8 Common Homepage Mistakes & 10 Rules to build by

In Branding, Marketing, Training by Chris Foley

Your homepage is a chance to make a first and lasting impression. You can either connect with your audience and build relatedness, or you can confuse and irritate them.

Your homepage is a chance to make a first and lasting impression. You can either connect with your audience and build relatedness, or you can confuse and irritate them.

The topic of how to build a truly great homepage has been on my mind a lot over the past few weeks.

First, I’m going to list out some very common homepage mistakes I see out there in the wild. Next I’ll make some recommendations that you can apply right away. Finally I’ll give you a short list of homepage rules that I’ve developed over the years which I edit regularly to keep up with the times.

Fun Fact:
I update my own homepage pretty frequently to take advantage of new trends that I observe or to better reflect changes in my own customer acquisition strategy. It's not set in stone!

What is a homepage anyway?

A homepage is simply a landing page -- that’s it. Granted, it could be the most important landing page on your site, but the fact remains that the homepage is just a landing page.

Many people try to have their homepage do far too much, but as with all landing pages its job is to introduce, establish a fit, and ask the visitor to take an action.

Let’s run through some common mistakes.

Mistake #1:

Gotta get SOMETHING up FAST!

Okay, I get it, you have to get a site up because you’ve got an upcoming event or because your last site was eaten by spambots, or because you’re new and you need a web presence as you get your product or service to market. That's cool, but don't let the quick fix become your permanent homepage!

Mistake #2:

There’s a template for that.

You might know this one: you buy a WordPress template that offers a handful of page layouts, get it all installed and configured, and then simply swap out the placeholder images and copy with your own branded images and text, et voilà! — Homepage complete!

Yeah, that’s never a very good idea as none of these templates allow the customer to craft a unique brand narrative. I’ll get to that later on.

Mistake #3:

Confusing the Homepage for a nav menu.

Homepage as Directory. I see this all the time and it really shocks me: people who either by design or by accident turn their homepage into some sort of shopping mall directory.

Look, when you visit Disneyland the theme park directory is a vital part of your stay but in the web world we have navigation menus to handle that sort of thing. Your homepage should not read like the directory in a professional building. Remember, the homepage is a landing page -- not a directory page, or a sitemap.

Mistake #4:

It’s all about US!

One of the biggest mistakes folks make on their homepage: Their messaging is all about themselves and is not about the customer.

Consider this: If your homepage is not about your customer it's a vanity page and nobody buys from a vanity page.

Homepages need to be customer-centric. The messaging must be presented to apply directly to the visitors' needs. We must speak to the value provided to your customers.

Mistake #5:

Bad message flow.

Unclear narrative. No customer journey. Each homepage section needs a reason to exist or it should not exist. Each section contains a message and each message sets up the next message. Flow. We must earn each and every click and nowadays we must also earn the next scroll. Which brings us to the next mistake (see what I did there? Flow)

Mistake #6:

No clear requests.

Your homepage - and this is true for any landing page - exists in order to get people to take an action. The actions can vary from page to page though you'll likely have a small handful of ideal actions peppered throughout your site.

For example: The purpose of my own homepage is to entice my visitors to either fill out my contact form to initiate a dialog OR to get them to view either my Services offerings or my Portfolio. The Services pages and the Portfolio pages are then optimized to squeeze the visitor through a flow designed to get them to fill out my contact form. For me, it’s all about the contact form.

Checking In:
What action would you like for your visitors to take? Is that request being made in a clear way on your homepage?

Mistake #7:

Too. Much. Information.

You know that friend who wants to ask you for a favor but can’t come out and just ask for it so they need to tell a lengthy and tedious story for the better part of a shared lunch before they can finally get to the point? You know at least one person who does this. You’d be shocked at how common it is for homepage messaging to be presented in the same way.

BONUS Mistake #8:

Clutter Buster.

