Don't make these 13 critical mistakes on your homepage

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As an entrepreneur, you’ve got a lot to worry about beyond your web content and design alone. But knowing a bit about best practice when it comes to user experience and general etiquette can help you avoid some crushing mistakes and help you ensure that your website is the hardest working asset you have. Here are 13 mistakes to avoid.

1. Don't offer an unwelcome “Welcome.”

Nothing says “We don’t understand the internet” like the phrase “Welcome to our website!” This superfluous content might seem like politeness, but it  doesn’t benefit the user in any way. Instead of welcoming the lead to the website, your copy should focus on helping them identify the fact that not only are they in the right place, but that you can solve the problem they came for. More on that in a second.

2. It’s not about you.

Your home page isn’t about you – literally. The homepage should not be a second “About Us” page. All too often, companies begin rambling on about who they are, their proud history, their staff and so on. As I alluded to in the previous point, your home page content needs to quickly show the visitor that they’ve arrived in the place they intended, while explaining how you can solve their problem.

For example, look at the headline for FreshBooks:

“Say Hello to Cloud Accounting” immediately explains what the product is. “Join over 5 million people using FreshBooks to make billing painless” not only offers social proof, but explains exactly why their online billing and accounting product exists. Finally, the headers on each section state a benefit that answers a potential customer pain point:

  • “Easy to Use” (message: you don't need to be tech-savvy to use our software)
  • “Work Anywhere” (message: our software is flexible)
  • “Save Time Billing” (message: don't fumble through excel spreadsheets)

It’s all designed so that the visitor immediately know where they are, what they can do and why it will help.

3. Nothing says "trust us" like phony photos.

Using the extremely common stock photos of people on your home page (you know, the woman with the headpiece on or the group of people huddled around a computer) might seem like a cheap way to design, but it also makes you look cheap and untrustworthy. Invest in strong design and genuine photos; if you show photos of people, make them real people (preferably you and your team - or at least really great and original stock photography). As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to lose trust before viewers read a single line of content.

4. DIY web design? Think twice.

Entrepreneurs, I know you want to go lean and save a buck, but don’t skimp on web design. This is the face you show to the world; and people really do judge a book by its cover – there are studies to prove it. If you’re going lean and can’t afford a designer, it’s not a terrible idea to turn to a platform like Squarespace or Weebly, where the templates are pretty solid and easy to customize. 

5. Be unique, but not with your navigation scheme.

 A lot of entrepreneurs want to bring their innovation to web design – and sometimes, it pays off. The navigation bar, though, is not one of those places. Don’t get cute with weird navigation types, like having a human body with links on the different body parts, or a galaxy with the stars as different links. The bar is tested, proven and expected by web users. Don’t get fancy with naming conventions either – your navigation labels should be intuitive (“Services”) not clever (“Gettin’ it done!”).

6. Too much choice is paralyzing.

Give your users too many options, and they won’t do anything at all. In fact, they might leave. Limit your navigation items to the essentials; keep your sidebars and page content clean. Avoid cramming too much in too tight a space (whitespace has been shown to improve reading comprehension and trust). Make the paths to products obvious, and make them shorter if you need to.

7. Don’t autoplay ANYTHING.

Seriously, entrepreneurs. Nothing. Not music, not video. Nobody likes landing on a page and having to frantically search for the “stop” button because you’ve interrupted their streaming music. It hurts conversion rates, too – just don’t do it.

8. Don’t leave ‘em in the dark.

Show your contact information, front and center. Even if viewers don’t use it, seeing contact information is an immediate trust signal and lets people know that there are real, live humans responsible for the page they are seeing and accountable for their experience. Those who must contact you will appreciate not having to dig; those who don’t will appreciate having the option just in case.

9. One box changes everything.

Unless your website is just a few pages, you should definitely have a fully functional site search. Not only will this help users laser-target the content they want (which is especially crucial for e-commerce), but you can also track the searches made to help you understand things like:

  • What content isn’t immediately obvious to visitors?
  • What are visitors primarily interested in?
  • How might I refine my keyword targeting strategy?

10. Everyone (still) hates pop ups.

Thinking about having an email capture form pop up, or a survey to help improve the quality of your website? Don’t. A pop up on the home page is a huge deterrent for new visitors, as they immediately suspect you’re trying to get them to part with their information (or money). Their guard goes up, they get annoyed, and they may just leave altogether. Your home page just isn’t the place for this; if you must introduce it, introduce it later on, on a more specific page.

11. Sliders stink (No, really).

As Joost de Valk accurately explains in this wonderful piece, although they are very common, sliders are bad for users and bad for your website. They frustrate users, and typically get ignored. That’s unfortunate, because they often contain some of the most important content on the page. You’re better off using a beautiful static design and making your point clearly; don’t count on users using your carousel.

12. Don't forget mobile.

One of the biggest oversights of entrepreneurs is a mobile-friendly design. Your home page will be the primary access point for most people, including those on mobile devices. If the page needs a lot of squinting, pinching and pulling, chances are good you’re going to lose that demographic (which is a problem, because it’s growing at an enormous pace and now outstrips desktop users).

13. Avoid dead space.

Got a space for “news” on your home page? How about a “most recent blog post” section? Or maybe you’ve added a section for “new resources”? Here’s the thing: unless you can commit to keeping those sections updated regularly and full of interesting content, they may very well work against you. Empty spaces communicate a lack of diligence and interest; outdated content in these spaces makes YOU look outdated. Be certain you not only need them, but can keep them up to snuff.

Be clean, simple, and direct.

When it comes to your home page, a clean, simple and direct design wins the day. Messaging should be effective, not clever (though if you can manage both, that’s best!). It’s not rocket science – and now that you know some key things to watch out for, you can be sure your website isn’t turning people away.

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