Once upon a time, your home page was the starting point for all your customers. They got your URL from a business card, in an email, or from a friend. A search online would bring them there. It was the front door to your business online. Providing information about who you are and what you do was just good business.
But people no longer search the same way, and they don’t visit websites the same way. If they know your URL, they already know what they’re looking for and ignore the front page. If they find you through a search, the search directs them straight to the page that has what they may be looking for. As recently as 10 years ago, smart phones were just starting to become relevant, and that (along with many other new technologies) has completely changed the landscape of how we interact online.
There are five basic reasons that your home page is no longer performing the way it used to. There are also five basic ways you can fix your home page. First, let’s discuss the reasons it’s not working.
Autoplaying Sound and/or Video
For many people, there is nothing more obnoxious than a website loading and immediately blaring music or a super-salesy voice. At one time, 15-20 years ago, those things were “cool.” They were unique and separated you from the competition. But now, they’re old news and mostly just a huge annoyance to people who want to find what they need and move on with their day. There are better ways now to take advantage of eye-catching, even moving graphics, while adding value to the user experience. Most importantly, take page load times and mobile speed into consideration, as these are increasingly key rank factors.
Pop-ups (or Overlays, Modals & Interstitials)
How many times have you been shopping or browsing content online and the second the website opens, there’s a pop-up asking for your email address? Granted, usually these come with an offer to save on your first purchase, or some other perceived benefit. But most people don’t know if they want to buy yet when that pop-up appears, and even if they do, you’ve interrupted their experience.
That interruption can change their minds about shopping immediately. This is particularly relevant on mobile, as Google has begun penalizing sites (as far as rank is concerned). Here is a great article from Moz explaining in greater detail some of the drawbacks and best practices.
Poor or Confusing Navigation
Many times, on a small business website, the navigation goes one of two ways: too vague or too specific. A menu that’s too small can mean it’s impossible to find what you want, while one that’s too detailed can require too many clicks and become annoying before searchers find what they’re looking for. If it’s too difficult or takes too long to find what they want, people will go elsewhere. Other browsing issues can include navigation that lands on the wrong page, broken and error pages, or confusing pages with labels that make no sense.
Though some of the content is more current than others, a must-read book is Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think”. It offers a light-spirited approach to the philosophy of common sense practices that help you to lay out your website navigation and content for your users.
Video-Only, No Text Page
A 3-5 minute video introducing yourself, your company, and your products is nice, unless the person only has 2 minutes. Instead they might want the option to scan a brief text description of who you are and what you offer, to see if your site is the one they want. But, if they don’t have that option, they’re not going to decide they can spare 3 more minutes. They’re going to back out of your site and find another one that does offer that text description and saves them time.
Users are increasingly comfortable with consuming video content. I have seen clients be very successful offering how-to video pages, creating relevant playlists on YouTube, and other related approaches with video.
They Never See it in the First Place
In many cases, this is the main reason that the page isn’t working: they don’t see it. Search results tend to take users directly to the page that has what appears to be the thing they need. Whether that’s a blog post or a particular product, it completely bypasses all other pages of your site to take them to that one page. And that one page probably doesn’t encourage much interaction with other pages.
Whatever the reason it’s not working, the point is that you need to find other ways to get customers to your website, and to engage and take action.
How do you do that? Let’s talk about 5 things to think about to increase engagement.
Create or Update Your Blog
By now, you really should have a blog. If you don’t, you need to create one. But what do you do with it?
You post information, facts, little tidbits of trivia, or other things that are relevant and useful to what you do. Let’s say you own a butcher shop, your blog posts can be about various cuts of meat and how best to cook them, recipes that include the foods you sell, tips on prepping for the holiday feasts, and other things of that nature.
If you feel truly clueless, you could always hire this out. The key is to have a blog. Many times when people are searching, they’re searching for information before they search for a product. If you can provide them with the information they’re looking for, they’ll be more likely to buy from you.
Post Useful Content on Social Media
You’ve probably figured out by now that having a social media presence is important, and you’re probably already on all the major platforms. But, social media for business is different than social media for personal use. This doesn’t mean you can’t do some of the same things that you would personally, you just need to tweak it a bit.
When you read an article in your personal news feed that interests you and you think is useful, you share it. You can do the same thing for your small business social media, you just need to make sure that it’s relevant to your business. Follow people and pages that are similar or related to yours, and share the things that would interest your own customers.
Share your own stuff, too, just make sure, again that it’s relevant. Don’t overwhelm your followers with your own personal interests – pepper it in among the information you share from others.
Create polls, ask questions, and otherwise encourage follower interaction. If you’re considering introducing a new product line, ask what they think. Share bits of information that don’t give away trade secrets as you develop new products.
If you’re debating between two products to retire one, ask which one they’d prefer to keep. This makes your followers, who are also your customers, feel like their opinion matters, like they have a voice in your business and that makes them feel invested. Feeling invested in a company leads to purchasing from that company because you want to see them succeed.
And don’t forget to share your content! Going back to the blog, there are tools that can be used on many platforms to automatically schedule your content, and simultaneously push it out to various social media channels, avoiding manual effort of posting the content directly. Jetpack is one free utility from Automattic (WordPress’ parent company) that I have found to be helpful for this. And vice-versa, there are utilities you can take advantage of to make your social media content available directly from your website.
Don’t Put Everything on Your Front Page
As discussed at the top of this article, your home page once acted as your virtual front door. It was normal, and even considered appropriate at one time, to put as much information as you could on that page. Telling users as much as possible on that main page was a way to draw them deeper into the small business website.
But it’s rare for someone to find that page through a search anymore. Most of the people who find that page will be those who already know who you are and what you do – they’ve likely deliberately entered your URL to get to that page.
So that page needs to be useful to them. Simplify content and fix home page errors to keep viewers on your site. Telling them what they already know, making them scan all that information, or scroll past it to find what they need, isn’t useful. What is useful is offering a specific action they can perform. Offer something of value that they can sign up for – a discount, a newsletter that will offer them subscriber-only deals, or something else that they can only get by taking this particular action on this particular page.
Create a sleek, easy-to-navigate menu that makes it easy for them to find the following: your product pages or store, your blog, your contact information, and a page about your business. If there are other parts to your site, include them, but make sure that they can find the pages mentioned. Those are the pages that they will definitely be seeking.
Use Strategic Calls to Action
Encourage users to purchase, to read another blog post, to contact you, or to sign up for your newsletter all over the site.
The more they see these calls to action, the more likely they are to follow through on at least one.Make the calls to action different, too. Use them to encourage a variety of interactions, giving users their choice of what to do. If you only offer one option (signing up for a newsletter, for example), they may ignore it because they don’t want to perform that action, or they already have performed that action. Offering a variety gives them choices they may not have already performed and encourages further interaction. It also feels more inviting and less pressured.
You may even want to A/B test versions of a page with calls to action in different locations. This can be complicated or simple depending on a number of variables like your website’s content management system/platform, or how drastic the differences may be to provide relevant results.
The home page is no longer a gateway to your small business website, it’s now just one of multiple landing/navigation pages. Fix your home page and turn it into a resource that offers value for those who stumble across it, but don’t count on it as a major selling point anymore. Beef up your website as a whole, make sure there’s plenty to see, read, and do. Ensure that everything you present offers your users the value they expect and deserve.