Like the front entrance to a store, or the front cover of a book, people will, rightly or wrongly, judge your site by its homepage, so you need to ensure that it’s designed and optimised in way that represents your business in the best possible light.
It’s not only people that you need to get your homepage right for either – search engines pay particular attention to it too. Unlike people, they aren’t concerned with the look of it, but they’ll use it as part of their assessment to determine what keywords to rank your site for and where to rank it for those keywords.
For most websites, it will be the page that gets viewed the most and which gets cited and linked to the most. This makes it the most important page on your site. Don’t make the mistake of only optimising your site’s homepage though – you should optimise each and every page of your site.
So, how can you optimise your homepage for both people and search engines?
- Ensure it’s at least as good as your competitors’ homepages. If yours isn’t as good as theirs then you can’t expect to rank higher than them.
- Everything should have a specific purpose. Because anything that isn’t encouraging visitors to take positive action is distracting them from doing so.
- Aim to get visitors to click beyond your homepage. This reduces your site’s bounce rate and increases the average visit duration – both of which send positive signals to Google.
- Make it immediately clear as to who you are and what you do. A tagline or sentence in the header area, below or next to your logo, is a good way to achieve this.
- Make a memorable statement or offer. In 10 or so words, say something that will make people take notice and remember you.
- Don’t offer too many options. The more there are, the less likely visitors will be to click on the ones that you most want them to.
- Make it easy to skim read. Utilise whitespace, headers, bullet-points, buttons, etc. to allow people to see what all their options are in less than 10 seconds.
- Don’t position important elements far down the page. Because the further down something is, the less likely people will be to see it.
- Have your homepage load at just a single URL. 301 redirect alternative versions of it (www.yourbusinessname.co.uk/home, www.yourbusinessname.co.uk/index.html, etc.) to a single, preferred version.
- Include your primary keyword target(s) in the title tag and h1 tag. This makes it clear to Google what your site is about and what keyword(s) you want it to rank for.
- Don’t use your homepage to target all of your keywords. Target only 1 or 2 keywords with it, and use internal pages of your site to target additional keywords.
- Include your business name in the title tag. Doing so makes your site’s listing in the search results seem more trustworthy and legitimate.
- Write an informative and/or enticing meta description. Describe your business in a way that persuades people to click on your site instead of the other sites listed in the search results.
- Link to your business’s Google+ page using rel=publisher mark-up. Doing this, and linking back to your site from your Google+ page, proves to Google that both are owned and run by the same business.
- Include your contact details (address, phone number, email address, etc.) in schema mark-up. Some visitors will specifically be looking for this information, and including it also builds trusts with Google.
- Include links to your business’s social media profile pages. As having likes, followers, connections, etc. makes your business seem more trustworthy and popular.
- Add logos and symbols that people will recognise. Such as associations you’re part of, newspapers or journals you’ve been mentioned in, or payment methods that you accept.
- Create simple visitor journeys. They should be able to find what they’re looking for within 2 clicks from the homepage.
- Make it clear if you want visitors to click on something. Whether it be a link, a button or an image, if it’s important, then either separate it, highlight it or literally tell people to click on it.
- Put navigation links in the header section. At the very top of the page, or directly below your site’s logo, add 3-7 links to important pages on your site.
- Link to all of your most important pages. Doing so makes it easier for people to find them and also passes trust and authority to those pages from the hompage.
- Don’t link to all of your pages. If your site has many pages, doing this makes your homepage look crowded and diverts attention away from your most important pages.
- Don’t link out to 3rd party websites. Do this only from internal pages, so as to remove an option for a quick exit from your site and to keep the trust and authority accumulated by the homepage flowing only within your site.
- Balance text and image usage. Too much text can come across as dull, whereas too many images and/or images that are too big can come across as superficial.
- Include text, but don’t make it text heavy. 200+ words is recommended, which should include relevant keywords, without being spammy – write for visitors, not for search engines.
- Don’t go into too much detail. Provide summaries/overiews and then let people click links to relevant internal pages to find out more details about what specifically interests them.
- Don’t push sales on your homepage. Instead, focus on persuading them to click through to a sales page specific to the product/service that interests them.
- Include a short ‘about us’ section. 2-3 sentences will do, and then go into more detail on your ‘about us’ page, which can be linked to from the homepage ‘about us’ section.
- Keep your content up to date. Review your homepage content every 2-4 weeks to ensure that any products/services/offers mentioned are all still accurate and available.
- Don’t auto-play anything. Instead, give visitors a choice by letting them click a button to play videos or music.