When your visitors first come to your Web address, what do they see first? Too many of us webmasters crowd our main page with tons of information (guilty as charged), and it often results in information overload. Either that, or we give them a webpage with almost nothing on it–maybe a “splash page” with a clickable image and a tiny bit of information.
What I’m suggesting today is a middle path between these extremes: a main page that gives just enough information without being overwhelming. When you make your main page, here are the four essentials you must include:
#4: Clear and Concise Navigation
Navigation is very important for your visitor to see, but the format and number of links in your navigation is just about as important–it makes a big visual difference. A long horizontal bar of really tiny navigational links is daunting; navigation that is scattered all over the page in various sidebars is downright annoying.
Having all your navigation in one place, with a larger, easily-readable font (16-18 px), is the best way to go so that you don’t confuse your visitors. (If you have too many pages to link to on a horizontal navigation bar, you can always put your navigation in a sidebar menu and it will function just as well.) Also, make sure that the text for each navigation link is as concise as possible: using “contact” instead of “here’s my contact info,” for instance.
#3: Contact and Author Info
No matter what kind of contact information you plan to display on your site, it should be easily visible and accessible for your users. After all, if they have questions for the webmaster/webdesigner, they shouldn’t have to dig around for hours in your site to find out how to get in touch with you!
#2: A Quick Site Purpose Statement
You don’t have to wax philosophical in your site description, but your main page should have at least a sentence or two describing what your site is about, whether it’s a personal blog, a fansite, a small hosting service, etc. This should be displayed prominently on your page so that the visitor’s eye is drawn to it.
This information helps people categorize your site for later viewing through a bookmark/favorite, and can help random visitors immediately know whether they want to stay on your site or keep on surfing. It’s all about convenience for your visitor, after all!
#1: Most Recent Updates
Going along with the “convenience” theme, the most important piece of information you need to display on your main page is your most recent updates to the site. If you are not already doing this, you should–it is the fastest way for your users to tell that your site is still alive!
You don’t necessarily have to place a big long update message on your site every time you update; just the date and a quick summary of what you updated will be enough for most users. This is especially important if you are going to be absent for a little while (for, say, a vacation, illness, etc.), so that your visitors know the site is still being maintained.
Providing clear navigation, contact/author info, a site purpose statement, and the most recent site updates not only makes your main page a hub of information, but it makes your site look and feel much more professional. When people don’t have to hunt around through your site for information, they are much more apt to come back and visit more often!