Homepages are hard.
It’s a high-stakes page because your homepage is the most visible page on your website. For most companies, the homepage gets more traffic than any other page.
It’s a difficult page to design and write because it’s the page for which you know the least about your visitor. The visitor hasn’t clicked anything yet, so we don’t know much about them. It’s also the page with the most diverse traffic sources and the most mysterious “direct” traffic.
Designing a homepage and writing the copy is one of the great digital marketing challenges and homepage best practices can be a big big help.
Let’s start with the big goals of every website homepage:
And of course, it needs to check all the other boxes: rank in search for the business category, load quickly, be mobile friendly, integrate with Analytics and other tools, comply with privacy laws, meet accessibility requirements, and be easily updated, be faithful with consistent brand messaging.
It has a lot of jobs to do.
To help your homepage be a better front door, here is a checklist of homepage best practices. This is our how-to guide for writing and designing an effective website homepage. Like all best practices, these aren’t rules.
Best practices are really just good hypotheses. Try them and measure the impact.
This is a framework for considering what to put on your homepage …and what to leave off. Here’s a visual diagram of all of the homepage design elements we’ll cover:
Here is a breakdown of each homepage design element with tips for each, from the top of the page to the bottom.
We’ll start with the obvious. The logo goes in the top left (at least on 93% of websites) or in the top center. Here are the few best practices for logo treatment:
The headline is at the top of the visual hierarchy. It is the 6-10 word version of what the company does, formatted with the <h1> header tag.
The job of the header is to tell the visitor (and the search engine) where they are. Remember, the first question of every visitor to every web page is “Am I in the right place?”
ProTip: The Backyard BBQ Test
If I met you at a BBQ and asked you what you do for a living, and you replied with your homepage headline …would I know what you do? Or would I be totally confused? The best homepage headers pass this test.
This is the short text that appears high on the page, sometimes right below the header, summarizing the value proposition of the business. Ideally, this text places the business squarely within a category (positioning) yet sets it apart (differentiation).
The trick is to do it all in just a few lines of text. Any longer and you have a blocky paragraph that visitors won’t read it.
If you were tempted to write a clever headline, this is the place to use those little gems. If you have a clever headline and descriptive intro paragraph, flip them. Results are better when the headlines are clear, but the copy is clever.
Some visitors are ready to get in touch. This might be their tenth visit, right? When they’re ready, visually prominent calls to action give them a clear path forward.
For header CTAs, “Contact Us” is common. 55% of B2B lead generation websites have “contact” in the top right. But consider using a stronger, more specific verb wherever you have room.
In our guide on button design, we showed how specificity correlates with clickthrough rates.
Also, don’t assume that all of the homepage calls to action should bring the visitors to the contact form. It’s possible that the next step in the user experience should be a case study, a portfolio or a service page.
Your Google Analytics account will show you which pages correlate with conversion. Guiding visitors to these pages, rather than your contact form, may be better aligned with their needs and your results.
We asked an old friend and digital marketing pro for his input on homepage CTAs:
Justin Rondeau, Invisible PPC
“Your homepage isn’t a campaign landing page – you’ll cover multiple concepts, different offerings, different products, and link to multiple areas on your site. THAT’S OKAY. Unlike a landing page, your homepage shouldn’t have a 1:1 ratio in regards to your primary CTA and total links on the page.
Some folks will be ready to convert right away…those people click the button above the fold because you spoke clearly and directly to their needs. Others need a bit more of an understanding and will dig further.
One CTA type isn’t enough. People want to interact how they like to interact. Give them the option and you’ll see more opportunities coming from your homepage.“
Next up is the navigation menu. Horizontal menus that collapse into a hamburger icon on mobile devices are standard and used by 90% of marketing websites.
Just like the headline, your menu is at the top of the visual hierarchy. Most visitors will scan it almost immediately.
Here are two tips from a separate article about website navigation best practices.
This isn’t a homepage best practice because not all websites need a search tool. Our research finds that 53% of websites have a site search tool.
Does your site need an internal search tool?
