As children we are taught to see beyond first impressions and give everyone a chance. The old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” still plays in my ears as I enter a less than pristine restaurant or a new acquaintance’s messy home.
Still, in everyday life and especially in business, first impressions mean everything. From the polish of your shoes to the make of your phone, we are constantly being judged by our peers based on outward appearances; and a professional website is no exception. In an online world your website is more than just your storefront, it’s your brand identity.
This type of “outward” thinking is not unique to business owners, and there is no doubt that is due in part to our conditioning. The tendency in our society to focus on appearances is deeply ingrained. The prettiest books with the best headlines usually make the best sellers list , the toys with the coolest packaging get added to your cart, heck, even the best-looking people always end up getting the job. There is no doubt that design and appearance have a huge impact on how we buy, but first impressions in the online world don’t function the same way they do in the offline world.
Over the twelve years I’ve spent working in web design, I have had many discussions with clients regarding creative visions for their business’ site. Many of these meetings have a similar outcome; we spend 80 percent of our time discussing the home page, and 20 percent (or less) of our time discussing interior pages. Most business owners we talk to feel that visitors land on their homepage and then follow a path from there. In other words, the customer’s “first impression” happens on the homepage thus rendering it the most important part of the site design.
While it is true that there will always be more people visiting your “true home page”, you may have dozens more landing on other pages first. To illustrate, you would never enter a store from a random aisle but customers could be entering your website at any point from your shopping basket to your corporate profile. I have personally witnessed this shift over the last ten years in our client statistics, and depending on how your company site shows up online any page of your website could become your “first impression”. Some of the things we try to encourage during the design process with our clients are:
- Are the brand and values obvious?
- Does each page match the overall design strategy?
- Are there appropriate calls to action so that the site can collect leads, emails, sales etc. from different pages?
- Is there a way to monitor what’s happening on the site?
Erroneously, people have become accustomed to thinking about website architecture and hierarchy in a tree like way; a trunk, then a branch, then a twig. Of course it is a mistake to assume that all users will access your information in a logical linear fashion; as many visitors will access your site via search engines and navigate as they please. So while the Homepage is certainly a great “attention grabber”, your customers will not necessarily arrive at the glorious arches of your store front. That’s why it’s important to make sure that all areas of your “space” reflect your brand, your goals, and what your business is really all about.