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The homepages of many business websites are suffering an identity crisis. They're trying to do the job of several web pages, and doing none of those jobs well.

What a Business Website Homepage is Not:

  • A homepage is not the place to dump a long description of your business. That´s for the "about us" or "company information" page. On the homepage, this information will just bore most people.
  • A homepage is not the place where you list and sell all your products (unless you only have one or two). You should have a special products and services page for that, and preferably a shopping cart or catalog. Trying to make people buy right on your homepage is a little pushy. The homepage will also get over-crowded as your offerings expand. Instead, just include a list of product categories with links to inside pages, along with direct links to your biggest sellers.
  • A homepage is not the place to include the full text of your announcements and press releases. Just include a teaser paragraph of each article on the homepage, with a link to the web page with the full text. If people want to read the full text, they can. If they don´t, you haven´t bored them to tears.
  • A homepage is not your company president´s or owner´s personal blog. It´s OK to rant, rave, or preach the need for world peace. Just don´t do it on wesellwidgets.com

As you´ve probably noticed, a good website has multiple pages. You should have special web pages for special topics: an "about us" page for company information, a products and services catalog, the president´s blog, etc. When you advertise or send out links to your site, you should link directly to the most appropriate page, rather than just the homepage.
Of course, that doesn´t mean you don´t need a homepage, just that you don´t need it to do every single thing you want your website to accomplish.

Quick Guide to Writing a Business Website Homepage
Target audience:

Your business website´s homepage must be all things to all the people who type your URL in their navigation bar, whether it´s their six-hundredth visit or whether they just happened to catch your web address painted on the back of your car.

Content:

For the benefit of new visitors, a homepage must provide a snapshot of who you are and what visitors can do on your website. Your first one to three paragraphs should give a quick overview of what visitors can do on your site. For example, you could include a short paragraph each on "buy widgets", "learn more about widgets", and "meet other widget enthusiasts", with links to your shopping cart, informational articles, and message board, respectively.

For returning visitors, the homepage must serve as a touchstone for navigating the site, announcing new developments and pointing out especially popular or useful pages. For these visitors you don´t have to write anything new especially for your homepage. Anyone who's coming back to your site is already interested and is going to want to jump right into the deeper pages of your site, rather than linger on the homepage wondering whether it's worth their time.

That's why your homepage should include teasers for the inside pages of your site. For instance, you could have a tip of the week, linked to a web page on your site with an article explaining it. Good navigation (list of links to the four to eight most essential web pages on your site) is also a must.

For both new and returning visitors, always give a prominent place to a featured product or service (or two or three) with a picture, one or two-sentence description, and a link to its own web page or its place in your "products and services page," catalog or shopping cart.

You should also always feature a satisfied customer. It's great if the satisfied customer can send you a picture of himself or herself. But no matter what, always include a testimonial quotation, and a link to a case study or customer story on its own web page, which you should definitely find time to write or have written for you by a website content provider.

Title:

Don´t title your homepage "Welcome to [name of your site]". Don´t include that message anywhere on your homepage, in fact. It"s a waste of space. This was normal in 1996 but it"s pretty outdated now. Everyone already knows they"re on your site. What you need to tell them is what they can do there. Try something like "Buy, Study, and Discuss Widgets".

Also make sure your title incorporates any keywords you think people might use to search for your product or service on the internet. Search engines decide how to categorize pages largely based on the homepage title and first heading text.

Length:

Ideally, the first few paragraphs of the homepage (the ones aimed at new visitors) should not be more than 100-350 words total. The teasers for inside pages targeted to returning visitors should not be more than about 100 words each.

Making Sure Your Website Has the Best Homepage Possible:

Before your homepage goes live, test it out on a few people. Don?t just ask your volunteers how they like your homepage. Courtesy may prevent you from getting an honest response. Instead, ask them to find how to buy your latest product or if they understand what?s the most important development in your company recently. If they can navigate to the correct page within about eight seconds (the average human attention span on the web), you?ve done well.

You may just want to hire a website copywriter, online copywriting firm, or website content provider to create your homepage for you. After all, you wouldn´t build your own office building, would you? Of course, that´s not an entirely fair comparison; more people will see your business website homepage than will ever see your office building.


About the Author: Joel Walsh is the head writer for UpMarket Content (http://upmarketcontent.com), a website content firm serving business sites. You can find more information on writing a homepage, including a template, along with the rest of the seven essential web pages for business websites, such as the "about us" and "product and services" pages, at: http://upmarketcontent.com/content-templates.htm

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