You only need a site search tool if you have a big site. It’s worth considering if you have 500+ of anything: pages, products, articles, resources or jobs.
If you have descriptive and clear navigation labels, visitors will click or tap. Visitors generally prefer to use the mouse rather than the keyboard.
Are your visitors using your site search tool?
If you have one, you’ll know if it’s useful to visitors by checking Analytics. There is a built-in event in GA4 called view_search_results. Filter for it in the Events report and you’ll see if visitors are using your search tool.
If they using it, you can do some site search analysis, which is like using cheat codes for digital marketers
How to add site search to your website?
When it appears in the header, it’s not just on the homepage. It’s a “global element” which means it’s on every page.
Site search tools are added to headers in one of two ways.
Use the first option unless you have high confidence (or strong evidence) that visitors really want to search.
Usually, but not always, there will be an image or video in the featured area at the top of the homepage. This is the largest visual element. It is in the highest position. It is on the most popular page. So it has a big impact on their impression of the website and the brand.
Here are a few recommendations.
Bad ideas for the hero area:
The exception is the image gallery. If the brand does something very visual (architects, for example) then the homepage featured area may make a nice gallery. In this case, the slides aren’t different topics, they’re just different examples.
Imagine replacing the sign on the front of your building with a press release headline. Passerbys might not know what you do.
Below the hero area but above the fold, you should have a little room. You can use this space to build trust by adding evidence. Add a few visuals to show that your brand is legitimate.
These are often called “trust seals” and they leverage the halo effect, a cognitive bias built into your visitors’ brains. Any positive impression the visitor has of the brands in your trust seals magically transfers to your brand.
Beyond trust, these logos also differentiate your brand. You’re different because your competitors don’t have those same trust seals. Look at your site and ask this question:
Could a startup born yesterday make this same homepage?
No, not if you put a bit of visual evidence above the fold. Those logos set you apart. You’ve differentiated.
We’ll set ourselves apart even more in 11, 14 and 15 below.
We put a lot of emphasis on above the fold homepage elements because elements high on the page are high stakes. Visitors here are less likely to scroll than visitors on other pages because homepage visitors often want to navigate deeper right away.
The majority of homepage visitors don’t scroll, at least according to our research on B2B marketing websites.
Confirm this for yourself in your own Analytics. In GA4, Unique user scrolls is a metric. You can add it, along with Users, to the Pages and Screens report. Divide one from the other and you’ll have the scroll rate for your own homepage. It’s likely lower than your other pages.
So work hard on your above-the-fold content on your homepage and it will work hard for you!
But don’t cram everything above the fold. And don’t neglect the rest of the page. Even if only 5% of your homepage visitors scroll, that’s thousands of people over time. Why give a dead end to thousands of your potential customers who are asking for more information?
So let’s move down past the fold…
As the visitor starts to flow down the page, the subheads are there to help guide their eyes. But these guideposts aren’t helpful if they don’t say anything.
Websites everywhere waste space with bland and obvious words, in large text, all over the place. But it doesn’t take more time, money or effort to write something useful.
It helps guide the visitor through the page. It also helps indicate relevance to the search engine. Keep this in mind next time you browse around your own website:
Every vague subhead is a missed keyword opportunity.
The homepage is critical SEO real estate. More about search engine optimization below.
Although this is just one of our 20 homepage best practices, it’s really the most important thing on any marketing webpage.
Your visitor has questions. That’s why they’re here. They want to qualify (or disqualify) you as a possible option.
It’s the job of the page to anticipate their questions and provide the best answers. Those answers should be roughly ordered based on their priorities. The copy guides them through the messages, just as if they’re having a conversation with a sales rep.
The best homepages emulate a conversation with the top sales rep.
So it’s not just what you want to say, it’s what they need to hear, even if that means they disqualify you as a potential fit. You don’t want unqualified leads anyway, right?
This is the key to conversion copywriting. The visual hierarchy aligns with the messaging priority based on the visitor’s likely questions and your best, most direct answers.
So the key is empathy, which comes from research, which is usually a bunch of interviews. In the end, you know the true story in the life of this visitor.
