Think about the value of your homepage.

Why is it valuable? Everyone has an opinion.

For many, the homepage’s importance is a carryover from the top-down approach to navigating the web. People rarely experience websites in a rigid, indexed hierarchy yet many teams make strategic decisions based on this assumption. As a result, stakeholders spend time ensuring their content is on the homepage while designers use it to explore the site’s creative direction. This may be wasted effort, unfortunately, as users skip over the homepage to find what they really want.

Don’t let these homepage myths dictate your design and content strategy.

Homepage Myth #1

“First impressions are important, so the homepage has to do [x].”

Look at your site’s analytics and you’ll find that people are using search, social and referrals to find your content. Search is an ingrained behavior; people expect quick answers. These visitors  land deep into your site via an article, a product detail page, etc.. If what they really came to find doesn’t match their expectations, you’ve lost them.

The homepage is just one step in your users’ non-linear journey. People no longer navigate Home » Category Page » Detail page; they use any path that matches their intended goal. Skimp on the details and you’ll skimp on the experience; users will see the holes and leave before they even make their way to that beautiful homepage.

You can’t satisfy everyone coming through the front door. Let’s look at Intel: a complex domain, a lot of content and very different user types. Imagine the questions that emerged during the inevitable homepage talk.

Phew. Here’s a plausible scenario: a journalist, an engineer, a job applicant, and new/returning customers visit the same page, but they have overlapping and distinct needs. What would you do?

Intel (2013): Start your search here.

This design assumes people know what they want and have a way to describe it. If they don’t, the lack of content doesn’t encourage exploration.

Wins: Intel did something so simple it almost feels silly. Rather than using content, they let search drive the experience through the site. With so many different user types and possible paths, this approach might have been the best way to get users to the right content —you want that too.

Intel (2015): This is our most popular content.

The scope of the homepage is broad so it’s easy to see how this design happened. The danger of speaking to everyone is speaking to no one.

Wins: Returning customers need help or drivers to keep their equipment running. New customers want to shop and compare devices. Space is allocated for these users, and their tasks, to guide them into the site. Even good ol’ Jakob Nielsen (2002!) suggests emphasizing the site’s top high-priority tasks on the homepage.

Homepage Myth #2

“The homepage gets the most views so it’s the most important page.”

Image courtesy of: New York Times

It’s about the content. Look at time spent and page views across each page type (e.g., article, blog, product detail). Now, compare that to your homepage to see what actually retains your users’ attention. It just makes sense to spend the most time on the stuff people use. If it’s good for users, it’s good for business.

The homepage is a necessity, but it’s not where you want users to end, or necessarily start, their experience (unless it’s a one page site).New York Times and The Atlantic — sites that you’d expect to have a lot of homepage traffic — report a familiar trend. Only ⅓ of New York Times’ visitors see the homepage and 13 percent of visits start on The Atlantic homepage. What’s that mean? In these examples, every page is responsible for communicating the breadth of the site’s content. Even if your analytics don’t tell a similar story, try to understand why users land on your site, and where, so you can show them the next appropriate step.

Homepage Myth #3

“The homepage is the creative concept of our site.”

Ever used the homepage to convey the creative direction for  a web experience? It’s OK, I have too. By focusing solely on the homepage, it’s easy to ignore how design decisions affect the rest of the site. What’s the risk? Answer: A page that doesn’t match the site strategy and fails to convert. This happens when teams think about individual pages rather than a design system.

Image courtesy of: A List Apart

Mood boards and style tiles are better for refining the creative tone. The entire site is the concept, not one page. Take a step back and design the building blocks (UI elements, content types, etc.) to develop a cohesive look that works in a variety of situations. Try designing important site sections first. As you do this, you’ll amass content and design elements that can be used to build the homepage. Understand the user experience by going deep and working your way up through the site architecture. With the hard work already done, the homepage kind of creates itself.

Homepage Myth #4

“The homepage has to communicate our main value proposition.”

SurveyMonkey touts, “Create Surveys, Get Answers” on their homepage. Short, simple, concise.

Your value proposition should be clear to users no matter where they begin their journey on your website.

The benefit of their product is repeated on their features page, “Get answers with the world’s leading survey platform.” Any marketing manager would be delighted if someone entered and left with that message. SurveyMonkey covers themselves in both cases—that’s smart.

Know when your value statement matters, don’t expect to win people over just on the homepage. Understand the goal of your content and plan accordingly.

Homepage Myth #5

“The homepage needs to show everything we offer.”

The dominant strategy is “homepage as navigational hub” by using content to direct users into the site. The homepage has the burden of supporting everything—broad in scope, lacking in depth—because it lives high on the sitemap. This is logical, until you realize that users aren’t analyzing your information architecture. They don’t have time to care. Sometimes the best approach is to focus on less to get more out of each site visit. 

MailChimp (2012): Look at all of our options.

In 2012, MailChimp used a lot of content to convince customers to sign up.

Wins: New updates, how the service works, email templates, a client list, and a newsletter subscription. 

Not every homepage can be like this MailChimp example below, but it’s a good case study in how to pull users in without using a lot of content and a good example of how a homepage can evolve.

MailChimp (2015): Sign up, here.

The content that used to be here is still accessible and, arguably, more valuable when viewed as “Features.”

Wins: A simple statement (“Send Better Email”) and an illustrative demo are enough to get sign-ups. 

I admit, this is tricky! You want people to understand your offering(s). Too many choices? Hard to make a decision. Not enough choice? Interest wanes.

What will you design for your next homepage?

The homepage shouldn’t be thrown away entirely, it just needs to be rethought and designed with a purpose. How valuable is your homepage? Tell us your experiences in the comments section!