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A website’s home page is without doubt important. This article will discuss the relevance of the home page and how the design and layout of it can determine a number of the behaviours and transactions a website visitor should undertake.
Through teaching “web design” at a local university for almost 10 years and educating clients on a daily basis, I’ve always used the analogy that a web site’s home page is like the foyer of a hotel. There are of course different levels or classes of hotels depending on where you may be in the world and your budget. So let’s look at how this applies to ensuring that your website is has the best possible foyer to serve your guests.
Foyers are generally made of several elements and they serve different functions. Apart from establishing the grandeur of the surrounding grounds or lack thereof, a foyer is usually the first experience a new guest will have with your hotel. Foyers generally contain:
- a valet just before you enter,
- a welcome mat including initial branding,
- a porter,
- a concierge,
- a front desk for checking in and out,
- pathways to different areas of the hotel,
- appropriate signage, and
- design and layout to inspire, relax or otherwise depending on the hotel.
Below we will look at each one of these elements and consider how they relate to a functional and effective home page design and layout. Some may not apply to your website depending on your business or target market, but for the most part they apply to all web sites.
The valet really is the exception to the list above. You don’t normally meet the valet in the foyer but before you get there. In our analogy, the valet you could liken more to the paths that visitors take to arrive at your website; the steps taken just before they enter the foyer. Here we should be thinking about the links on other websites, your organic search engine results, any pay per click advertising you may be carrying out or even the search terms that you are focusing your attention on. For our website, our core phrase is “web design Brisbane“, a highly competitive term and one that doesn’t grammatically flow. We use that term in links to our website and in our page titles and aside from the search engine visibility factor, the term sets up an expectation of what our site is really about. It is therefore important to maintain a consistent approach to the pathways that lead to your website. Once the valet has done their job, into the foyer you step.
Welcome Mat & Branding
It’s likely that upon entering the foyer you will be subject to branding of all shapes and sizes, subtle and significant. The hotel’s logo will be prominently displayed on the mat, umbrellas, staff uniforms, golf carts, brochures, signage and everywhere else you can imagine. Your website should evoke the same response. There should be no question of “Who’s website am I on?”, and that doesn’t mean making your logo larger and larger. I can almost guarantee that a new client will request their logo to be larger when presented with initial draft designs. Yes, we want the guest to know who they are dealing with, but it is a balancing act and is somewhat dependent upon screen resolution. There are many other ways to re-enforce branding without relying solely on a logo.
In our analogy, the porter serves a function, that is to help you move things around the website. This applies to a number of scenarios however the most obvious example is that of the shopping cart. The cart holds temporary information (the products) for our guest as they navigate throughout the website, always being ready to display that selection and help move the guest towards the checkout. The porter should be available on demand and highly visible so our guest does not have to search for him.
When you are unsure of what to do in the local area, or you require something a little out of the ordinary, the concierge is your best bet. They hold a place of significance in the foyer and are willing and able to assist. The same could be said for an effective search function, or a pre-defined selection of products or services that are popular with your existing customer base. Perhaps a prominent ‘slider’ that displays different sections of the website or items on special can achieve the same objective. The concierge is really about providing a set of ready made selections or a search for your guests that require a little assistance.
The Front Desk
You really do want your guests to find your front desk without issue. It serves one of the most important functions in checking guests in and out. It’s the step that gets them started upon a purchasing or decision making process and the step they arrive at the complete the transaction; whether that is a sale or an email enquiry. Some websites contain a link to their online store, some place product directly on the home page, perhaps it’s asking the guest to make a selection about the product or service range they are interested in. Whatever the mechanism, it’s vital that you get this right. The porter should be leading you back to the front desk to checkout and complete the sale.
The foyer of a hotel is usually a central place leading off to restaurants, bars, accommodation, the pool etc. It’s the place you pass though many times during your stay. Your home page should contain links to the different areas of your website and I’m not speaking specifically about the main navigation menu either. There should be other elements that enable a guest to fund the products or services they are interested in. The use of icons or small banners, buttons or even slideshows can all provide alternate pathways for your guests. One popular technique that has provided both a search engine optimisation benefit as well as pathways for the guest is the use of footer links. Footer links are a clear, neat and tidy way of displaying a reasonable number of links. They appear right at the base of the site, usually on every page and serve as a constant secondary navigation tool.
I use the term ‘appropriate’ because not all signage should be of the same type, size or content either in a hotel or on your home page. The signage should serve as a direction to key areas that you define as being highly relevant to your target market. There is little point trying to stuff every single page on your website into the main navigation. Care should be taken here to define the most important areas and to categorise the information and options accordingly. Signage really refers to your navigation, to your primary, main menu and then secondary menus that follow. Secondary menus may be hidden from initial view, displaying only when a guest dialyse an interest in a particular menu item, or they may display in another area and a guest delves deeper into the content of your website. The main point here is that if you make everything prominent, then nothing will stand out.
Design to inspire
This final point really does depend on a number of factors. If you are staying at a world class palatial hotel then you will expect a certain level of design, finish and quality throughout the foyer and the entire hotel. If however you are staying in a budget country hotel your expectations and the experience will be very different. That is not to say that designing and creating a well planned home page has to cost a fortune. It doesn’t. It’s just that what you see when you enter the foyer will make you feel a certain way and your reaction to the hotel will differ. In essence, this comes down to the type of product or service you are offering and where you sit in the market. Is it a luxury item or a commodity? The choice of typeface, high quality photography or video, colour, branding and what you say or omit will ultimately leave the guest with an impression of who you are and the quality of your product or service.
In summary, most of these items should be present on your home page to ensure that you provide the best possible experience for your guests.