It’s impossible to build a high-converting page without this information. But with this information, copywriting flows naturally. The website feels intuitive.
Yes, brand voice and storytelling are important, but they’re optional. Clarity is critical.
Below the hero area, there are more opportunities to upgrade the format from text to video.
18% of homepages feature videos and for good reasons. They convey complex concepts quickly. They build trust. They keep visitors engaged.
Here’s an example of the impact on average session duration for a URL with a video. Visitors who watched the visitors spent 4x as much time on the page. That’s a big difference.
Here are the basic types of videos that perform well on homepages:
These videos can be a big investment with big returns. If you’ve got one, put it on the homepage where it’s likely to be seen. It’s a basic axiom of digital marketing: Put your strongest assets in your most visible locations.
Justin Rondeau, Invisible PPC
“Some people like to read, others like videos, and some want to just talk to someone. That’s why you need to include different media types and different mechanisms to get them to show interest.
You need to articulate similar messages in different ways on the homepage. Copy, videos, and images that convey the same message in a different way will increase engagement on the page and get the visitor where they need to go next. If you aren’t conveying a message in at least two different media types, you’ll miss out on hooking your visitors and turning them into prospects.”
The homepage is the one URL with the best opportunity to rank because it’s the URL with the most authority because it’s the page with the greatest number of inbound links.
You can confirm this for your site by entering your homepage into any of the major SEO tools. These are paid tools. Each has its own metric for page-level ranking potential: Moz calls it “Page Authority,” SEMrush calls it “Page Authority Score,” Ahrefs calls it “URL Rating.”
They all have different formulas (their own estimates of Google’s Page Rank), but it’s all the same idea. And the URL on almost every website with the highest score is the homepage. Here’s the takeaway:
The homepage is the page that can target the most competitive keyphrases.
As we saw above in best practice #2, the primary target keyphrase should appear in the <h1> header and the title tag. Now as we write copy for the rest of the page, we can continue to indicate relevance and improve our chances of ranking.
But to do so, we don’t just shoehorn in the target phrase another ten times. That would be keyword stuffing. This kind of spam doesn’t help your rankings, and it wrecks your writing. Don’t do it.
Instead, we want to write a detailed, comprehensive page that touches on the topics related to our target keyphrase. This is called semantic SEO, and it’s wonderful for both rankings and readers.
You can find these semantically related phrases using an SEO tool (MarketMuse, SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant, etc.) or just search for the target phrase and look closely at the search results.
Work these into your copy. Or better yet, use them as inspiration for sections to add.
Ideally, the SEO copywriting (incorporating related phrases) overlaps with the conversion copywriting (answering top sales questions) and your homepage both ranks and converts like a champ.
Here’s a less obvious way to set your brand apart from competitors: show your team. Yours is the only company with your people, after all.
In the ideal website visit, the visitor feels a connection. This is unlikely unless your brand has a human face.
For a lot of brands, social media content looks like a party. So many faces! Real people!
But the homepage looks like an abandoned ship. Where’d everybody go?
There are many opportunities to add humanity. Virtually every pageblock at every scroll depth is an opportunity to put a face with the brand.
These next two best practices are about evidence. We’ll start with the qualitative evidence, social proof, which we touched on above as we added faces to our page.
Social proof is third-party validation from a human. On a product site, it’s reviews. On a lead generation website, it’s testimonials. Social proof from an influencer is an endorsement.
They all leverage the same psychology: the conformity bias. This works best if you…
Here’s an example of all the mistakes, all in one place. Just imagine how much more effective you could make this.
This is quantitative evidence. It’s often easier to add and the “stats block” has become very common on website homepages.
The list goes on and on. The best statistics will be those most relevant to your brand. An innovator may show their number of patents. A test preparation may show their college placement rate.
Find out from the sales team what data helps them win in the sales conversations, then add those in a prominent location to your homepage.
Your homepage is the one place (besides your blog) to feature your content marketing program. Remember, these are the visitors you know the least about. So give everything, including content. 43% of lead generation websites put articles on their homepages.
