Creating an Effective Home Page

At the heart of every site redesign are two questions: What should be on the home page? What is the home page’s purpose? Answers vary based on your business model, breadth of products/services, and customers. In general, a home page should answer the following questions:

  • What does your company do?
  • What is your company’s breadth of products/services?
  • What are the top categories/products/services I’m likely to be interested in?
  • What’s new on the site, or what promotions are running?
  • How do I quickly get to the categories I want to browse?

Although no one home page can fit all, here’s a checklist to figure out what should be on your home page.

Do People Know Your Brand?

If people know your brand from another channel (stores, catalogs, etc.), the home page must accurately reflect that brand. If you’re a high-end retailer, bank, or manufacturer, your home page can’t look like it was designed by the CEO’s 12 year old. It must reflect the brand your customers have come to know and love.

If people don’t know your brand, odds are they’re stumbling onto your Web site for the first time through a search or link or from another site. In this case, your home page must not only reflect your brand (you do have one, right?) in aesthetic ways, but also explicitly promote your brand differentiators. Why is your company better? Do you have better quality products and services? Do your customer reps have more expertise than the competition’s? Do you have the most satisfied customers in the industry? Do you have customer testimonials that will make new users feel at ease using your company? All these elements help inform new users about your company, your brand, and what makes you a better option than the next guy.

Wide Product Selection

If you’re a retailer, your site consists of categories and products. You also may have current promotions or sales. Promotions may be site-wide (free shipping this week) or category/product specific (save $30 on DVD players). What’s the right mix of products, categories, and promotions for your home page? There’s no one answer, but here are some tips.

The wider your product selection (i.e., the more horizontal categories you have, like books, music, DVDs, electronics, kitchen appliances, groceries, etc.), the less likely the products on your home page matter. Naturally, you should test this. If you have 500,000 SKUs on your site, what are the odds the 10 products featured on your home page are the ones everyone wants? If there are clear sales leaders in each of your main categories, these are, of course, good home-page candidates.

Conversely, the narrower your product selection, the more likely products on your home page will do well. If you specialize in selling vacuums, listing seven or eight top vacuums on the home page will most likely drive a lot of your sales.

Personalization helps larger companies with a wide product selection to solve this problem. If you can create highly personalized home pages and feature products that are specifically relevant to each user, you bypass the issue.

Promotions or Promotional Excess?

A home page is a great place for introducing current promotions and sales. General promotions are much more likely to be successful on a home page than elsewhere on the site, because the home page is one of the most general pages. Once people dig deeper, their interests are more focused. Only relevant promotions will be effective. “Save $20 on DVD Players” will be effective on the home page, as there’s a likelihood people wanting DVD players will be on the home page. If this promotion were also in the Tupperware sales area, its lack of relevance would diminish its effectiveness. Promotions on interior pages must be contextually relevant.

How many home-page promos should you have: 2, 5, 25? The more noise on your home page, the less effective it will be. As with all my recommendations, you must test to see how your specific audience reacts. But in general, there’s a point of diminishing returns with the amount stuff on your home page.


The home page also directs traffic. Site navigation, then, is an important page element. Most retail sites don’t rely on just the top and left navigation to direct people. They create navigation in the content area to guide people quickly to the right site areas.

Look to Those With More Expertise

A good rule of thumb is to look at more successful companies with the budget and staff to test and analyze these things. If you can’t afford to constantly test your home page or you don’t have the analytics packages (and staff who understands them) to make interesting reports, follow the big guys. Here is what’s on some big guys’ home pages:

  • Best Buy: Navigation, one rotating product/promotion spot (four items), four promotions, no explicit real estate for products
  • Home Depot: Navigation, five promotions, five products
  • Staples: Navigation, five promotions, three products
  •, nonpersonalized: Navigation, eight featured category modules with 1-6 featured products each, seven promotional spots
  • Wal-Mart: Navigation, three featured categories, one rotating product/promotion/category flash module (three items), “rollback” promotion with four product links, two promotions
  • QVC: Navigation, two featured products, four featured categories

The Perfect Mix

Certainly, there are other important elements, such as easy ways to register or sign up to receive e-mail. What’s the right mix of navigation, promotions, categories, and products for you? You should see some obvious trends by looking at the big guys. If you can run tests, you should see where the point of diminishing returns is on your home page, and find out for yourself how many products and promotions are too many.

Questions, comments, thoughts? Let me know.

Until next time…


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