Six Tips for Building a Successful Homepage

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As successful business owners know, you only get one chance to make a positive first impression with a customer. In fact, a recent study from the Technical Assistance Research Program found that 91 percent of customers who have a bad first encounter with a business never return. While that first impression in the off-line world may come from any number of sources, in the online world, there's only one source: your homepage.

With some simple planning, your homepage can deliver your business message with impact. Here are six tips to guide you.

1. Make the page unique from your competitors' homepages.
To do this, first use a search engine to find Web sites of businesses similar to yours.

  • What do these homepages look like?

  • What products, services and specials do your competitors' Web sites offer?

  • How can you distinguish your homepage from theirs?

  • What's unique about your company's products or services?

Make sure you display the most popular products and services and most exceptional facets of your business front and center.

2. Keep the design simple.
Don't overload your homepage with images, colors and different sizes of text. Large graphics make your Web pages download slowly over a modem and visitors won't wait to see what's on a slow-loading page. Filling a page with different images, colors, and many different font combinations will confuse people who visit your Web site and make them unlikely to spend much time there.

3. Create an easy-to-navigate Web site.
Place navigation links where people expect to find them, and make sure all pages of your Web site have a consistent set of navigation links. (Using an integrated e-business service with good design templates makes this kind of decision a snap.) At the least, make sure every page in your Web site includes a link to your homepage.

4. Keep the content fresh.
To show your Web site visitors that your site is worth visiting often, update your homepage frequently—with special offers, information on new products and services, as well as changes to your business operations. Including the date your Web site was last updated at the bottom of your homepage lets visitors know that your Web site is constantly evolving. Fresh content lends credibility to your Web site.

5. Promote your business—online and offline.
List your Web site in the major search engines, and take the time to index your online business with compelling keywords that describe your business. If you use an integrated e-business service, these firms will submit your Web site to search engines for you, based on your individual business needs. Also, include your Web address on all your advertising, letterhead, business cards, brochures, even shopping bags.

6. Connect with your customers.
Make it easy for customers to learn more about your business when they come to your homepage:

  • List your email address as a link, and create a small footer on every page with information such as your business telephone number, fax number, or address if appropriate.

  • Create a sign-up box that invites people to subscribe to your mailing list so you can send email updates about your Web site to keep them coming back.

With these tips and careful planning, you'll be well on your way to creating a homepage that supports your business goals and makes a lasting impression.

Andrew Beebe is CEO of Bigstep.com (www.bigstep.com), a free, all-in-one Web-based service that allows small businesses to build ebusinesses.