Over the past few years, small and medium-sized businesses have become increasingly concerned with SEO at the expense of what I like to call UEO, or "User Experience Optimization." There's been an unhealthy shift in the business world toward trying to get people to visit websites versus providing users with a valuable experience once they get there. There's no point in trying to increase your search engine results with the goal of increased traffic to your website if, when visitors arrive at your site, they are uninterested, uninformed or unmotivated.

Is your homepage falling short? Here are some tips to help boost your homepage's UEO.

Why Am I Here?

  • Your homepage's primary real estate (the top left corner, middle section above the fold and the primary navigation) must answer the following questions for your visitors: Who are you? What do you have to offer me? How do I learn more?
  • This primary real estate should be focused on your branding, tagline and clear messages about what your business and your site have to offer your current and prospective customers.
  • You need to give your prospects a reason to stay and find out more.

Short and Sweet
While an increasing number of people are reading on the web (blogs, newspapers, etc.), they will only read content that's relevant and compelling to them. It's more likely than not that your content isn't quite as compelling as the lead story in The New York Times. Therefore, keep your text short and succinct. If you feel the need to elaborate, add a "Read more" link for interested visitors.

Keep it Simple
Think of your homepage as a storefront window. You wouldn't put your entire inventory in your window, nor should you cram in everything there is to know about your business on your homepage. An effective storefront window displays a small variety of carefully laid out items that best reflect what the store has to offer, with the purpose of giving window shoppers the incentive to come into the store. Your homepage should do the same.

Navigation With the Visitor In Mind

  • Navigation performs two functions: The primary function is to direct visitors to information on your site, and the second function is to give visitors an idea about what the site has to offer.
  • Your navigation needs to be easy to find and intuitively named.
  • Typically, the primary navigation is along the left side of the page or along the top (or a combination of both). This is where visitors are used to looking for the site's navigation, so if you want to be different and place your navigation elsewhere, you may want to think again.
  • Links should be named with your typical user in mind. Avoid jargon and branded terms at all costs. Your navigation links aren't the place to be cute and creative.
    • For example, on FedEx's US homepage, there is currently a link called "Manage." However, it isn't clear what exactly you're being asked to "manage." FedEx could learn from their northern neighbors--the Canadian homepage names the same link "Manage My Account," which is much more meaningful than just "Manage." Purolator, on the other hand, names its equivalent link "Manage MyPurolator." By trying to brand its link, Purolator is more likely to confuse visitors than it is to guide them.
  • Consider some redundant links. If a section of your site is particularly important, consider placing more than one link to that section on your homepage to ensure it doesn't get missed. Just make sure both links have the same name so it's clear to your visitors that they both go to the same place.

No Design for Design's Sake
As with all marketing materials, design is meant to reinforce your message and your branding, not compete with it. You need to ensure that the key messages you want to get across to your visitors are loud and clear. Businesses have become so concerned with SEO that they're moving away from graphics toward text because graphics don't get picked up by search engines. This is an example of SEO getting in the way of UEO, and it's a mistake.

Bells and Whistles
I'd be happy to never again visit a website that has music, sound effects or unnecessary animation. If your business is an Italian restaurant and you really feel the need to play "That's Amore" on your website, I could perhaps excuse that; an argument could be made that music helps create a mood that supports the branding. But please provide a very obvious mute button, and don't restart the song every time a visitor revisits the homepage. A well-constructed video or flash animation that truly supports your messaging can be very valuable--but only if it helps convey and not compete with your message. Ask yourself if your animation provides a true function or if it's just cool. If it's just cool, lose it.

Remember the purpose of your website--it's a tool in your marketing arsenal. Increasing traffic to your website is important, but intriguing motivated visitors once they get there is much more so.

Arie Opps is President of Illuminate Marketing, a Toronto-based marketing firm specializing in marketing research, branding, and marketing strategy. Illuminate's clients range from sole proprietors to Fortune 500 companies and include business owners, marketing managers and directors who require a reliable marketing outsourcing solution when their departments are overworked or understaffed. To contact Arie or learn more visit www.illuminatemarketing.ca .