When we meet with customers about a website design, their first question is almost always the same: “What will our home page look like?” Their faces fall, but we have to tell them that it’s not the top priority. Yes, it’s true that the home page is often the most visited page on the site, and, yes, this is where users get the first impression of a brand. But the home page of most websites is not ultimately where companies reach their business goals. From a marketing perspective, the home page is actually more like a pretty face leading to the important stuff that follows. And while no one can argue with a pretty face, it’s really the lower level pages that do the heavy lifting.
How Customers Buy: The Light at the End of the Funnel
The psychology behind how and why humans make decisions is not a cut-and-dried science. Luckily, we have the decision funnel, a well-known model that illustrates the general way people make choices, including the choice to buy.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:
Maybe you don't realize you have a problem yet. It could be that you're experiencing issues that you don't know there is a solution for.
We start to realize we have a problem.
We research what the best method of fulfilling our need might be.
We compare the different options and analyze the best option based on research.
Ta-dah! We decide to purchase.
And repeat. If all goes well we become loyal customers and continue to buy from the same company when we want or need what they are selling again.
If you think about how you used the web to help make your last large purchase you will probably be able to relate to this decision-making model.
As designers and professional communicators, our job is to develop websites that make the funnel flow faster.
In anticipation of the decision funnel, your website should have pages that provide content for potential customers at every one of the decision points.
For instance, blog posts, e-books, and white papers make excellent tools to provide valuable information to customers during the research phase. This is also an opportunity to up-sell, suggesting needs they hadn’t thought of yet. This content can help your company gain thought leadership and build your position as the expert in the subject area. All those downloads and shares you see in your analytics? Congratulations! They’re making you look like the smart and nice - guys in the room.
In terms of web design, these content-rich pages need to provide easy access to the information. Second-level pages should be easy to read, and fully searchable so the information can be found by the search engines. The goal of these pages should be customer engagement. This is where you form a relationship and establish credibility with the customer. A bit down the funnel, when customers get more serious, they will want to talk to you. You’re old friends!
In the Trenches: Where Website Goal Conversions Happen
When it comes to the sales cycle on the Internet, decision-making often comes down to your product/service offering level pages. Now we’re in Analysis & Comparison phase: this is where the real battles are fought. Your customers will be comparing your pages to your competitors’ and trying to make sense of both of your offerings. It is critical that your website is designed to let you showcase your content and tell your story in a more compelling way than your competitor.
Way down here is where the rubber meets the road. When the potential customer is ready to become an actual customer, he or she should be able to get to your offerings page quickly and find out how your offerings can solve specific challenges. So, if you are not generating the sales leads you expected, you really can’t blame your home page. Low conversion rates probably mean your product pages are not working hard enough or that the right customers are not finding the pages. In fact, if you are creating your lower level pages properly, customers will be entering your site directly through those pages after their organic search. They may not ever see your home page!
The narrow end of the funnel is where content, analytics, and web page design come together to help you reach your business goals. It’s all about finding the right information at the right time.
Going Home Again
So if the home page is not the place where you convert customers, why have one? Rest assured, home pages have a distinct purpose. The home page helps you express your brand in a visual way – and there is great value in that. It should also be designed to help stakeholders get to the content they are looking for as easily as possible. Make sure it does, and that your lower level pages provide the right data to support decision-making, and you will be happy with your website design – from top to bottom.