For many of your visitors, your homepage is the first impression they’ll get of your creative business when they visit your website. Even in cases when a potential customer lands on another page first, the next page they visit is usually the homepage. Why? Because years and years of internet behavior teaches us to assume that the homepage will tell us more about what the website is all about.
So how effective is your homepage? What kind of impression will your visitors get when they land on yours? Will they get intrigued by what they see and move deeper into your website? Or will they go “meh” and move on?
For a homepage to be effective, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do. It has to:
- Give your visitors just want they’re looking for
- Direct visitors where you need them to go
- Tell your visitors about the most important thing on your website
- Communicate who you are
That’s a lot of stuff for one page to accomplish. Which is why it can be notoriously hard to create an effective one. If you’re thinking that you need to give your homepage a facelift, or you’re in the middle of creating a brand new one, here’s a guide on how to create a homepage that grabs your visitors and makes them want to know more.
What are your visitors looking for?
One of the main things that your homepage has to do is give your visitors what they need. So what do your visitors need? To determine that question first you need to know who your visitors are.
Are they likely to be returning visitors and want information on your latest works? Are they mostly new visitors that want to learn more about you? Who makes up your current website audience? People that find your work through a gallery? Gallery owners? Wholesale customers? Online shoppers?
One way to determine who’s visiting your website and what they’re doing while they’re there at is to review your website stats. Google Analytics is a free service that can give you a good idea what kind of traffic your website is getting on specific pages and what kind of traffic you’re getting to your website overall. It can also tell you where your visitors are coming from, what percentage are new visitors vs returning visitors, what pages they’re looking at, and how long they’re staying on your website. Study the stats that you’re getting on your homepage to get an idea of who your visitors are and what they’re looking for.
If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your website or blog, here’s a great video that shows you how to do it. Once you install Google Analytics on your website, and start getting stats you can read this guide on what those numbers and graphs mean.
After you have this basic research done, it’s time to start mapping out your homepage. Start by making a list of who your likely visitors are. Using the the information you’ve gathered from your website statistics include information about what each visitor is looking for when the land on your website. Prioritize each activity from most to least popular so you know what interests you visitors the most.
Where do you want your visitors to go?
While an effective homepage gives visitors want they want, it also has to direct them where you need them to go.
Perhaps the main thing your visitors want to see is your latest work. And of course you want them to see your latest work as well. But you also want them to sign up for your mailing list so you can email them whenever there’s new work available. Some of your visitors might not think to join your list or even know that you have one. So one of the things you want your homepage to do is point them in that direction and tell them why signing up for your list is a good thing for them.
Go back to that list that you’ve started on your most likely visitors and list some of the main things you want your visitors to do when they land on your homepage. Like you did with the visitor’s list, prioritize each action in order of most to least importance for you and your creative business.
What’s the most important thing?
An effective homepage has a visual structure. You should be able to tell what the most important thing on the website is by looking at the homepage.
How do you create a visual structure on a homepage? The most important things on the page are located at the top. These elements are also has more “visual weight”; they’re bigger, more colorful and bold, and are the most eye-catching portion of the page. Things that are less important has less visual weight, they’re smaller, less eye-catching, and located in the middle or towards the bottom of the page. This structure can also work for other pages, but it’s critically important for your homepage.
A common mistake is not having a central focus on your homepage by making everything the same size and equally attention grabbing. The rationale behind this is usually, “Well, everything on the homepage is important. We don’t want visitors to overlook anything”.
Unfortunately, that’s not how people scan webpages. People naturally start towards the upper left hand corner of the page and then scan the page left to right in a “Z” pattern towards the bottom of the page. Things towards the bottom of the page will tend to get less attention. Things that stand out in terms of color and size also directs the eye on where to focus. If you make everything roughly the same in terms of visual weight, the human eye tends to blend all the elements together.
When your planning your homepage, prioritize the importance of each element on the page. Look at the list you’ve started. Take note of where the interest of your visitors and your interests overlap in terms of priority. These are the elements that you need to give more visual weight to when planning the structure of your homepage.
A touch of personality
Who are you? What is your work all about? What is your creative business all about? A new visitor should be able to determine the answers to most of these questions and enticed to learn more by looking at your homepage.
For artists and creatives, your story and the story of your work is why your current and potential customers visit your website. So it’s super important to convey this on your homepage. The most obvious way is visually, through the design, the colors, the fonts, and the imagery you display there. You can also communicate your story and business personality through the various types of elements you put on the page. Through the words and tone of voice you use in your homepage copy.
Make sure that your personality shine through on your homepage. Not exactly sure how to describe your business personality? Try this: pick three words that best describes what you do and who you are as a creative. Keep those words in mind when you’re planning your homepage.
Say for example, the words you choose were; playful, practical, and sustainable (try to avoid using overused words like “unique”). Whenever you’re deciding which elements to put on your homepage, what colors to use, and which images to display, and how to write your homepage copy; check your decision against your three personality words. Ask yourself if these elements or combination of elements will communicate those three words to your visitors. Doing this will help keep your personality front and center.
Common homepage elements
Now that we’re familiar with what a homepage must accomplish and all of the heavy lifting it must do, it’s time to go through some of the most common elements you typically find on a homepage. This list is by no means exhaustive. It also doesn’t mean that you have to have every single item on your homepage…although there are some elements that I would argue are a “must-have”.