This is something I refer to as "Over-involved C-Suite Syndrome". Small marketing teams will often receive frequent requests of their Executive team to keep adding component after component to the homepage, and they don't feel they can push back (or don't know how to support the argument for not destroying the homepage with volumes of data that should go elsewhere on the site.)

The unfortunate result is a homepage that quickly becomes a catch-all for all sorts of junk that dilutes the overall narrative and makes for a big mess of the site’s most important page. It happens, and it's not pretty - but it is preventable.

Checking In:
I want you to take a look at your homepage to see if you might be suffering from one or more of these mistakes.

Now, here’s what your homepage is supposed to be doing.

In a nutshell:

  • SORT (the right visitor from the wrong visitor)
  • INSPIRE (build trust, convey competence, make a case for making a decision now)
  • CONVERT (turn the visitor into a customer, or a subscriber, or getting them into the sales pipeline)

There’s a variation on this for visitors who are already ready to buy and are looking for more information (you know, all of that information that you need to remove from the homepage and put somewhere else?)
This variation is:

  • SORT

There are many ways to set a homepage up to deliver on the SORT - INSPIRE - CONVERT flow, but one thing that these ways will have in common is that they are INTENTIONAL.

It’s not possible to accidentally build a great homepage narrative.

It’s not possible to accidentally build a great homepage narrative.

This takes work. It takes attention to detail. And it requires us to understand your ideal visitors' needs so that we can speak to those needs, calm their concerns, establish trust and competence, and then make a request for them to take an action.

It’s also vital that the request for action that we make of the visitor does not feel to them as being disproportionate to the level of trust that you’ve established with them thus far.

Here is a list of rules that I refer to when I’m working with a customer to develop their homepage narrative:

  • Do we directly address a potential customer’s chief pain point?

    Let's get right to the point. Do you have what your visitor needs? Yeah? Gotta say so soon and say so often.

  • Do we establish that we fully understand that pain point and can solve it for them?

    After all, you're the expert but how will your visitor know that if you don't demonstrate it?

  • Do we establish that there are real, live human beings working here? Or is the humanity completely hidden away?

    Too frequently this happens. We just sort of forget to showcase the people that make everything happen. Folks can't trust what they don't see!

  • Do we establish that we are pleasant to work with?

    (see #3)

  • We must position ourselves as competent at each stage in the narrative.

    Why is it that so many people and organizations shy away from saying things like: "Hey, we're really good at this thing we do." Even when it's true.

  • Does each page section flow into the next page section?

    You know, like it was put together intentionally? All narratives have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Otherwise it's just poor storytelling.

  • Avoid over-informing. If there’s data that needs presenting you can offer a link off to that data.

    TL;DR. It's a thing.

  • Check, double-check, and triple-check for clutter.

    This is one of my personal pet peeves. Simple is better, more effective. Too many messags all happening at once only serve to confuse and overwhelm.

  • Keep your messaging fun and interesting.

    If you can entertain me you're going to have a much easier job selling me something. Addtionally, good humor helps set the tone for a long-term working relationship.

  • All messaging must lead to a clear and appropriate invitation to action.

    How can I possibly accept your invitation to take action if you never get around to actually extending the invitation? Perhaps you believe that your visitor is just supposed to know what to do. Folks really do believe that.

Bonus Tip:

My SEO/Google Ads partner Tyler Suchman asked me to mention that businesses should always have the full address and phone in the site footer, including a link to a google map if the business is open to the public or clients. This helps Google to appropriately geo-tag the business, relate it to other profiles (like MerchantCircle and Yelp), and it helps populate the business in local search, on Google Maps, etc.

Thanks for reading, and I appreciate any thoughts or feedback you might have. You can simply reply to this email if you’ve got something on your mind.

You’re an absolute rockstar if you’ve made it this far, and I appreciate your time and attention.

All the best,

PXLPOD makes websites that grow your business.

PXLPOD makes websites that grow your business.

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