Do not bog down your visitors with long stories.
Think in terms of bullet points and clear and meaningful calls to action. The messages you provide must be compelling to your visitors. In other words, identify their needs, address those needs and reward your visitors for sticking around.
For a great example of a user-friendly site, take a look at foursquare.com.
As you can see, the calls to action are simple and uncluttered: "check in," "find your friends," "unlock your city."
The content on the home page are brief, user-generated messages. The ecommerce is straight-forward ("get it now").
Another key element of a user-friendly homepage is respect. Respect, as used here, means treating your users as you would your friends or lovers. This means taking the time to give them what they want and not settling for the tried and true.
Think of the language you are choosing. When a site has an "About Us" page, it means they are relying on website language from another era. Show you care enough to be original, or at least conversational. Go with language like "Our story," "Meet the team," "Behind the scenes."
Similarly an "In the News" tab can be a turn-off. Go with something like "The press loves us!" or "Everybody's talking about us."
If you've been smart or creative enough to get a visitor who wants to come back to your site, don't take them for granted. Every time they visit, there should be something new for them to see. Content should constantly be added to your site. Don't be afraid to rotate older content.
Images on your site should be compelling, but they should also be changed and rotated often. Every time your page is refreshed, you should have a new visual. Adobe does a fantastic job of this on their homepage:
The video on the homepage is constantly being updated. Visitors come back to the site to see what’s new, whether it’s a new product, an update or even a client testimonial.
What kind of content keeps visitors coming back for more? There are different answers for different websites. Some key elements that make a site “sticky” are:
- Blogs: But only if you have a meaningful message to get across. Don’t blog for the sake of blogging. Demonstrate your expertise, your creativity and your originality and you will find yourself with a band of devoted followers.
- Newsletters: A newsletter is a great tool, but only if you have a worthwhile message to deliver. If you can’t deliver a newsletter that people look forward to, you will only be damaging your brand.
- User-Generated Content: Create online communities and opportunities for your visitors to be heard. If all of your content is self-generated, you are losing out on a great opportunity.
- Great Links: There’s a saying on the web: “Do what you do best and link to the rest.” Don’t be afraid to send your visitors to other sites. They will come back to you knowing that you are looking out for their interests.
- RSS Feeds: Make it easy for your visitors to follow you. If you are creating fresh content, get the word out!
- Games, Polls and other Interactive Modules: Make your visitors feel like they’re a part of your site. The more activities they participate in, the more loyal they will be to your site.
In conclusion, think of your website’s homepage as the initial seduction and your site’s “sticky” features as the ongoing romance. In other words make them fall in love with you quickly and keep the flame alive the way you would in any love affair: address your visitors’ needs and desires, keep things fresh and new and never take your visitors for granted.