If you’ve ever built or even planned your own website, you’ll know just how much you can agonise over how your home page should look and what you should include. Too often, we end up doing what we ‘should’ do rather than truly connecting with our ideal clients. People often tell me that they ‘know they need more copy on their home page for SEO’ or that they ‘should have a button that goes to their contact page’.All of this is window dressing if you don’t make your brand proposition crystal clear your visitors will bounce away quicker than a rubber ball unless you connect with them immediately.
The much-quoted statistic is that you have only 5 seconds to impress a new visitor. I can believe that. Count 5 seconds to yourself right now. It’s certainly long enough to scroll down enough to form an opinion about whether or not you want to take the relationship further. Now remember that a bounce rate (when a visitor doesn’t click or scroll at all) of less than 50% is good. And then remember that the 50% who remain will only consume a quarter of the content they see. Would your website pass the 5 second test? Is your website generating love at first click?
Tell people what you do and how you do it
People need to know that they’ve arrived at the right place and that you have something to offer them that they need and want. This is your big opportunity to state your case and really stand out.
Your work is not enough to seal the deal
You might think it is, but it’s not. People need to know what you stand for.
You are not for everyone
It’s ok to repel some of the people. Challenge your visitors to put their hand up. Ask them what they believe, state your offer, invite them in. At the very least, does your home page carry a clear message which states what you do and how you do it?
Craft your content first
Once you’ve established your brand proposition, you should have a rough idea about you plan to present it, whether it’s a simple statement or a message that runs throughout your home page. Working out what you should include in your home page is the hardest part of the planning process. Use these tips to put together your basic plan.
You are not the hero
A good home page isn’t all ‘me me me – sell sell sell’. A great home page is actually all about the visitor. They are the hero of the story and you are their trusted guide, there to lead them through the highlights of your brand and help them overcome the problems they don’t even know they have. Your goal is to make your visitor think… I like the person telling this story.
Your client goals
Make a list of the desired outcomes you think your client might have in mind. Make a list of the concerns your client might have. Pick the most important item from each list. These should form the backbone of your home page message and you might even want to include more.
Your must-have features
After you have defined your clients’ goals, next up is a list of your must have physical features eg. latest blog posts, links to galleries or testimonials are often used. But don’t feel you have to include a feature just because ‘everyone is doing it’. If it doesn’t help tell the story of your brand, leave it out.
Be ruthless with image selection
The golden rule of the home page is no filler, all killer. So many home pages contain a little bit of everything which adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Every single word and image counts and has an important role to play in engaging your visitor. Get to the point. Less is more. Don’t be tempted to fill space. Make your home page features work harder. Want to add a testimonial? Why not lay a quote over a full width image? Don’t get stuck in that rut images and text boxes that don’t relate to one another other. Finally, (if you’re a photographer) be ruthless with your portfolio images. I know they are all your precious children but really try to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal client. They have to be able to picture themselves in that image immediately. Don’t include something just because it shows off your technical skills. (I’m looking at you, wedding ring shots).
How to make a visual plan
The design phase is the exciting bit but many people dive into creating a home page without making a visual plan first. At this point, you should already have a firm idea of how you want to convey your key brand message as well as a list of must-have features and some outline points and text. Now it’s time to put it all together.
Tell the story
At this stage, I actually use post-it notes to put my features and messages in order and then I break out a good old pencil and paper to draw out what is known as a wireframe. It’s a simple sketch on paper and believe me, it’s not pretty. I’m attaching one of my recent wireframe sketches for your enjoyment.
Make it count above the fold
The area ‘above the fold’ on a website refers to the portion of the home page that’s visible when your site first loads, whether that’s on a desktop or mobile device. It comes from printed newspapers which, when seen stacked up in a holder, only show what’s above the fold. Although people are used to scrolling, ‘above the fold’ still counts, particularly if you are selling a product or service. (Sidenote: photographers can get away with the hero image above the fold, but make it count and make sure it’s obvious they need to scroll).
