The website homepage is one of the most misunderstood elements of an online presence. This leads to many businesses focusing on the wrong things when analysing homepage performance.
Some businesses try to cram too much information into the homepage in the mistaken belief that people prefer to scroll instead of click. Others assume that every visitor to the site will always arrive on the homepage first. Neither is true. Today a website visitor may enter your site at any page, following links from elsewhere or specific search results. And clicking — rather than scrolling — allows the reader to leap to the information most relevant to their needs.
So, what homepage performance metrics really matter and how can you measure them?
The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to the page who click away without further interaction with the site. Simply put, they hit the back button soon after arriving. Your homepage is like a guide, directing visitors to the internal pages or sections most relevant to them. Therefore, if visitors 'bounce', it usually means one of two things.
One: The homepage didn't convince them they were in the right place. You have only a few seconds to capture the attention of a typical visitor. Consider what expectations they may have when clicking through from the likely search results. Make sure the headings, copy and imagery clearly answer those expectations at a glance.
Two: The navigation or next steps were confusing or not obvious. Your website needs to make it extremely easy for any visitor to find what they want without effort. Use descriptive menu headings. Make links obvious. Clearly signpost how to use the website to achieve the right outcome.
Google Analytics is a free service that will analyse your homepage bounce rate, among a wealth of other useful website data.
Your analytics data might tell you what people are doing on your homepage, but not necessarily why. The 'why' is important if you're going to make changes to improve performance. A heat map is a highly effective way to analyse why your visitors might not be clicking or converting as you hoped. It gives you a visual representation of which areas are hotspots of interaction and which are cold and ignored.
Heat maps help you determine improvements to your homepage layout by showing where people are clicking (and where they aren't) as well as how far down they scroll. Very quickly you can see if your best information is being missed or whether certain elements are taking up valuable screen real estate for little gain. A popular heat map service is Crazy Egg.
How do you know what improvements are required to a homepage? Will changing the position of that button cause more people to click on it? Or, could it be as simple as changing its colour? Want to test a different image or an alternative paragraph of copy?
A/B testing (also known as split testing) allows you to make informed changes by testing each new element against the previous version. Two versions of your homepage — one containing the changed element — are randomly served to visitors. Half of your visitors see version A and half see version B.
After enough time and activity has elapsed to produce a meaningful data set, the analytics will reveal which version performed better. The winning version becomes the new homepage and you can then move on to testing another element with another A/B test.
Over time, your homepage will continue to improve in performance with each new incremental change — proven by data and testing.
Leading A/B testing platforms include Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely, although it is also possible to set up basic A/B tests with Google Analytics.
There is no finish line. Testing, improving and retesting your homepage performance is a never-ending part of running your website.
Of course, how much testing and optimisation you do will depend on your time and budget. So plan a schedule you can stick to, and over time your business will benefit.
This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Jonathan has worked within, and written about, the technology industry for many years. Before going freelance as a writer in 2012, Jonathan had worked for Netregistry (web hosting) and Ninefold (cloud computing). Jonathan has won awards for his articles on online business for Nett Magazine and his over-opinionated blog Atomik Soapbox. He continues to write for Chief Content Officer magazine.