They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression, and that the first impression is made within 5 seconds of meeting someone. Well, with Web pages it's even faster than that.
What does your first page say about your site? Does it grab your readers and hold them, drawing them deeper into the site? Or does it say and do nothing and even drive them away to another page? Does it load quickly allowing them to see what's in store for them immediately? or does it take several seconds to download, making them less and less likely to stay once the page finally arrives?
Your Home Page Has 7 to 10 Seconds
That's all you have to hook your reader and get them to stay on your site. Even for the faster sites, 2 to 3 of those seconds are spent downloading the page. So that leaves you 4 to 8 seconds to get your message across and keep them clicking through your pages.
There are a number of different strategies to make your front page memorable and keep them clicking. Find one that suits you and your site, and exploit it as best you can:
- Splash Page Home Pages
Splash pages are front pages that have little more than an animation or clever graphic and a link to enter the site.
Splash pages are a great way to improve standings in search engines, as long as they don't have automatic refreshes to a new page. When you use a splash page, you can trim the content down to just the bare minimum which improves the quality of the search tags and content keywords. Remember to keep them relevant, as your visitors won't stay long on your site if the splash page implies a site that isn't delivered. Be sure to read Splash Pages - Pros and Cons before you commit to a splash page home page.
- Navigation Home Pages
Navigation front pages have a lot of information in a small space. They act like a portal to the rest of the site packing in the places your readers can go.
If you have a site with a lot of information, a navigation front page may be the way to go. Often readers don't come to the front page of large sites looking for specific information, they are looking for the "route" to the information they want. While you could argue that having that information right on the front page would be good, for a large site this isn't feasible. If your readers already know the site is large, they don't expect to find the information on the front page, so even when it's there, they don't see it.
- Information Home Pages
For sites with one specific purpose, an informative front page gets that purpose right out where the reader expects it.
Sites that are focused around a goal, such as selling something, or displaying artwork, or publishing a family photo album are well suited for an Information Front Page. Make that goal the central part of the page. Hook the readers by showing them an overview of the goal and then drawing them in to the details and extra information that supports that goal.
Your Home Page Should Fit Your Site and Your Content
Your front page should suit your site and your skills. A site with very few pages would not make an interesting Navigation Front Page. And a novice Flash designer may not make the best Splash Page. But, you should also think about what you are trying to convey with your site. The front page is where people are going to (in most cases) form their first opinion. If you have a black, cutting edge Splash page, but your site is about "Choosing a Nanny", you might scare some of your readers away.
Your Home Page Should Be Clear
Your front page should be the clearest page on your site. If people have to guess what it's about, chances are they will have hit the "Back" button without even trying. Your readers don't want to have to work to get their information. We are an instant gratification world, and unclear sites become instant losers.