An effective marketing website home page layout contains just four elements: positioning, work samples, testimonials, and expert content. The way you prioritize and arrange this information will have the greatest impact on the actions prospects take on this page.
But before I share my layout recommendation with you, I need to first support it by clarifying your home page’s true role in a good prospect session. Once you understand when and how this page is used, my recommended layout will make much more sense.
Your Home Page’s Place in a Good Prospect Session
For some prospects, their experience of getting to know your firm and understanding what you do will begin on your home page. But for the vast majority of future right-fit prospects, it will begin with one of four steps:
- Many prospects will arrive at your website on a lower-level page that they land on because a search engine.
- Many will follow a backlink from another website.
- Some will respond to a piece of paid media.
- And some will act on an email you sent to them.
Generally, when a person arrives at a website for the first time, they spend an incredibly short amount of time assessing whether they are in the right place (like, 8 seconds). Then, they either stick around or leave immediately — that’s called a bounce in Statsese.
A Common Prospect Orientation Pattern
But if the content they discover on your site does match their search intent, the data show that they will either follow links to related content or follow what I refer to as a common orientation pattern. That pattern of behavior is to return to the home page to better understand the source of the content they’ve just read. They may follow this orientation pattern after their first page view or after their third, but as long as they remain engaged on your site, it is inevitable that they will follow it.
When a prospect lands on your home page for the first time, you then have an opportunity to bring into focus the mission of your firm. The structure of the business — as in, what you do for money — can now be the story that draws them deeper into the site. Your articles may have attracted them to it in the first place, but it’s your positioning pages that will ensure they mean business.
A marketing website’s home page is always the start of a measurable, positioning-focused experience that every right-fit prospect must have on your website.
Over the years, I have written many articles on best practices for designing a more effective marketing website home page layout. I’ll summarize them here first and then outline exactly what I recommend to almost every firm I consult.
The Marketing Website Home Page Layout Has One Job
Your home page does not exist to excite or entertain an audience. It exists to attract, inform, and engage future clients.
Your home page is not a place a prospect should spend a lot of time. Nor is it a page they should see that often over time. It is not the place on your website where the most important actions a prospect will take should take place. Your home page exists to inform a prospect of essential information about you at a very key point in their experience.
No one will begin web browsing experiences on your home page as often as you, nor will anyone refresh this page as often as you.
Once you acknowledge this reality, you can let go of the things that lead you to designing counterproductive home pages. You can finally embrace a truly focused and efficient page which will impress prospects and accelerate their paths to clienthood.
A Four-Point Layout
An effective marketing website home page layout contains the following information, in this order of priority:
- What you do
- What you’ve done
- What your clients say
- What you say
Of course, that doesn’t have to be it. But whatever else you add to the mix should not disrupt this categorical order of priority.
Each of these categories is pretty self-explanatory. But let me explain what I mean by these four kinds of information in a way that will help you identify how this material might be written and how it might look on the page.
1. What You Do
This is your positioning. Your promise. Ideally, you’re able to say what you do (horizontal positioning) and on whom you can have the greatest impact (vertical positioning). Keep this very brief (positioning copywriting tips here). The primary action you want a prospect to take on your home page is to click a link or button beneath this text that will direct them to a capabilities landing page, where they can learn more about your mission and how you structure your business.
2. What You’ve Done
This is where you feature your best work. Your results. Ideally, you’re featuring one or two case studies of your best, most positioning-relevant work. Again, the goal is to be brief and to quickly direct visitors to learn more by digging deeper into the site. Clicking these links, or any other links on the home page other than the button in the What We Do section is what I would consider a secondary-action.
3. What Your Clients Say
These are testimonials. Social proof. A satisfied client will always be a better salesperson than you, so let them speak for you. Ideally, you are able to connect a compelling testimonial to a case study, and direct a visitor to the home page to read that case study deeper within the site through this testimonial.
4. What You Say
Finally, this is your marketing content. The evidence of your expertise in the form of articles, white papers, webinars, videos, podcasts, news, etc. Too many home pages put this material above everything else, typically because it changes most frequently, and there is nothing people seem to fear more than a home page that isn’t continually changing. But, I always remind my agency clients that the purpose of the home page is to introduce their firm to new people, not satisfy the need for novelty among return users, existing clients, or themselves.
The focus of your home page should be on what is true, not what is new.
The Role of “Creativity” in a Marketing Website Home Page Layout
At this point, I am expecting some doubt from you, or at least a reservation or two. So let me assure you of a few things. First and foremost, nothing about this approach should stand in the way of good design.
The notion that a firm must either choose good design or good marketing is, obviously, a false dichotomy. But I understand why that belief bubbles to the surface as often as it does. In fact, the comment I get over and over again — indeed, almost every time I begin discussing this particular recommendation with a client — is, “How creative are we allowed to be? We want our site to be different!”
My answer is always the same: If you clearly communicate these concepts and maintain their order of priority, and if your creative choices don’t compromise that in any way, then you can be as creative as you like. The sky’s the limit!
The key is in keeping the business purpose of the marketing website home page layout in proper balance with the personality of the business. Both are important, neither more so than the other. But in my experience, a firm’s personality is often far more emphasized on its home page than its actual business function. My job is to help restore the balance.
Interpreting the Outline
Second, the recommended outline-style approach to a marketing website home page layout does not have to be taken literally. Nor must it be austere in its visual treatment.
In theory, this layout could be achieved with text alone. Somewhat ironically, I’ve actually seen some creative agencies do that pretty well. But, it obviously doesn’t have to be done with writing alone. There is nothing wrong with embracing the visual nature of a website. Nor is there anything wrong with using visuals to draw attention to what we do. In fact, few things excite me more than seeing a firm produce a strategically strong design that employs an aesthetically rich visual language. So, as I said before, if you can go nuts without compromising the business purpose of your design, go nuts! As for how you interpret the outline itself, that is up to you.
The most important thing to how a marketing website home page layout works isn’t necessarily how it looks, but how the information it contains is prioritized. It must reliably guide a visitor to a deeper understanding of the business. If it does not do this, it is of no use to you.
This article is the fourth in a series that will guide you through applying the principles of Prospect Experience Design for yourself.
Next in the series is a guide to designing an effective capabilities landing page page.