...the content leads the design, not the other way around.
The front page of your website, or 'homepage' as it is often called, needs to be designed in a different way from the rest of your site. This is because it's almost always the page people see first when visiting your website.
As you might expect, you only have a few moments to catch someone's interest so they'll stick around, instead of clicking away to something else (or searching for someone else who provides the services you do).
So what's the most important thing to have on your homepage?
Nice clean typefaces?
An amazingly designed logo?
We might think that having beautiful photos, easy-to-read typography and a kick ass logo are the most important parts of building a website, but we'd be wrong. The most important part is funnelling people to do what you want them to do on your site, and making the purpose of the site clear from the very first moment they look at the page.
Now, before all my fellow designers start throwing things at me, I'm not suggesting that you can just ignore the elements of good design! Typography, logos, photography, user-friendly placement of elements, and whitespace (and so on) are all important. But in order to design those things, you need to know the overall purpose and goals of the site you are building. In other words, the content leads the design, not the other way around.
Here are my top three tips for designing your front page in a smart way, so it is engaging, not just pretty to look at.
1) Say who you are and what you have to offer right away. If someone has to scroll way down the page (or click through to another page) just to find out you're a photographer specializing in food photography, you've already done yourself a huge disservice. They should know that information up front, so they can decide if what you have to offer is what they're looking for. No one likes to waste their time!
2) Focus their attention. What is your primary goal for having a website? For most people I work with, it is either increased sales of a particular product, or increased bookings if they have a service-based business. So have a super clear, obvious call to action on the front page: a 'Book Now!' button, for example.
3) Offer a taste of your services. Give them some idea of what your work style is like and what knowledge you have to offer, so they can feel confident in your services or product before they've spent any money. For example, if you have a newsletter with useful information for your clients, show them a sample and have a sign-up form. If you've written a book, offer a short sample for them to read before buying. Just make sure whatever you have to offer clearly states who you are and how they can book with your or buy your product. Don't assume they'll remember they got the sample from your website!
I'll have a bit more for you next week on the idea of offering services for free or at a discount, and when we should or shouldn't do that. Stay tuned!