What Should I Put on My Home Page?

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24 April, 2011

This is a common question and it's hard to answer generically because a great deal of thought and planning must go into the decision about how to construct a home page. But here's some advice and a few exercises to get you started. I recently did a radio interview on this subject with Boomer Alley Radio for their "Do Try This At Home" show. Listen here.

1. Do a Q&A with yourself and ask a few key questions.

- How would you describe yourself to a journalist?

- What are you known for?

- What do you want to be known for in 2 – 5 years?

2. And then pose a few questions about your online presence:

- What's the goal of your site?

- Is it a blog or a more traditional website?

- Either way, what's your "elevator speech"? I'll give you mine for TheAuthorOnline.com: "A place where authors can find professional, expert advice about how to develop an authentic, effective presence online. It includes articles on specific subjects ('The Art of Choosing a Theme or Template,' 'Tips for Creative Newsletter Sign-up') and tons of links to author websites, online tools and resources."

- What's the voice of your site? First person? Third person? Sassy? Serious? Funny? Professional? Opinionated? Fair & Balanced?

3. Now think about your visitors:

- Who's your intended audience? Who do you want to attract? 

- What are the 5 most common keywords or search terms that a potential visitor might type into a search engine and then, upon clicking a link, arrive at your website or blog?

- What are the top 5 things you want that visitor to see when he arrives?

- What are the top 5 decisions – clicks – you want her to make after she arrives?

4.  Now, spend a bit of time on the web and do a "competitive analysis." 

Look at the websites of people who do similar work, either in terms of subject (urban photography, Springer Spaniels, crafts for kids) or offer a specific service (creating customized business cards, offering eco-travel tips). How did they set up their home page? What were the top 5 things that jumped out at you? What effect did it have on you – did you click or did you bounce? Why?

5. Then: get out a legal pad and start making a list.

Include everything you've got already – all your content: articles, essays, chapters from your books, songs you've written, reviews of your work, interviews, photos, short stories, blog posts, quizzes, "missing chapters," letters you received from President Obama – everything you've got and want to share. Make it a long list and plan to edit it later. Think about your goals and user scenarios and start prioritizing. Make a sketch of your home page and start playing around with navigation ideas. Keep your labels clear and sensible. People on the web are impatient and another site is always just one click away. Make it easy for them to find the stuff that you feel is most important. Once your site is launched you'll be able to see in your Google Analytics account what content got the most hits and what keywords brought people to your site in the first place. All of that will be extremely helpful to you as you noodle around with your site and refine it in the coming months and years.

6. Finally: be prepared to be surprised. 

I write a blog about the High Line, the marvelous park that sits on an old elevated railroad in New York City. Most of what I write about is specifically about the park: the design, the plants, the architects and designers who created it, the exhibits, the materials. But one day I wrote a piece about water towers, the beautiful tanks that sit atop so many New York City rooftops. I included a quote from Charles Kuralt, the great newsman who also loved water towers. To my surprise I started getting lots and lots of traffic from people who are also interested in water towers. Who knew there were so many of them out there? They probably don't give a hoot about the High Line but I see the keywords they type in: "New York City water towers," or variations on it. This will happen to you too. So once a person arrives at your site – maybe by accident – what are you going to do with him? How will you help him find something else he might be interested in, once he's read the piece that brought him there?

Well, your smart navigation and clearly labeled content are the place to start.

Go here to find a list of online tools and resources.

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Good luck with your project!

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