Most visitors to a website have a goal in mind. Home page optimization should focus on search and top navigation.

Rachel Jaret, Clicktale

Rachel Jaret, customer experience consultant, Clicktale

A visitor lands on a website’s home page and is bombarded with options. Calls to action offer her new products, not-to-be-missed sales and come-ons to “learn more” about a plethora of topics that are mostly irrelevant to her. Web teams devote massive efforts to perfecting their home page to entice visitors with promotions and content they think will excite them, changing them constantly to stay interesting and relevant.  Yet somehow, much to the dismay of these teams, visitors are ignoring content.

What exactly is happening on your home page?

In my work as a customer experience consultant, I’ve seen time and again that customers consistently dismiss most of what’s there.

Home page research reveals that that visitors consistently spend little time on the home page—they are actively engaged for just 10-20 seconds on average. In those short seconds, most visitors are not perusing offers: In fact, up to two-thirds of the customers who visit the home page go straight to search, using either the site search or the top navigation. Well over half of visitors on a home page already know what they are looking for and have no intention to browse promotions and other content.

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Home page visualizations reveal that in many cases, customers interact primarily with search and top navigation menus, barely interacting with the main banner. Visitors for the most part do not scroll down on the home page, and only very few venture below the average fold height.

The trend is clear: Visitors come to the home page with intent

Most visitors arrive at the home page with some sort of goal. No one accidentally types “www.XYZ.com” without having something in mind. Promotions and sales are often ignored because visitors are there for another reason. They use the search and top navigation to get to either specific products or general categories. They use the home page to reach the content they seek. These visitors are often impatient; they want to find something, and quickly.

To help focused visitors easily reach their goals, home page optimization efforts must be focused on the search and top navigation.

How can businesses improve the home page experience while aligning with internal promotional goals?

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Chances that visitors will want that specific single item you’re trying to promote is low.

Few shoppers in bricks-and-mortar stores pause to closely examine shop windows or in-store displays, but they do serve an important promotional function. For digital businesses, the home page has a similar role. So how can businesses provide a great home page experience for customers who are open to promotions, while helping more goal-oriented visitors get on with their tasks? I’ve collected a bunch of tips and best practices from leading e-commerce sites as examples.

Work with goal-oriented visitors, not against them.

  1. Optimize search
  • Facilitate the experience for visitors who know what they’re looking for.
  • Provide a large search bar with inviting text on the search.
  • Implement auto-fill and auto-suggest specific products to help visitors get to a product detail page quicker, without first going through a search results page.
  • Always offer another way forward when the search results return as “no results found.”

For example, Foot Locker uses a large search bar that covers the width of the top menu when opened. It promotes popular products in their search, easing the process for visitors who know what they want.

  1. Use the top navigation as an opportunity for promotion

Visitors who opt to use the top navigation over the search often know which category they are looking for, but not necessarily a specific product, or they would have used the search.

  • Use the top navigation to feature popular categories or interesting items within the main category the visitor is browsing.
  • Include large, attractive images to expose visitors to products that they might desire, even if they didn’t have them in mind originally.

Next.co.uk uses the top navigation to expose visitors to collections they may have not known to look for, using large images to entice visitors.

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Be tactical with home page promotions

  1. Promote categories and not specific products

When analyzing a client’s Black Friday campaign, I found that links promoting specific products were seldom clicked, however links to “all Black Friday links” received significantly more clicks. Visitors don’t want to bind themselves to specific products straight from the home page. Chances that visitors will want that specific single item you’re trying to promote is low.

Use categories to allow visitors to choose what they want—and increase the likelihood of conversion.

On the Urban Outfitters home page, sales are features in a single banner, and the rest of the home page is divided into links for general categories, allowing visitors to segment themselves early on.

  1. Don’t overload the main banner

Most visitors are exposed to the main banner. But do they really see it? Like billboards on a highway, the carousel banner is often ignored.

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  • Remove your carousel banner
  • Focus on a single promotion in the main banner. Visitors are distracted by and often ignore this content, according to Econsultancy research.
  • Feature a single relevant promotion which visitors need not exert effort to find.

 

  1. Be selective throughout the home page

Many stakeholders within the organization want their own content to appear on the home page, but there’s no room for it all. With visitors spending 10 seconds on average on the home page, hard decisions have to be made about what content to feature.

  • Use a few large, inviting images
  • Visitors should not have to exhaust their cognitive efforts trying to navigate through loads of promotions.

The L.L Bean home page is a good example of a page with just a few promotional tiles.

Conclusion

There will always be focused visitors who are not susceptible to promotional content on the home page. The key to home page design is to keep in mind that visitors are primarily en route to other areas of the site and thus don’t stop for long. Home page content should reflect this reality.

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  • For goal-oriented visitors, use search and top navigation as promotion opportunities
  • Keep promotions limited
  • Feature categories and not specific products

Home page visitors often already know what they need, and we can do plenty to help them find it. But by understanding their behavior and intent, we can also hope to direct them toward items they may want as well.

Clicktale is a provider of web analytics technology for online retailers.