Atlas Shrugged, and So Did Your Home Page

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Your poor overloaded home page.

Just like Atlas, it carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. Under the staggering load of all of this content, your home page is groaning and not fulfilling its purpose. Your home page does not serve any of its intended constituencies well.

And just like Atlas shrugging, it has decided to throw off the ridiculous burdens you have placed upon it. It does this by becoming a confusing and jumbled mess.

Unfortunately, the bottom line for you is lower conversion rates.

So, how do you remedy this situation?

Here are a few thoughts:

It's Not a Democracy

Everyone wants to pile stuff on your home page. Products, partnership announcements, press releases, job opportunities, marketing copy, positioning statements, and sales special offers. In addition to that, you have your global navigation and menus, e-mail signup form, and, of course, a lot of distracting graphics, videos, or animations to emphasize "key" content even more.

Often, too many internal company interests compete for real estate and prominence on the home page. Over time, nothing gets removed -- new items are simply added to it.

Unfortunately, this often leads to a phenomenon known as the "tragedy of the commons." If too many shepherds have unrestricted access to the unregulated common grazing lands, the sheep will overwhelm the grass's ability to regenerate itself, destroying it for everyone. The individual self-interest of shepherds undercuts the common good.

By emphasizing too many items on a Web page, we destroy visitors' ability to find key information and paralyze them from making a decision.

"If you emphasize everything, then nothing will be important."

Fight the internal company political fight. Does HR really need to have job listings on the home page? Does PR really need a ticker showing the latest company press releases to everyone who visits? Does news about a product launch aimed at a tiny percentage of your audience really merit placement on the home page?

By removing non mission-critical content, or demoting it to a much less prominent status, you focus visitors on what is important.

Begin With the End in Mind

What is the purpose of the home page? The home page should focus on key conversion actions that have a measureable impact on company revenue. There has to be agreement on this companywide. If this purpose is a long list with lots of commas in it, you have failed before you have begun.

"The purpose of the home page is to get people off of the home page."

The home page should act as a signpost to make people aware of the existence of important information or options for them to consider and should direct them deeper into the site toward more targeted content. The basis role of the home page should be to let people self-select into roles or tasks that you may want them to accomplish. The sooner they get closer to their very specific reason for visiting the site, the better off everyone will be.

Check Your Visual Clutter

Graphics designers are rarely trained in maximizing conversion. The best ones pride themselves on their ability to be non-conformists, and their ability to think outside the box. They are bored with doing regular production-oriented graphic design work and like to keep themselves entertained by doing something new and interesting on every project.

Common over-the-top visual elements include wild background colors, giant graphical billboards taking up prime page real estate, garish text treatments in headlines and buttons, visual embellishments and flourishes on unimportant parts of the page, and unnecessary animation or video.

"Unless a visual element directly supports a key conversion action, it should be removed."

Your graphic designers need to be kept on a short leash, and their work should be subordinated to the business purpose of the site.

Real-World Case Study: A Home Page Redesign

As they say in the advertising world, "You have to eat your own dog food." So, at my agency, we have tried to apply our own advice and best practices to the recent redesign of our own home page. Even though our original site was already pretty sparse, we stripped things down even more and adjusted the visual emphasis of the page to focus on the calls to action.

Its purpose is to get the visitor to click on one of the four distinct choices represented by the large blue medallions, or, as a backup, to click the orange free consultation button below them.

The medallions represent four distinct options related to the available services that someone might be looking for:

  • Conversion consulting
  • Full-service tests
  • Testing tools
  • Free resources (for those looking for thought leadership or background information)

Notice what we are not trying to do:

  • Present detailed information
  • Convince anyone to do anything (other than click)

We used a visual attention prediction tool -- a free tool developed by my agency -- to simulate where a visitor would look on the page. As you can see, from the heat map above, the attention goes primarily to the four choices. A secondary goal is to establish credibility by showing our marquee client logos subtly in the right-hand side of the page. But we very carefully deemphasized these (by making them grayscale, and low-contrast) so they would not pull attention from the content in the middle.

The bottom line is simple: we have lightened the load on our home page to create a very simple environment for visitors to consider the information that we feel is important. For most companies, this is the polar opposite of what they try to do. Consider a radical rethinking of your home page if you want higher conversion rates for your mission-critical activities.


This article originally appeared in Tim's ClickZ column January 12, 2010