What draws viewers to a home page? It's been my experience that these are the essential components that make or break a web site:
The information below details each of these subjects. I hope you find this information worthwhile and it's presentation not too "preachy".
Now you might say, "But I sell sailboat insurance. How interesting can that be?" What you have to understand is the people who need to purchase sailboat insurance are already inherently interested in what you have to offer. And this is largely the nature of how the Web works.
To make your site more interesting, you can also provide other information loosely related to your main topic. In our insurance example, adding a page pertaining to the World Cup Yacht races would draw in some boating people, especially if the page provided race results as the races were being held.
The main point to remember about content is that useful information beats fancy design everytime!
The first thing on your home page should always outline what the site has to offer. Unfortunately, many sites never summarize what they are about. Keep the home page uncluttered and focused on the reasons you want people to visit your site - not your company, your site.
Use links to secondary pages to provide the content. For instance, don't use the home page to describe your organization. Rather, create an "About Us" page that describes your company in as great detail as you'd like. Also, use a "What's New" page to give revisitors easier access to changes and improvements. By overemphasizing the new dramatically on your home page, you run the risk of first time viewers never seeing the bulk of your content. Then use other pages to organize and separate your subject matter making sure that reference to the most important information is clearly presented right up front.
Let's go back to our insurance example. Since insurance isn't the most exciting subject in the world, how easy it is for the surfer to find your prices may be the only major difference between your site and your competitors' sites. A "quick quote" form that can be referenced directly from your main page is one solution.
If you have a lot of information at your site, consider a table of contents or index style home page. A table of contents home page looks much like the table of contents in a book, linking directly to every page within the site from an indented list. The index style home page starts with a set of quick reference links (often graphical button images) to the main subject pages followed by a text link index of the subject available with a short general description of each.
Limit the amount of cross linking from one subsection to another. While these links are handy, too many gets viewers quickly confused. A large number of cross links should be a hint to you that there's probably a better overall layout for your site.
Images should always be small, meaningful, and necessary. Your home page is no place for large, time consuming graphics files. If you must display large graphics, I suggest using a small, scaled-down version of the original called a "thumbnail" image and some text saying, "Click the thumbnail to see the full scale image in all it's glory." At least this way, the surfer is choosing to wait and will always be much more patient because they aren't feeling like they are being forced to wait.
Presently, there are many search indexes to choose from. Some are much better than others. Most are free and the ones that aren't free aren't typically very good because they only have a limited number of entries. This means your only cost here is the time it takes you (or someone you pay) to contact the indexes you'd like to be listed in. Listing with the most popular 10 or so indexes is usually enough to cover 99% of the surfers, but knowing which indexes are the top 10 is tricky. It keeps changing all the time.
When listing with the indexes, you must describe your site very concisely. Many of the indexes now limit your description to just 25 words or 200 characters!
Other often overlooked announcing avenues are related newsgroups, chat forums, and faq (pronounced "facts") lists. These are Internet resources separate from the World Wide Web that often reach a much more refined niche of individuals. Another possibility is getting listed on your provider's list of what's on their servers. Usually, this is included in the price you pay to rent the web server space, but sometimes you have to ask to be included.
Copyright ©1997 Dewpoint Web Services. This document can be freely distributed provided this copyright notice remains.
January 20, 2001