The best web design is one that your visitors don't notice at all, because they can move quickly through your site to find what they need.
Because of my stance against carousels, those rotating banners that you see on many home pages, a question that I'm often asked is what to do with the gaping void left on a home page after removing the large animated banner. While I am most in favor of keeping the layout clean and simple by highlighting a clear headline and value proposition, I understand that branding pressures often dictate that a strong "hero shot" be given prominent placement. If this is your reality, here are three alternatives to the rotating carousel that you can use to support your conversion goals rather than distract attention away from them.
Move Navigation Into the Body of the Page
Web visitors have the attention span of a lit match, and they come to your site with a specific need in mind. This is true whether you have a lead-gen or an e-commerce website, but more so when your site functions as an e-catalogue with lots of products in multiple categories. So instead of wasting a good chunk of your home page on branding messages or special promotions that may only hold interest for a small percentage of visitors, consider moving your primary navigation choices to the main body of the page. Using clear images to represent each product category, you can help your visitors quickly understand your offerings so they can drill deeper into their category of interest.
B&H Photo does this so well. Anyone who comes to its site gets an immediate first impression of what B&H sells. The company has taken thousands of products and put them into 12 main categories, all of which are represented graphically on its home page. The site has even gone a step further to list the type of items included in each category. This serves the dual purpose of giving a new visitor an immediate sense of what types of products can be found on the site, while helping frequent visitors quickly access listings in product categories that interest them. Notice, too, that the language used for each category is very easy to understand. There's no special jargon or vague terms that could be subject to various different interpretations.
Use Images to Help Visitors Self-Segment
Most home pages are a mess, and many organizations cling to the sliding carousel as a way to squish multiple competing messages onto the page without taking up additional real estate. Of course, testing will almost always show that the plan has backfired: in an effort to draw attention to multiple messages the slider makes it nearly impossible for the visitor to focus on any of the messages. Banner blindness, or sheer annoyance, kicks in and visitors will look anywhere on the page except at the carousel to find what they came for.
If your website serves several audiences with unique message requirements, you may find the most effective strategy is to use your home page as an usher - helping to quickly escort each visitor to the content most relevant to her.
Look at the home page for Aflac. Even with the most robust segmentation tools it is probably difficult for Aflac to know whether a specific visitor is a current policy holder, someone who is shopping around for coverage, a benefits administrator within a company, or a broker. So the company used its home page to help people identify themselves and go down the path that best matches their role. And in this case, Aflac has still given itself room for a branding message that is suitable for all audience segments.
Use an Image That Focuses Attention on Your Conversion Goal
Images attract attention, which can be good or bad. Moving images are almost always bad, as are pictures or graphics that are placed on the page just to fill space. Why? Because your visitors will look at the pictures instead of your call-to-action. The human brain is attracted to visual stimulus, so graphics need to be used with extreme caution.
Knowing that photos capture attention, imagine how powerful it would be if you used a graphic to draw the visitor's eye directly to your call-to-action, as Adobe did in the page below. See how the elements within the graphic seem to "point" the eye toward the button? The bold graphic is impossible to ignore, but there is no real focal point to it. And even the pictures inside the graphic are facing the call-to-action. This literally forces the eye to look in the same direction, which is exactly where the button is located.
You see, there are plenty of ways to add visual appeal to your home page while maintaining a clear focus and not succumbing to design fads that are proven to be ineffective. Remember, the best web design is one that your visitors don't notice at all, because they can move quickly through your site to find what they need.
Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.
Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."
Connect with Tim on Google+.
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