Tara Hall

design. write.

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May 18, 2016

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Are you making these 3 mistakes on your home page?

Over a week ago, I applied for a freelance position with a small business seeking a designer with marketing experience. One of the questions asked on the job application included a critique of the company home page above the fold.

If you are unfamiliar with the term “above the fold,” it refers to the portion of a web page that appears on screen without scrolling.

While I don’t want to share the actual home page or business name, I do want to share three of the issues that I found with the company’s home page to help you avoid making the same mistakes on your website.

Make your calls-to-action clear

If you’re in business and have a website, then I recommend that you have a clear call-to-action on not just the home page, but on every page of your website.

A call-to-action or CTA is a request to your web visitor to take a specific action. That action may be to:

There are many different calls to action, but the purpose of the CTA is to drive your audience to the next step of engagement however you define it. If no CTA exists, then visitors are left to determine what’s next, which may include clicking the Back button to exit your site.

Write clear instructions

There are two parts to a good call-to-action. The first part of a good CTA is providing clear instructions. In other words, the visitor must know what it is she’s about to do.

Let’s take a newsletter example. A clear call-to-action is “Subscribe to my newsletter.” The visitor provides an email address and receives your future newsletters direct to her inbox. There’s no confusion about the transaction.

The CTA that I critiqued was “Get your invitation.” But an invitation to what? If you want to increase the chances that your visitor will take action, then avoid using any confusing or vague terms like this one. Not only is the CTA unclear, but I wasn’t convinced that I needed to get an invitation.

Give reason to take action

So the second part of a good call-to-action is giving reason to take action. In other words, you answer your visitor’s question, “Why do I want to do this?” To increase your chances of a visitor to take action, you must give her reasons to do so.

Back to our newsletter example, if you want visitors to sign up for your newsletter, then you could give them an offer in return, such as a discount coupon: “Subscribe to our newsletter and receive 20% off your first purchase with us.”

Another option is to promise the visitor something less tangible. Some newsletters, for instance, promise to share exclusive content not found anywhere else on the web. The promise of exclusivity or the promise to be the first to know may be enough to convince visitors to sign up.

The reason that you provide must have value for your visitors. Not many visitors will give you personal information, such as a first name or email address, without receiving something of value in return.

With the CTA that I critiqued, even a few additional words might have persuaded me to take action. For example, if the invitation was to a beta program, then “Get your invitation to our beta program and be the first to try our software” would have been clear and reasonable.

Make it easy to find your web pages

The home page that I critiqued had only two links in its primary navigation bar at the top of the page: blog and login. However, the home page footer had a number of links, including a site map with plenty of other web pages.

Visitors to your site shouldn’t have to rely on a site map—or a footer that they only view if they scroll—to navigate your website. You’re only making it more difficult for them to find the content that they want.

The most important and high traffic pages on your site should be easy for your visitors to find. I recommend including those in your primary navigation bar at the top of your web pages.

In the case of this software company, they provide an online service to customers. A critical missing link that should probably be included in their primary navigation is their support link, which I found only in their footer. I can’t imagine how frustrating it may be for their existing customers to find support information.

Another missing link for this company—and often a very popular one for small businesses—is the about page link. No matter the size of your business, you should have an about page. It’s an opportunity to connect with your prospective clients. ClickZ.com said it well:

An ‘About Us’ page is a tremendous opportunity to cement a relationship with many prospective customers. It can put a human face on an otherwise technical, dry, and impersonal page. Properly written, it can provide some serious buying resolve to certain customer segments.

Still another missing link for this company is the contact link, which also appeared only in the footer. Your contact page is another potentially popular page on your site. If you don’t provide a contact page, then provide contact information in your header.

Other pages that may be worth including in your primary navigation or on your home page are any high traffic pages on your site or pages that you want more traffic to.

Use your customer’s language

Are you using the language that your existing and prospective clients use to describe your products or services?

As part of my critique, I found an odd keyword that I hadn’t heard previously to describe their type of service. The keyword appeared in both the home page browser title and page title. I checked competitor websites for their keywords and didn’t see use of the same term.

Then I checked Google Adwords because maybe I was missing something. I entered both the keyword that I found on the company’s home page and the keyword that I found on a competitor’s home page. The results weren’t surprising.

In terms of search volume, the competitor’s keyword outperformed the company’s keyword—and not by a small amount. The competitor’s keyword averaged about 4,400 searches per month in the US alone. The company’s keyword? Averaged only 10 searches a month in the US.*

That is a lot of missed opportunity.

If you are not using your customer’s language when it comes to your keywords, then you make it difficult for potential customers to find you. Using terms that you think are unique to your business and that may distinguish your business from competitors can backfire on you.

But by using the words, phrases, and terms that your customers or potential customers already use, you can speak to them in a language that they understand and can relate to. And when it comes to search, you’re more likely to be found in results for keywords that they use.

Final thoughts

Those were just three of the issues that I found with the company home page above the fold. Once addressed, these issues could have an impact on their numbers in terms of search ranking, traffic, and conversions.

Try a similar exercise on your home page to see if you uncover any issues.

* Because of the low search volume for the keyword, the company site ranks high and can be easily found, which is why I’m not including the keyword in this article.