Hitting a home run on the homepage

A visitor lands on a website’s homepage to a destination laden with options. Calls to action offer her new products, not-to-be-missed sales, and come-ons to “learn more” about a plethora of topics, many only marginally relevant to a small percentage of visitors to the page. Web teams dedicate massive efforts to perfecting their homepage, trying to entice visitors with promotions and content they think will excite them, sometimes changing homepage content every few hours to stay interesting and relevant. So why are visitors ignoring content?

What exactly is happening on your homepage?

Workinged with several clients on different parts of their websites, when looking into homepage behavior I have seen time and again that customers consistently dismiss most of what’s there. Let me explain why home page optimization efforts must be focused on the search and top navigation, to help focused visitors easily reach their goals:

Homepage research reveals distinct and consistent trends across websites

Visitors spend little time on the homepage -- they are actively engaged for just 10-20 seconds on average. In those short seconds, most visitors are not perusing offers. Up to two-thirds of the customers who visit the homepage go straight to search, using either the site search or the top navigation. Well over half of visitors on a homepage already know what they are looking for and have no intention to browse promotions and other content.

In many cases, customers interact primarily with search and top navigation menus, with just a bit of interaction with the main banner – without even browsing the homepage. Visitors for the most part do not scroll down on the homepage, and only very few venture below the average fold height.

The trend is clear: visitors come to the homepage with intent

Most visitors arrive at the homepage with some sort of goal. No one accidentally types “www.XYZ.com” without having something in mind. This means that promotions and sales are often ignored because visitors are there for another reason. They seldom interact with content on the homepage, using the page as their launching pad into other areas of the site that match their interests. These visitors are often impatient; they want to find something, and quickly.

This doesn’t mean that site visitors won’t be interested in promotional items if, for instance, they appear on another page. But the homepage is a place where visitors generally spend little time, where they’re more focused toward reaching the areas of the site they came for in the first place. This means that first and foremost, to help focused visitors easily reach their goals, home page optimization efforts must be focused on the search and top navigation.

How can businesses improve the homepage experience while aligning with internal promotional goals?

Few shoppers in brick and mortar stores pause to closely examine shop windows or in-store displays. Yet, these displays serve an important promotional function. For digital businesses, the homepage has a similarly important promotional role. So how can businesses provide a great homepage experience for customers who are open to promotions, while helping more goal-oriented visitors get on with their tasks?

Homepage design best practices:

1. Optimize search

  • Facilitate the experience for visitors who know what they’re looking for.
  • Provide a large search bar with inviting text on the search.
  • Implement auto-fill and auto-suggest specific products to help visitors get to a product detail page quicker, without first going through a search results page.

Home Depot promotes popular products in their search, easing the process for visitors who know which products they want.

2. Use the top navigation as an opportunity for promotion

Visitors who opt to use the top navigation over the search often know which category they are looking for, but not necessarily a specific product, or they would have used the search.

  • Use the top navigation to feature popular categories or even interesting items within the main category that the visitor is browsing.
  • Include large, attractive images to expose visitors to products that they may desire, even if they didn’t have these in mind originally.

Home Depot uses large, inviting images in its top navigation, subtly exposing visitors to items they didn’t even know they wanted.

3. Promote categories and not specific products

When analyzing a client’s Black Friday campaign, I found that links promoting specific products were seldom clicked, however links to “all Black Friday links” received significantly more clicks. Visitors don’t want to bind themselves to specific products straight from the homepage. Chances that visitors will want that specific single item you’re trying to promote is low.

Use categories to allow visitors to choose they want – and increase the likelihood of conversion.

 On the Gap homepage, holiday sales are promoted in two separate banners. Each contains links to general categories, allowing visitors to segment themselves early on.

4. Don’t overload the main banner

Most visitors are exposed to the main banner. But do they really see it? Like billboards on a highway, the carousel banner is often ignored.

  • Remove your carousel banner
  • Focus on a single promotion in the main banner. Visitors are distracted by and often ignore this content, according to Econsultancy research.
  • Feature a single relevant promotion which visitors need not exert effort to find.

5. Be selective throughout the homepage

Many stakeholders within the organization want their own content to appear on the homepage, but there’s no room for it all. With visitors spending 10 seconds on average on the homepage, hard decisions have to be made about what content to feature.

  • Use a few large, inviting images
  • Visitors should not have to exhaust their cognitive efforts trying to navigate through loads of promotions. The L.L Bean homepage, which has just a few promotional tiles, is a good example.

What should I keep in mind?

There will always be focused visitors who are not susceptible to promotional content on the homepage. But the key to homepage design is to keep in mind that visitors are primarily en route to other areas of the site and so don’t stop for long. Homepage content should reflect this reality.

  • For goal-oriented visitors, use search and top navigation as promotion opportunities
  • Keep promotions limited
  • Feature categories and not specific products

Homepage visitors often already know what they need, but by understanding their behavior and intent, we can direct them toward items they may want as well.

Read more about how understanding different types of online shoppers’ personalities help your business.

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