There’s No Place Like Your Homepage

In case you don’t know much about directory structure (or you’re just an idiot), the home page is the most important one on any site. It’s first in the hierarchy, it’s usually going to be what other inbound links point to, and it’s your chance to grab a visitor’s attention. If your homepage is a hideous deformed freak then it won’t matter whether the rest of your pages are like the web equivalent of the hot chick from The Raveonettes because no one’s going to bother.

Lisa (Viking chick, really cute and blonde, bit of a firebrand) and I had a great discussion the other night about ip redirecting and she’s going to post about that soon so I won’t get into it BUT it got me thinking about the homepage a lot. In doing link building it’s important to get some inbound links to your subpages but it’s still typical to get a much higher percentage of them to your homepage. Most directory listings for your site will point to your homepage as well. So you get that your homepage is critical I’m sure, but let’s break down what to consider in terms of having a good one that makes clouds parts and kittens start dancing.

First off is the search engine aspect of your homepage. When a link is followed into your site and the homepage is the first thing the bot sees, it needs to be accessible and well-coded or this lovely little bot might turn around and leave before finishing the tour. You can certainly get away with poor code (here is where I’d like to list a few I’ve worked on but I don’t want to get into any more trouble right now) but honestly, if you can’t write decent code you need to farm it out and let someone do it for you.

If you’re using software that generates a ton of code for you and you have some programming knowledge, LOOK at the actual code and see if you can tidy it up a bit because some of those programs throw in tons of worthless lines. If you have a lot of content on the homepage, try and work it so that it’s something the bots see first. Don’t bury your content at the end of 10,000 lines of javascript basically. Actually if your homepage has 10,000 lines of javascript in it, you have bigger problems.

Make sure your homepage links to critical subpages of your site. Technically speaking, all you’d need is a link to a sitemap that links to every other page, but this isn’t user-friendly and it also isn’t good for your most important subpages. Try and link to the other areas of your site that are your secondary pages in terms of importance. New site pages will usually get crawled faster when they are linked to from your homepage as well.

Don’t just put one giant image on the damn homepage either. This is something that makes me get so mad I start trying to run down old people and loose puppies on the street. Text is your friend. Text is like a gin and tonic with salt and vinegar crisps. Don’t try and be James Joyce though (look him up Rob, he’s quite famous.) These bots are hungry little beasts so give them something good (other than a coconut and mayonnaise sandwich–no spider will eat that crap.) If you have a site, you SHOULD have something to write on your homepage for god’s sake.

Secondly, there is the user-friendly bit to think about. If someone is unfamiliar with your site and hits it for the first time, unless said someone is insane or really bored, he or she will be looking for information of some kind. I’ve been to several sites that gave me zero clues as to what information they contained. This is trendy and hip for some industries, but it’s a nightmare for many others. Not all users want to have to work hard to figure out what you do. Most people use the remote to change the channel on the television when it’s right in front of them remember.

Put some links on there that are intuitive. If a page is about your site, don’t try and be clever and call it something like “Nuns!” because only those of us who are intoxicated will click on that with glee. OK that’s a bad example because honestly, I WOULD click on that link sober and I bet Lisa would too. A site has to be easy to navigate. You should be able to figure out how to get wherever you want within less than 30 minutes you know. Many sites aren’t using a sitemap and if you have a tiny site you might not think you need one, but some people enjoy going directly to those and navigating from that page, so it’s always a good idea.

There is much more to all this than what I’ve touched on but I’ve grown weary of this topic and I need a latte. Do some reading on usability if you’re redesigning your homepage. Generally speaking, if you follow usability guidelines you’ll be satisfying your users AND the bots.

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