2019 is the Year You Finally Fix Your Homepage. Here's How.
When clients come to me needing homepage help, they typically fall into one of three categories:
Brand new business that has no website or one that was quickly put together with copy from the company’s founder/whoever it was in the office who had the best writing skills. They want something that performs better.
Legacy business with legacy website that looks dated (and they know it) and they’re looking for a full refresh. These businesses typically have at least one competitor site that they will keep referring to for what they want. They want something that looks competitive.
Small business who is looking for assistance with another marketing project and “likes” their homepage/website but has no idea how it performs and is doing nothing to track or optimize their site -- they just have it because, you know, everyone needs a website. They don’t really know what they want.
The last category is shockingly common and that’s absolutely fine. But if you fall into that category, it can be a long road between that first conversation and admitting that you have a homepage problem. I’m hoping this post can make that road a little bit shorter.
As a digital native (internet addict?) who spends way too many waking minutes online (especially for someone who lives so close to the beach) it’s easy for me to forget that most people, even business owners, don’t really care about the latest web design trends, CRO, or how a SaaS company 80000x’d the traffic to their blog.
Most people start businesses because they want to help people, not because they want to learn digital marketing.
I want to help people, too. I just want to do it with digital marketing and copywriting.
Building out a homepage that attracts the right people and gives them reason enough to continue engaging with your business doesn’t mean you have to read every single digital marketing book, article, and Twitter thread to learn how to do every single piece of it perfectly the first time.
But it does mean having the right mindset and some foundational understanding of what makes a homepage engaging in 2019.
How Much Time Should You Spend on Your Homepage?
You know you need some type of website and that your website will have some type of homepage. It’ll be where people land when they type in your URL or maybe when they google your company name.
But depending on your marketing strategy, most of your traffic isn’t going to be filtered through your homepage. Instead, you’re directing people to incredible content, optimized landing pages, and the most beautifully produced explainer videos that your visitors have ever seen.
So why even bother with the time and effort it takes to write and build an amazing, optimized homepage?
Indeed, when the news site Quartz first launched, Kevin Delaney, editor in chief and cofounder, told Fast Company that “It didn’t make sense for us to devote resources to the homepage: design resources, development resources, or editor resources to maintain it.”
As a result, the homepage looked virtually indistinguishable from an article page. That was in 2014.
Check out what the qz.com homepage looks like today as compared to an article page:
It’s pretty different. Like they invested the resources in it.
I don’t work for Quartz or have access to their metrics. There are probably a lot reasons that they decided to change directions on this particular issue, but the important thing is, they did.
The fact is that even if your traffic isn’t starting there, at some point, many of your visitors are going to end up on your homepage.
People that consume your content and like it but don’t take immediate action will often come back through the homepage. Because as Tom Wilde from personalization provider Cxense told MarTech Today, “when you give a good experience through a side door, they come back through the homepage.”
Not to mention your homepage is often the entry point for potential investors, new recruits, journalists, and your mom who just types your http into the online.
Ultimately, there will be a page that acts as your homepage, whether you call it that or not.
Something will live at YOURCOMPANY.biz.
If you take the time to write and design a high-converting homepage, you’ll not only be establishing your brand as one that gives a shit about what their homepage looks like, you’ll be giving yourself that many more opportunities to convert new customers and continue offering a high-quality experience to the ones you already have.
What Does a Standout Homepage Look Like in 2019?
So you have been convinced that your homepage is important enough to spend time on.
Congrats, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
But having just any old homepage is not enough to have a measurable impact on your business. You have to have a good one.
But what does that even look like in 2019? How can you make a website that’s not only builds your company’s credibility but also keeps people engaged and wanting more from you?
A Standout Homepage is Personalized
Way back in 1998, Jeff Bezos told the Washington Post "If we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn't have one store, we should have 4.5 million stores." (Today Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, but I digress).
Even way back then, Bezos knew that personalization based on user data was key to growth. And that is just as true today as it was then. The range of people that come to your homepage all have different needs and the better you can cater to them, the more likely they are to stick around.
The investor that wants to know if you’re a legit operation has a whole different set of needs than a returning visitor who bounced on the pricing page last time but wants to check things out again because they’ve got a bigger budget this quarter.
So you should create a bunch of different homepage sections that address every visitors concerns and questions and let them select the right pages for themselves, right?
I mean, you can do that but it’s not the best use of your resources and your homepage will quickly end up looking cluttered and confusing.
A better option is to track your visitor behavior and show them what they’re looking for right off the bat. Show them that you know who they are and what they care about by personalizing your homepage.
Optimizely offered a helluva a case study on the Moz blog, noting that their fully optimized (duh) homepage that was being shown to all visitors performed noticeably worse that their personalized attempts.
With the personalization, they saw:
1.5% increase in engagement,
113% increase in conversions to Solutions page
117% increase in conversions on “Test it Out” CTA to start account creation process
Which is to say nothing of the positive feedback and brand cache they earned with the experiment.
One of the cool things about the Optimizely case study is that for some of the personalized pages, the only thing they needed to know was the time of day it was. That small, personalized indicator had a huge impact on conversions because it made people pay attention and feel understood.
Of course, if you’re just building out your website and don’t have a ton of traffic (or any at all), you may not be able to offer personalization just yet and that’s okay. There are still things you can do to make your homepage standout.
A Standout Homepage Offers a Unique Experience
A lot of the chatter around the idea of the death of the homepage started back in 2014 when Buzzfeed published a leaked New York Times chart of their homepage’s performance, which had dropped off precipitously.
If you weren’t keeping tabs, this is what nytimes.com looked like in 2014 as compared to 2019:
The differences are subtle with the current homepage still paying homage to the print edition layout. But instead of directly mimicking the while making other sections more accessible and highlighting popular stories rather than sticking with static headlines.
