I am writing this article to be a guide on the proper way to set up the front page of a website. There are two things to consider when creating a front page: getting visitors to your site and getting them to do something on your site. One of the biggest mistakes that most web designers and company owners make is that they think a website is similar to other media like TV, magazine, and radio. Most people are on the web to find information quickly. They are moving from site to site and spend very little time deciding if your site is worth using. I have some rules about what to do with your front page. Some are general website rules and some are SEO (Search Engine Optimization) rules.
General front page rules
When most business owners decide they want a web page they go with the attitude that they want a site that they think is cool. They want to show their friends and others. If somebody asks you what you think of their site you look at it differently than if you were on a mission to find something. So don’t ask somebody what they think of your site. Instead tell them to go to your site and try to sign up or do whatever your call to action is. Your goal is to accomplish your call to action not to get someone to tell you how cool your site looks. This does not mean you need to have a text only site using only basic html. Just don’t do anything that gets in the way of your goals. Your goal should be to get visitors to click on something, call a phone number, leave a comment, submit a form, download something, or do whatever your call to action is. Please don’t forgot a call to action. I have been to sites that have elaborate front pages extolling the virtues of the company but I can’t find out how to contact them or do what they have talked me into.
Before you put anything on the page you need to ask yourself, “Does this distract from the call to action?” One of the worst things that people do is put music on their front page. Please don’t do this. People hate this. Plus the music adds to the download size of the page. This brings me to page size. Load time should be important to you. According to CNN 76% of Internet users in rural areas still use dial up and 61% of urban users are on dial up. The amount of text and image size are one part of a pages load time. The number of objects that load is the other. One hundred 1K files load a lot slower than one 100K file. Google has 3 requests and 13,757 bytes and loads in 2.74 seconds on a 56K dial up modem. This is the best case scenario but most people want a little more on their front page. Amazon has 50 requests and 212,760 bytes and loads in 42.6 seconds. That would be the max I would have on my site. There would have to be a very good reason to have a site this big or bigger. Amazon can get away with it because people are going to put up with it because they really want to come to that site. Some people will say that dial up users are used to this so why be different. The only way to stick out is to be different. If your site is just like some major site then why would somebody come to your site.
Be careful not to overwhelm the visitor with too much stuff on the front page. Very few people are going to read a bunch of text. If they want more information they can go to sub pages. Link to sub pages with more information on your site. This is one point where your site is like a TV commercial or radio ad. You want to get their attention and convince them not to hit the back button. Also while we are at it don’t make a page that breaks the back button. Don’t do anything that will make the visitor mad. When a visitor is looking for something they are visiting several sites until they find what they want. You may not be the first site they have been to. You want them to stop searching. If I am looking for something I will skip over sites that have tons of text and links. People have very short attention spans. You need 4 bullets or 4 things that are easy to read. You don’t have to use bullets. I am using that term generically. It just has to be 4 things visitors will see that gets their attention quickly. Your call to action needs to be very easy to find and use. If you have a phone number don’t have your line set up to reject anonymous phone calls. If you have a phone number or you get emails respond to them now or very quickly. People want help now. Live chat works as well. A lot of people will go down the list until the first person answers the phone or gets back with them. If you have a large site and need a big menu that is ok just make sure it does not get in the way. If you have an ecommerce site then have the main category headings easy to find. It is ok to use those DHTML menus but make sure you have them repeated in text at the bottom of the page in a tasteful way.
There are many ways to get visitors to your site like links from other sites, type-in traffic, and of course search engines. One part of SEO or search engine optimization is to design your site so that search engines know you exist and what your site is about. For this to happen you have to have text on your page. You can’t have a splash page comprised of one image or flash. Search engines can’t read pictures or flash. They can only see text.
You have to decide what keywords you are going to optimize for. If you think you can rank for your big money term then by all means pick that term to optimize for. Don’t try to optimize your front page for a bunch of terms. It is best to pick one term to focus on. It is pretty hard to rank for most 2 or 3 word money terms. I try to optimize for a term that my site ranks well for already just from text on my front page or some sub page. I might be low on the first page or on page two on the search engines for this term. I can use the high link popularity of my front page on that term. Why waste your front page.? You can easily rank for some terms with your front page. They may not be your big high traffic money terms but you probably will not get that anyhow.
The most important thing you can do to rank for a term is to put it in your title. Every web page has a title so use them. I went to Google and typed in allintitle: “untitled document” and there were 87 million results. There are a lot of people out there wasting the traffic they could be getting to their front page. It is possible to rank for a term without having it in your title. You have to get a lot of links with the term as the anchor text of those links to do this.. Next you need to repeat that term on your page. You don’t need to spam your site up by repeating the term a ton of times or getting some magic keyword density. Just repeat the term where it fits. You can create a heading tag. The tags are quite ugly so it is best to use some CSS to make them look like you want them to. Use a h1 and a h2 tag. Don’t just copy the title. Use the tags as headings like they were designed to be used. You can also use them at the beginning of a section or group of bullets. If you have any images on the page use the alt tags. Don’t stuff them with keywords. Make sure the alt text is appropriate; just fit it in the root of the phrase or the whole phrase. If you have images as your navigation, put what is written on the image in the alt tag. Put the keyword you are trying to optimize for in the alt tag with what is on the image unless what is on the image already has the keyword in it.
Each site is different. A lawyers site or dentists site will be much different than an ecommerce website. Remember to keep it simple. People are in a hurry and want to get in and out. Your links to sub pages that have more information are for the people who want to hang out and read more. Put those links on the side or top of the front page. The middle of the screen is where their eyes hit first. Put the stuff that grabs them there. Design the page in such a way that the search engines can find it. The title is very important. It is the first step to any SEO work. Make your pages easy to find and easy to use. Of course there are exceptions to these rules but they should work for most people.