Design your home page right or lose salesby Paul Tulenko Scripps Howard News Service
Designing a web site presence is beginning to change. It's moving from the, "Let's put every animation, gimmick and gadget we ever saw on our home page to show we're there with the 'buzz'!" to: "Get the basics out there quickly with a bit of class."
The viewer of your site wants to get right to the point, and if your home page doesn't tell them right up front what you can do for them, you lose. Here are some tips to make your site "user friendly:"
First, your home page should be fast. Viewers don't want to wait for fancy introductory programs to download, they want information as to who you are what you offer and how it will be of value to them. Spell it out in clear words: "We can help you write a business plan. Click here." or "For clothing that says 'class' without the 'price,' click here." Keep photos and graphics to a minimum.
Each clickable item should quickly tell the viewer what to expect. You want your viewer to purchase something, not just sit around waiting for your "interesting" site to load. If your home page takes more than a few seconds to load, viewers will abandon you for a more user-friendly site and you most probably will lose that potential buyer forever.
Flashing banner ads, especially those with no connection to your offering, will merely annoy your viewer. I implore you to keep them off the top of your home page. If you absolutely must have a banner ad, put it on the bottom or on an inside page where it won't be so intrusive.
Gadgets and gimmicks
Nothing annoys like a new window or a back-button redirect. If I want to open a new window, I'll do it. Don't you try to force me. A new window has two negatives: it destroys my most valuable tool, the back button, and it takes me places I don't want to go at this time. Most viewers are looking at your site with the intention of possibly buying from you, and if you destroy their path back to your home page, you may destroy the potential for a sale. The back button redirect is even more annoying. In short, sending the viewer to a new page when they want to go back is stupid. When I get one of these, I never again visit that site.
Chat rooms, communities, site maps, and the other push-pull items have their place, and your site might benefit from having one. The way to tell is to try. If it just clutters things, take it off! Uncontrolled chat rooms can get mean, and what you really want is someone with a grudge against you or your product to spout off in your chat room, right? Yeah.
Newsletters and archives
Publishing a free on-line newsletter is one of the smartest things you can do!
If people come to your Web site because they want to find out about widgets, they want to find out about widgets! A monthly email newsletter will have them coming back time and time again, so why don't you have one? Put an e-mail newsletter signup page on your site, archive past issues and, for goodness sakes, don't charge for reading it! The days of the Consultant's Words of Wisdom newsletter that costs $156 a year are over. There's far too much free stuff out there, so why should your viewer pay?
As you grow, you will be challenged to offer more and more products and services and this is good. A word of caution: when you get to the point where you require a back-office server with a data base, do it right! Remember, your customer is impatient, and loading new pictures or graphics should be fast, fast, fast. Doing this wrong could sink your Web business, so look at other sites, find out how they do the heavy load stuff, and copy.
Who are you? Your identity page or pages should make it clear to the viewer who you are, your background and why they should do business with you. Don't fake it. Web information is easy to get, and if you get caught in a lie it could be the end of your business. Keep it honest, keep it simple and put your picture on the info page. Your viewer doesn't care about John the driver nor Marge the clerk, they want to know who you are and what you look like, and can they trust you to do what you say you'll do.
AV Business Press, April 3, 2000