What Makes a Good Home Page?

You get about 3 seconds to make a great first impression, so the home page must capture the heart and mind of your visitors. If it does, you have another 3 seconds to arouse enough curiosity to compel your visitor to want to know more. The solution to their problem must be obvious—both in words and design. It must work well, on all kinds of devices and for all levels of user expertise.

great Home PageEmotional connection. In the time it takes to make a first impression, a visitor wants answers to 3 questions: 1) who are you? 2) can you solve my problem? and 3) if you can, answer 3 visitor questions: who you are, what you do, and what’s in it for them. Visitors come to your page because they have a problem that needs solved. They are looking for a business or a person or a cause that will satisfy a need and make an emotional connection that motivates them to dive deeper into the site.

Meaningful language. People connect visually, but they also connect through a common language. The home page is not the place for jargon or boasting, and definitely not the place for long paragraphs. Visitors will quickly scan for words and phrases, then buttons or links to learn more.

Respectful. Avoid the use of flashy objects that move, make noise, or complicate or compromise the connection experience. If you offer a video, it’s considered bad manners to auto-start it. Same for audio. Let your visitor decide when or whether to engage in these sensory experiences.

Device friendly. Visitors come to your site on their desktop computer at work, through a tablet at home or in the field, or a smartphone from about anywhere. A site that is not easy to navigate using a mouse or a finger, or can’t adjust to any screen size, lowers the probability that the visitor will stay on your site long enough to solve a problem, make a purchase, or engage at all.

Actionable. Solve problems or offer information that make your visitors’ lives easier, like an obvious or clickable phone number, a sign up form that doesn’t ask for more than an email address, a social media link that actually works. Keep search engines happy too with relevant keywords, a textual site map, and a well-researched and tested page description meta tag.

Your home page gets the bulk of site traffic, making it undoubtedly the most important page of your website. This is where you get visitors to dig deeper. This is where you convert traffic to leads, and leads to customers.

Mobile-designed Sites

Do you use a smartphone? A recent survey shows that 46% of Americans own smartphones (Pew Research, March 1, 2012). In the USA, 101 million people (13+ years old) use smartphones, and almost 50 million report that they use their mobile browser (TechCrunch, March 6, 2012). Are we making it easy for these web surfers to view our sites?

We all use smartphones to view websites differently than we do on our desktop or even laptop computers. Mobile browsers are used for shorter, more targeted browsing. When we’re away and have a few moments of wait time, we pull out our smartphone and check a website (or app, or game!).

When mobile browsing, we are looking for what’s new, to find directions or a phone number, or to catch a quick (meaning short!) read that we’ve been meaning to get to, or to link with something that catches our eye, i.e., specific to one’s location. Been meaning to buy a product? Want to register for that event? Need to pay that invoice? All can easily be done by a visitor accessing your website via their smartphone.

smartphone

easy to read and navigate

Mobile devices have constraints different from desktop/laptop browsing. Smartphones, due to their much smaller size and cellular network, have a lesser rate of data throughput (bandwidth); they just don’t download pages as quickly. Obviously they have a smaller screen size.

Well-designed sites show well on mobile browsers. Mobile-designed sites go a step further to present the information in a way that displays even better on the mobile screen, and may not present all of the pages, large images, or the entire information presented on the ‘normal’ site. Typically mobile pages are presented in a one-column format rather than a typical two- or three-column design. Navigation is also treated differently for easier clicking.

ActiveCanvas builds mobile sites using the same content as the conventional site (so there’s no duplication) and without adding a lot of code that needs to be downloaded (so there’s not extra download time). The mobile sites are responsive to the needs of mobile users, and any extra code stays on the server- not on the mobile device.

Got your smartphone handy? Check out our site (www.activecanvas.com) on your mobile browser. Let us know what you think, and let us know what smartphone you are using.

Data-driven Web Sites

OK, so it’s the new thing. But when does it make sense to use a database server? Let’s take a look at the basics.

What is database-driven?

Basically speaking, a database-enabled web site allows you to customize your content for specific users, or to serve up customized information to answer a specific question by a specific user, e.g., which members or agents or salons are located in California or Ohio, or which are located in a
specific 3- or 5-digit zip code? Note that data can refer to text, numeric, or even date information.

Many organizations today already have mission-critical information arranged in databases. Enabling a web site to serve database information can add immense value to your web communications, This can very easily complement and support your customer service program, and typically reduces your
overall customer service costs while increasing the value you bring to your customer.

Databases have been ushered into the worldwide web through an ever-increasing number of stable yet versatile tools that allow site developers to capture the power of databases. Applications such as PHP, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and XML combine with standard HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and
CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create powerful yet elegant sites. These applications have the added attraction of being freeware; they are in the public domain so do not require a fee for the license to use the application.

How do I know whether it’s right for me?

It is a good question. Those that only need a very small, simple site often need only a “static” site, i.e., each page is hard-coded and never changes.

Those who have multiple items that each consist of multiple pieces of similar types of data are more often opting for an XML implementation.

Those who wish to display complex information or who already have their information organized in a relational database use tools such as php or Ruby to query (communicate with) a database management system (DBMS) such as MySQL or Oracle to display their data as requested.

Some organizations run their entire large web site using database technology; others only need a portion of their site to be database-driven. The benefits include:

  • streamlining business processes and procedures
  • becoming more responsive to your users
  • reducing the amount of people needed to manage business processes
  • reducing the cost of the business services, thereby becoming more competitive

But again, the best way to determine if your whole site, or a portion of your site, can benefit from database technology is to review your content and site goals with your designer before work begins. To learn more about the advantages of site planning, read Constructing User-Centered Websites. If you’d like to talk more about our database services, contact or 513.677.3887 for more information.

Data-driven Examples

  • Collection of Data from Forms
  • Dynamically sorted information
  • Employee contact information
  • Events Calendars
  • Frequently updated content
  • Gallery displays
  • Membership directories
  • Product inventories
  • Sales of Product (eCommerce)
  • Secure Online payments
  • Usernames and passwords managed