Clearly define your page sections
Continue to move down the page, blocking out shapes. Vary the widths of the features you plan to use – full width, columns, grids? Think specifically about how you are going to break your home page into sections and how you can link each section to preserve the flow of the page. Use background images and subtle changes in background colour to let the eye know that it’s time to move on. Stick to one idea per section and clearly state what that idea is.
Introduce all of your design elements
The home page is where you set out your design stall. Any fonts, colours and design features you intend to use elsewhere in your site need to be present on your home page. Adding new fonts and design features to your interior pages is distracting and not in a good way. If your home page looks too busy, you have too many fonts, colours and design features. Or maybe you don’t have enough negative space. Don’t be afraid of negative space. It gives your content room to breathe.
Limit yourself to no more than 3 fonts.
Instead, using different weights and cases can give you more variety without adding another font.
Planning for SEO sucess
If you’ve ever read about SEO, had a website audit, or used a tool like Yoast to try to optimize your page, you’ve probably had someone tell you that you need to have more text on your home page. Usually the number given is “at least 300 words” (this is a popular answer because this is what Yoast suggests). So just how important is having more than 300 words on your photography website’s home page? It is a tricky question to answer, but here are some things to consider…
Solve the problem of your visitors
The amount of text on the page isn’t necessarily as important as the contents of that text. One of the big problems I see is that people don’t have ANY text, or they don’t ever mention important contextual words like their location or the specific services they offer. Your first goal should be to solve the problem of your visitor. Ask “does this page include everything a visitor needs to answer their questions or direct them to a page that will answer their questions.” If the answer is yes, the exact number of words isn’t as important.
Longer questions need long answers
If someone is searching for a term that typically deserves a long answer, you’re going to need more words on your page. Across the web, the average first position result is close to 2,000 words. However, a search for “portrait photographers near me” doesn’t require nearly as many words as a search for “how to take better family portraits.” Google is great at understanding the difference.
Regular text is essential, not optional
Although in some cases you can also count alt text, captions, headings, and navigation text toward your word count, I wouldn’t count the alt text if there is no other text on the page at all. In other words, you can’t have 30 images with 10 words of alt text each and count that as 300 words of text if you don’t at least have some regular text on the page. Just keep in mind that often tools like Yoast give an incomplete picture of how much text a search engine actually sees on your page.
Summerise, don’t duplicate
Try not to duplicate text exactly from your home page to your inner pages, but a great way to get more text on your home page is to give a condensed version of the other pages with a link to learn more. I know photographers don’t like to ruin the aesthetic with lots of text, but keep in mind that your visitor is on your site to complete a task. Give them enough information to complete the task confidently and you’ll be well on your way to great SEO.
Other SEO tips
Home page speed is important. Make sure your images are correctly sized and then optimised, as well as named correctly. Don’t stuff your homepage with keywords. Google is looking for organic copy and can easily tell the difference and penalise you for it. Remember to add an SEO plugin like Yoast or All-in-One SEO and don’t forget to configure your social meta settings as well, in order to control link images when sharing. Make sure you have one H1 title that relates to your SEO page title and all other headings as H2.
Their resistable call to action
Let’s assume you don’t want to look like a used car salesman on your website. In fact, that’s a given. The words call-to-action even sound salesy and in fact, lots of people ask me to add a Contact Me button at the foot of every page. I pretty much always say no and on the home page? Definitely no. It’s just too soon. You’re still getting to know each other – let’s call it a first date – and rushing people to your contact page will result in them walking straight out of the door at this stage. However, you should absolutely control where you want them to go next and be as creative as possible with it. ‘Read more, next page, view images’ are all wooden and unappealing. Sure, functional buttons have their place, but the home page is where you are trying to make clicking further into your site absolutely irresistible.
A perfectly written call-to-action reinforces your brand message and asks people to decide if they are ‘in’ or ‘out’ and remember this is a good thing. For example, if your brand position is that you sell ‘relaxed wedding photography’ then your call to action can reflect that. Do you believe that your wedding day should be as relaxed as possible without lots of awkward posing? Then click here to see how I do it…”