Posted Monday, October 4, 2004
One of the most common questions I get from my clients is, “What should I put on my home page? Where do I begin?” Whether you are starting a new web site or redesigning your existing one, these are important questions to ask. If you don’t get the answers right, you might as well not even have a web site.
The Purpose of a Home Page
The home page serves many functions, and they all must work together seamlessly. First of all, it must be designed to rank well in the search engines so that people who don’t already know you can find you. Second, it’s an introduction to your business and an invitation to new customers and clients. Third, it must have a clear and intuitive navigation system so that a visitor can immediately know the scope of your site and easily move around in it. This topic won’t be covered here, but you can read more about this in my article about Designing the Perfect Web Menu (http://www.zmoon.com/articles/menu.html). Fourth, it must load quickly, even for people using a dialup modem for their internet access. And all this must be contained in an attractive package!
To rank well in the search engines, you must either play by their rules, or buy your way in. Today we’ll do it the free way, but if you want to know more about paid options, see my article on Search Engines: Should You Pay? (http://www.zmoon.com/search.html)
The Two Main Factors that Will Improve Your Ranking
When ranking sites, the search engines consider two main factors. How many times does the search phrase occur on your page, and how many other quality sites link to your page? The first factor indicates how closely your page matches what the searcher is looking for. The second factor indicates the overall quality of your site, since other sites won’t send their customers to you unless you offer excellent content. How to cultivate a strong network of sites linking to your site is beyond the scope of this article, but will be covered in another edition.
Create Your Keywords List
Step one is to brainstorm a list of words and phrases you think someone would type into a search engine looking for a business like yours. If I had a landscaping business in Cheyenne, for instance, I might create this list: landscaping, tree trimming, lawn care, weed control, rock gardens, ponds, garden design, xeriscaping, flower beds, mulch, consultation, Cheyenne. I would include my city since I only work within 50 miles of home.
Next, I would use the free tool at WordTracker (http://www.zmoon.com/cgi-bin/pl.pl?word) to get other words to add to my list, find out how often they were entered into the engines in the last 60 days, and how many competing sites also have them. I would probably buy a day’s worth of access to their complete service since it adds so much information and costs less than ten bucks.
Place Your Keywords on the Page
Make sure your highest-priority keywords are placed in the title tag of your code. Unless your business name is so well-known that thousands of people will type it into search engines looking for your site, leave it out of the title. Your logo will be prominent on the page, so they will see your name there.
Many search engines also give more points to words in headlines, so place your keywords there as well as in the body of the text.
Now, placing a key phrase once in the title and once on your page won’t be enough to get you to the top of the charts. On the other hand, repeating it too often can get you banned from the engines. Ideally, each phrase you’re trying to optimize your page for should make up 1-7% of the text on the page, which should contain 250-700 words.
Use the free Keyword Density Analyzer (http://www.keyworddensity.com) to do the math for you.
Moving from the Robots to the Humans
OK, now, we’ve got the search engines covered and the visitors are pouring in. What do we have for them?
In a word: Benefits.
Your home page must entice your visitors to linger on your site for awhile. To make this happen, don’t forget their favourite radio station: WII-FM, or What’s in it for Me? The person in Cheyenne looking for a landscaper first wants to know how I can make his life easier while making his home more attractive. When he first arrives at my site he’s not interested in me; he’s only thinking of himself. I’d think he was selfish if I didn’t act the same way when I’m surfing the web!
So, to write my home page, I’ll take my key phrases and put them into headlines. I’ll make sure they each scream out a benefit to my visitor. I know that he'll scan the headlines before he’ll read my text, and if his first impression is how many ways I can help him, I’ve got him hooked.
Here’s a partial list of headlines I might use:
Relax this summer--We’ve got Your Lawn Care Covered Save Water with a Beautiful Xeriscape Garden Your Flower Beds Can Be the Envy of Your Neighborhood Throw Away Your Ladder--Let Us Trim Your Trees Fall Asleep to the Soothing Sound of Your Pond’s Waterfalls
Didn’t those sound good? And did you notice they each contain a key word or phrase?
Next I’d write several short paragraphs under each one, using keywords to further explain how my services can benefit them. Now my home page is a grabber both for the search engines and my new customers.
The absolute master at writing for the web is Dr. Ken Evoy. I strongly suggest you visit his site and download some of his excellent, free resources for Doing Business on the Web (http://www.zmoon.com/cgi-bin/pl.pl?site).
The Next Step
Now that I’ve optimized my home page, I’ll use similar tactics on each additional page. These will still feature the appropriate keywords in the title, headlines and text, but the content can move a bit away from the benefits and more toward solid information. I hooked my visitor on the home page, so now I need to reel him in with helpful free information, testimonials from satisfied neighbours, and a bit about my background and experience.
Your home page is arguably the most important in your site. First it has to be found by visitors using the search engines. Then it must show them enough personal benefits that they will click a link to go further into your site instead of clicking the back button. Follow the guidelines I’ve presented here and you should be off to a good start. Good luck!
About the Author
Les Goss may be contacted at (http://www.zmoon.com) firstname.lastname@example.org.
Les Goss educates his clients as he builds their web sites. ZebraMoon is a full service web development company that also publishes a bi-weekly newsletter of great interest to business owners with web sites.