Going to the New York Times website is now a different experience that picking up the physical paper. It takes into account how people use the internet, even if they’re using it to consume the same news they would get from a paperboy tossing it on their doorstep.
In addition to personalized content, the best homepages in 2019 offer a unique experience. Reading the paper is a simple one, but other sites take a more innovative approach.
Women’s health app Clue offers its visitors an experience that’s much different from most app-based websites. Rather than create a simple landing page that directs people to the App Store, Clue focuses on high-quality, science-backed content about sexual health, reproduction, and other issues that are important to their user base.
By doing this, they are not only offering visitors a unique experience, they are building customer loyalty by demonstrating a deep knowledge of what their users care about the most.
A unique homepage experience does not have to be a major undertaking with animations, videos, games, and sophisticated personalization algorithms -- it can be as simple as creating a homepage that shows you know your customers.
A Standout Homepage Has Evolving Design & Content
If you truly want your company to stand out online, you have to leave behind the days of investing in a brand new website and leaving it as it is for 3 to 5 years until it looks outdated and you start the cycle over.
Even if you go the extra mile of optimizing your homepage today, your needs and your customer needs change much more quickly than that. And your homepage needs to change with them.
You can optimize it for your needs today and those needs may be hugely different in 12 or 18 months.
For example, as your business grows, more and more potential customers will know who you are and what you do. With brand recognition, you’ll have to spend less real estate on your homepage explaining what you do.
The Slack website featured much different messaging in 2013, when it launched, versus 2019, when its brand recognition is MUCH different:
But brand recognition is not the only reason your homepage may need to evolve over time. The audience that comes to your site may also change -- you might go on a hiring spree and want to focus your homepage on employer branding, you may decide that your best customers don’t match the marketing avatar you initially launched with and therefore your brand voice needs to be updated.
That last one happened recently to gym management app Glofox.
The company’s founder notes that “the voice we had developed internally was making an important connection with our customers, it wasn’t coming through in our overall brand. We needed to put the customer at the center of who we are as a company,” they redesigned their site and language:
Again, you can see that brand recognition has driven the homepage messaging away from a clear explanation and towards addressing what they know are the concerns of their current and future customers.
It’s not about constantly poking and prodding your homepage because you’re never satisfied with what’s there -- it’s about optimizing how your site performs for your most urgent business goals. And those are always changing.
How to Start Optimizing Your Homepage
Whether you already have a site that is underperforming or are building one from scratch, there are a few ways to make sure that you’re headed down the right path when it comes to building a homepage that stands out and more importantly, a homepage that converts.
It starts with learning.
Start by Learning
You can’t know what to change about your homepage unless you know what’s working.
You’ll want to start by gathering as much data as you can about how people are already using your site. How are they getting to your homepage? How much time do they spend there? What do they click -- or not click -- while they’re on the page?
The list of data you can collect is virtually endless but if you start with these basics you can get a good idea of where you’re starting from.
Aside from analytics tools, you can also conduct user research, having people that don’t know your site try to navigate through it and seeing where they get stuck and how they perceive your messaging.
There’s a lot more to be said about testing and data collection than I’m going to get into here, but suffice to say, it’s an essential step of creating a homepage that works.
Don’t have a site yet? That’s okay. Aside from making sure you have analytics tools in place to learn about your site’s performance when it does go live, you can also use this time to collect valuable information about your target customers. Who are they and what do they care about?
This information will help to inform every choice you make about your business, not just your homepage.
Test, Iterate, Repeat
Once you have the data to work with, you can start making changes. Depending on what you found in your data, you might start with something as simple as rewriting a headline to be more clear about what you do and who your product or service is for. As Neil Patel says, “the first headline your visitor sees is the most important copy you’ll write” so you’d be surprised what a big difference this small change can make.
But just because you rewrite the headline doesn’t mean you’re done with optimizing your homepage.
As you make changes to your homepage (based on your data, of course), you’ll be able to find out what works and what doesn’t. Then make more changes. And on and on.
That’s what makes some homepages stand out and see conversion rates go up and up and some stagnate. Constant testing and improvement.
Not all the changes you make will be good. But the more you test and iterate, the better you will get at making good choices and improving the performance of your homepage.
Consider Your Copy First
As conversion optimization expert Talia Wolf puts it, “If you’re going to do a redesign, you need a strategy and a process.”
A lot people start the process with design. And it’s true that the design of your site can have a major influence on how people perceive your brand and how much time they’re willing to spend engaging with your site.
But without copy that works seamlessly with the design, you’re going to miss out on huge conversion opportunities.
If you aren’t paying attention to the copy that’s going to persuade people to stick around, you’re going to end up with a lot of pretty boxes that a sad copywriter is going to have to cram all her brilliant ideas into. IT’S NOT A GOOD SITUATION AND YOUR COPYWRITER MIGHT QUIT SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE HERE.
It’s not at all that copy is inherently more important than design, it’s that they’ve got to work together. A conversion copywriter who takes user data into account and has experience working alongside designers to create an optimized site can help here. But even if you go in-house for your copy, be sure that writers and designers are collaborating from the beginning to give yourself the best chance of improving conversions and having a homepage that works.
In 2019 your homepage is no longer the unavoidable foyer to the mansion that is your company’s online presence, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.
Having a homepage that clearly demonstrates how much you know and care about your customers is a highly effective way to convert new visitors and maintain customer loyalty.
It’s worth making the effort to build a homepage that stands out from your competitors and engages your users with content and messaging that’s important to them. That’s what keeps them coming back, gets them to share your brand with others, and ultimately helps your business to grow and grow.
Need help fixing your homepage? I’ll take a look at it for free.