There's no doubt about it - the first page your site visitors see is the most important page of your website. If your home page isn't appealing, chances are the rest of your pages will never even be seen by your visitors. It helps to think of your home page as the "front door" to your online business. Will it invite people to come in and look around, or persuade them to take their dollars elsewhere? Here are ten tips for making your home page a winner:
1) Don't keep them waiting. Obey the "Eight Second Rule" (the one that says your Web page should load in eight seconds or less even over slower modems). Otherwise the viewer will probably lose patience and click the "stop" button.
2) Identify yourself. The first order of business is to identify your company and products or services. Let the viewer know they've arrived at the right destination and give them an idea of what you have to offer.
3) Make a good first impression. Your color scheme, design, graphics, and text should all contribute to a favorable first impression and convey the right corporate image. Your site visitors will probably decide within 5 to 10 seconds whether to stay and look around, so you've got to keep them interested.
4) Provide a preview. Use links, text and graphics to give the viewer an idea of your website's contents and encourage them to explore the rest of your site.
5) Don't make a splash. Don't make your first page a "splash page" (meaning a large graphic containing little or no text that's designed to act as a gateway to the rest of your site). Your visitors won't be impressed and neither will the search engines.
6) Lead the way. Provide obvious ways for your visitors to move to the various sections of your website (links, a site map, site search feature, etc.). You want them to come in and look around, so make it easy for them to find their way.
7) Don't waste the space. A monitor screen doesn't give you a lot of space, so use the available space for content with the maximum impact for your home page -your product line, main benefits, competitive advantage, etc.
8) Don't link away. You work hard to get people to visit your home page, so don't lose them right off the bat by giving them the opportunity to link away to another site. Put reciprocal links, ads, etc. on other pages deeper within your site.
9) Start selling. From the moment a visitor arrives at your home page, you should begin leading them toward the sale. Write concise but powerful copy that goes beyond telling to selling and emphasizes benefits to the user. Consider posting a special offer on your opening page.
10) Be kind to search engines. Including accurate title, description, and keyword meta tags in your HTML code, plus relevant content, will go a long way toward getting your site indexed properly by search engines, and that will lead visitors to your virtual doorstep. Remember that many search engines use "spiders" to explore your website automatically, so your home page must include links to the other sections of your website.
Jane McLain is a Web developer and SEO specialist and the webmaster of EClaunchsite.com, an online resource center for netrepreneurs with tools and information to help you plan, build, launch and grow your e-business.