Warning: They may work on homepages, but be careful adding blog posts to deeper service pages. If the visitor clicks to read an article, they’re moving from a page built to sell to a page built to teach. They’re moving backward, up the funnel.
Add blog posts farther down, closer to the bottom of the homepage. You’ve already told them who you are, what you do and how well you do it. Now share more about what you’re thinking.
This can explain why homepage rankings jump around, especially if the page doesn’t have a lot of other copy.
You can avoid this SEO issue by using a page block/module that lets you feature specific blog posts rather than automatically showing the latest. Curation is more work, but always better than automation.
This is also only for brands with active content programs. Because every signup CTA is a promise. And its success is a huge factor in the success of your email marketing program.
The best homepage designs add a few other elements to the promise and together, they are the 3 P’s of Email Signup Forms:
Here’s what signup CTAs look like in a great web design, on the homepage or anywhere.
The best lead generation websites have hard working, high clickthrough rate calls to action. The CTR of your CTA directly impacts ROI.
Adding a CTA block right above the footer has become an almost standard design feature of marketing websites. It’s a smart and simple way to make sure that every URL ends with an offer to help. You never know when a visitor will decide that they’re ready to reach out.
As with the email signup CTAs, specificity makes a difference. Rather than a generic CTA that any website could use, make the CTA specific to your brand. Better yet, they’re specific to the page, if possible.
Here are a few other ways to increase the clickthrough rates of a homepage CTA.
You can find chatbots on homepages everywhere. 11% of homepages have chatbots with more coming online everyday. It’s becoming a common feature in marketing automation software.
The idea is to give visitors an alternate way to interact with the website, providing another path toward conversion. More ways to convert may drive a higher conversion rate.
Veteran digital marketer, Alex Birkett, told us about his experience using chatbots at several major digital marketing brands.
Alex Birkett, Omniscient
“For B2B homepages, I’ve loved using a hybrid live chat/chatbot widget. In user tests, they tend to be one of the first elements noticed, so if your copywriting is on-point here, it can be a massive driver of leads and conversions.
It also doubles as a customer support routing system, often driving increased adoption and retention.
Finally, it’s a passive form of customer research. If you mine your live chat and chatbot transcripts, you’ll uncover pain points, common patterns of questions, and the sentiment or valence of a given pain point. This can help inform content, homepage copy, and even product development.”
So the chatbot is really about more than conversion. Chatbots drive three separate benefits:
The cost to you is the price of the widget. The cost to your visitor is a bit of visual noise. There is another hidden cost in your Analytics. Chatbots that flash a message in the browser tab. This can appear in your Analytics making homepage analysis more difficult.
Chatbots can (and should) have different playbooks for different pages. The homepage chatbot will have the most general playbook and ask the most open questions.
The homepage, like every page, ends with the footer.
Think of a footer as a user experience safety net. It catches the visitors who fell all the way to the bottom without finding what they’re looking for. So it’s your last chance to help them.
A great website footer is like tiny page unto itself, including many of the elements we’ve seen above:
Of course, a footer can include all kinds of other elements. Think big. A “mega footer” can be very helpful, offering as many as 27 different design and content elements.
What wasn’t on this list? Quite a few things. Here’s a quick list of things to leave off of your website’s homepage.
Over the 20+ years of website design copywriting, we’ve seen a convergence of homepage design trends. The layout of homepages is slowly standardizing. All kinds of web design best practices are converging.
Probably, this is for two reasons. First, usability pros are learning what works best based on user feedback and Analytics. Second, visitor expectations are for easy, intuitive experiences.
When visual complexity is low (the homepage shows one or two things at a time) and prototypicality is high (the homepage conforms to standards and aligns with expectations) the perceived beauty is high.
Source: Web Design Tips, Orbit Media
Of course, there are many ways and places to differentiate your brand on your homepage, as we’ve seen above. But don’t reinvent how websites are navigated. That would be frustrating for your visitors.
Set your brand apart through copywriting, evidence and humanity.
Want to see all of these homepage best practices in action?
Check out our homepage at www.orbitmedia.com
What are your thoughts?