Guiding visitors down the right path


Visual Clues

Driving along I95 on my way to King’s Dominion it occurred to me, I forgot my GPS! I had just made it onto the Interstate… there is no way I wanted to turn around. Oh well, I have been there once before and I can rely on those big green and white signs … it should not be that hard. The signs that guide me on the highway are not much different from the visual clues when navigating a website. There may be strong clues, weak clues, distractions, and even detours. Much like the restaurant before my exit at King’s Dominion – repeat visitors even use “remembered” clues to find what they need on your website. The home page serves different groups of visitors with different goals. In the effort to satisfy everyone, some websites plaster the home page with different paths; others provide very little clues about where they want you to start.

The Passive Home Page

The website designer may have spent considerable effort deciding what each button will say and where it will link – exercising “best practices” and building an “intuitive” navigation. Though the navigation is attractive, it is not a call to action – it is not persuading someone to do anything. It is simply there if the visitor needs it. Often this type of home page also contains an equally passive main content area – containing a few things the about the company, maybe some products or service descriptions and news or events. Though the page may be attractive, it is not persuading visitors to take action. I am sure most businesses do not benefit much when I come to their home page just to stare at rotating news stories. Does it make me trust them more, buy from them or interact with them more?

Passive home page design

On the Lafayette Insurance home page, you can see there is no clear direction – just choices and of course the all-important “rotating news section”.

The hyperactive home page

In contrast to Lafayette, State Farm has camouflaged the path with big “red” distractions. Bombarded by visual clues, you land here have to stop and think.
State Farm Website

Although they make a better effort than many I have seen, the choice of color (alarming) and the multitude of path options (all with the same visual “weight”) overpower the primary goal. The visitor becomes stuck – feeling compelled to review all the “alarming” red options before they act on the “Quick auto quote”.

The persuasive home page

On the other hand, Allstate’s website has distinct navigational goals in mind. They are inviting the visitor to take a path – making the call to action visually stronger than the rest of the navigational choices and putting all of that in the active viewing area.

Allstate Home Page Design
Allstate isn’t really sacrificing anything by assuming you are here to get a better insurance rate… they still offer links to company info, news, and many of the other destinations. However, the path THEY want you to take – the one that is most important to them (and hopefully the majority of visitors) is prominent, clearly visible and inviting. Their home page gets the visitor engaged and encourages them to keep moving on the right path. The other navigation options blend into the background. This design is serving four different groups: 1. The person ready to buy right now 2. The person that may want some more information before buying 3. The methodical person that wants to know everything before buying 4. The person who arrived here for something other than insurance Therefore, in essence, Allstate is serving their “best” visitors first – getting them engaged and into the action. The top navigation serves those that need more information and down below the main viewing area you can read news or find other content tidbits that may have brought you to this page.

Planning your home page

When deciding how your home page should look there are two critical questions to ask: 1. What do my visitors want to see when they visit my site? 2. What action do I want them to take? Let’s say you sell widgets and by far your red widget is the most profitable variety. The thing you do not want to do is to put 20 varieties of widgets on the home page – each competing for the visitors’ attention. Push company politics aside and let the red widget department shine!

Deconstructing a good home page

Whether your layout is horizontal or vertical there is only one active viewing area (the area where most eyes land) – that is the place to make your impact. Of course calls to action, your logo and tag line, search box and other elements need to be present but if you break the home page into three basic areas it becomes much  easier to decide what goes where.
Home Page Design Diagram
Active Viewing Area: Give the visitor your UVP (unique value proposition) up front – make certain the visitor knows at a glance what you do and who you are. Include your primary navigation here as well. Feature/Highlights: consolidate and highlight the most popular items or the things that set your business apart – if your visitor has stayed around long enough to look below the active viewing area – don’t lose them now! Trust Building: Definitely include your physical address and contact information and links to privacy policies, seals of accomplishment, security seals, etc. Learn more about conversion optimization techniques.

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