If I put your firm in a time machine today and transported it back to 2002, how different would your website look from your peer set? Hopefully quite a lot. How different would your underlying web strategy be? Probably not much at all. Most firms have probably redesigned their sites at least 2-3 times in the last ten years. That said, in our experience, the major drivers of most redesigns are often quite tactical — updating the look of the site, implementing a CMS, integrating social media, maybe updating your project profiles if yours is an engineering firm. But, what does all this have to do with your firm’s homepage?
Your Homepage Circa 2002
Well, let’s think about it for a minute. Ten years ago your homepage was the primary point of entry for almost all of your website traffic. You used it like a retail storefront to display the key things your firm had to offer in a clear and compelling way. You used it to steer visitors to your primary service offerings and the case studies you had to back up your experience. Your site was basically an interactive brochure and the homepage was the cover. And, visitors pretty much used your site in this way. They did much of their research offline and came to your homepage to gauge your firm relative to what they’d already learned.
Your Homepage Today
But, the Internet of 2012 looks nothing like it did 10 years ago. While the majority of your site traffic still probably comes through the homepage, every page of your site now functions as the first point of entry into your site. Users are equally likely to have come to your homepage from within your site as they are to have to come from somewhere else entirely. Prospects are starting with the web to search for information and advice at the earliest stages of the buying process. The 2012 homepage should function much less like a retail storefront and more like a traffic cop — directing users to useful information in various forms as it resides within your site.
So, what should be on your homepage?
Well, if your homepage needs to function more like a traffic cop, it needs to give visitors a taste of the various types of information that exist within your site. Remember, your homepage is not the destination, it’s simply the conduit to more, better stuff. So, pull out a paper and pencil and draw two lines across the page — effectively dividing your page into thirds. This is not necessarily your homepage’s structural layout as much as it is a guide for helping you think about the real estate you have available and using that space effectively.
- Feature Content: Your top third is your feature content. These are 2-3 of the most important things you’d like someone to know about your firm. It’s okay for one of these to be a basic selling message: who you help and what they need. Ideally the other(s) are short lead-ins to high value information you’d like to share with your prospect: significant pieces of research or insight, an upcoming Webinar or speaking event, or a recent piece of significant news provided that it’s actually news that a prospect would care about (only very rarely is this the case). If yours is an A/E firm, it’s okay for this to be a high profile project you’ve completed. After all, this is the work you’re hired to do. But, avoid rotating slideshows of work that are 6-8 projects deep. No one is that interested in what you’ve done when they first arrive at your site or navigate from within it to your homepage.
- Educational Content: Your second third is your educational content. This section is actually more important than your feature content because it showcases what you know and how you help people. Ideally, it features up to 3-4 short intros into articles from your blog or newsletter. Alternatively, you might provide more content from a single most recent article. There are a lot of ways to do this, but what really matters is that the content is recent, useful — and featured clearly and prominently on the page.
- Tertiary Content: Your last third is available to direct traffic to anywhere else on your site you think would be helpful or useful to your prospective clients. You could include a single most recent piece of firm news, you may want to use this space to direct prospective employees to career sections of the site, or you may want to integrate some social media content. Limit yourself to no more than 2 pieces of tertiary content.
In all, we’re talking about 8-9 pieces of content at most, the majority of which are likely to be lead-ins to the complete piece of content that exists somewhere else in the site. Remember, this is still your homepage. We don’t want to overwhelm site visitors with too much information or ask them to scroll endlessly to view more content than necessary. Just because our homepage is a conduit to our content doesn’t mean that we can violate the rules of a basic business introduction. Keep it clean, keep it simple, and invite visitors into your firm while offering them some directions as to what’s in store for them.