1. An opt-in form– I’m assuming that you have a mailing list for your creative business, because that in itself is a “must-have”. One essential homepage element you need on your homepage is a form to opt into your mailing list. And I mean a form and not simply a link to your mailing list page. Building a list should be one of your main objectives for your website. Adding a form to your homepage makes it easy for you visitors to join your list without making them jump to multiple pages to do so.
2. A primary call to action– Another homepage “must-have” is a primary call to action…the very first thing you want to direct your visitors to take. And there should only be one primary call to action. One action that gets most of the emphasis and focus. You might be saying, “Why only one? There’s so much on my website that’s important!” Remember that visitors can only focus on one thing at a time and you want them to focus on the most important thing. Too many “important” choices often results in confusion and not taking action at all.
So how do you decide one that one primary call to action is? By consulting that list you started earlier. Look at where your visitor’s interests and yours overlap. Ideally your primary call to action should be:
a) something that your visitors came to your website for
b) something that you want your visitors to do
c) something that will achieve the main goal for your website
Something that meets all of those objectives is likely to be your primary call to action. In most cases there will be only one thing that will meet all three. In the rare case where you have more than one, prioritize and choose one.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have any other call to actions on your homepage, this means that they don’t get the same focus and visual weight as the primary one.
3. Hero image– This may be optional for a lot of websites, but not for any creative who’s work is visually based. Your work is the attraction and visitors want to see it. And there’s nothing that catches the eye more than a big, lovely image of your best work.
When choosing your hero image, use one that represents your best or most popular work and represents who you are as an artist and a creative business. If you don’t have a photo like that, make one. Remember that your hero image will be one of the things that will either encourage your visitors to stick around to find out more, or make them go “meh” and move on.
What about multiple hero images? Couldn’t you have a collage of images instead of just one? Or a slider that rotates your best images? You can do either of these of course, but you may find that an image collage doesn’t have the same visual impact as using one main image. Sliders can work, but make sure that you put your most eye-catching image at the very front. Most people don’t tend to hang around on the homepage just watch your slider. Make sure that very first image counts.
4. Featured items or promotions– If you sell your work directly from your website, another homepage element you may consider adding are featured items or your most current promotions in your online store. You can display promotions or featured items as one big hero image, in a rotating slider, or in a photo collage or photo grid.
5. Get started– What if what you offer on your website is a bit complicated? What if you offer custom or personalized items? Or you work on commission and you need to explain the commission process? One useful homepage element might be a “Get Started” or “Start Here” section, a place for people new to your process or your work are directed to so they can learn more.
6. Your story– If you have a creative business, then you should have an “About” page that tells your visitors your story and how your work or your creative business can benefit them. (If you don’t have an About page, you really need to read this) If your story is particularly compelling or you have a specific mission you would like to share with your visitors, a section on your homepage dedicated to your story would make a lot of sense for your homepage. You can choose to condense your story to a paragraph that states your story or mission or you can add a teaser that links to your About page.
7. Social proof– Do you get a lot of compliments, comments, and great reviews from your customers? They’re a great form of “social proof” for other visitors to your website. Using a social proof element like reviews, comments, testimonials, number of sales, or number of mailing list subscribers on your homepage is a powerful way to encourage your visitors to stick around and see what all the fuss is about. It’s also a good way to reassure potential new customers that it’s safe to work with you.
8. Latest news or blog posts– If you have a blog or if you and your work frequently appear in the news or on other blogs, then a latest news or blog post section would make a nice element for your homepage. You can also opt to curate your blog posts according to popularity or theme and display links to these handpicked posts on your homepage.
9. Video intro– Most of the elements on your homepage revolve around text and images. But have you considered using video? Video can be a powerful way to encourage your visitors to further engage with your website. Using just a smartphone, you could easily shoot a nice 20 to 30 second tour of your studio, an overview of your work, a demonstration of your process, or explanation of your story or mission.
Laying out your homepage
Once you’ve determined what your visitors want and prioritized the actions you want them to take, it’s time to choose the right elements to include on your homepage. Remember that you don’t have to choose them all. You can even choose only one or two elements for your homepage. Choose which element will get the main focus and will be at the top of the page which elements are secondary and where their location will be on the page.
Get a blank piece of paper and draw simple blocks lay out the elements on your homepage. Look at the homepage of websites you find compelling to help guide your ideas. If you have a web designer helping you with your website you can show them your list of priorities and tell them about websites you like to help guide their design process. Tweak your ideas until you find a layout that best represents your website.
A homepage is a work in progress
Have you ever noticed how the homepage on Amazon and Etsy are always changing? That’s because they’re always monitoring the behavior of their visitors and they tweak their homepage to make it more effective. A lot of online businesses big, medium, and small test new designs, layouts, colors, and elements to see what works and what doesn’t.
While I’m not suggesting that you redesign your homepage every few months, it is a good idea to keep things fresh. Keep a weather eye on Google Analytics to catch changes in traffic, changes in your audience, and to monitor where your traffic is coming from. Use the information you get from Google Analytics to make small improvements to your homepage on a regular basis. Be sure to monitor what happens after you make a change to see if your changes are working or not.
For a lot of people, your homepage is the welcome mat not only to your website, but to your creative business in general. An effective homepage has to accomplish a lot of things and it must do them well. When done right, your homepage can encourage new visitors to go deeper into your website. Spend some time to make your homepage a better welcome mat for your visitors.