This is a guest post by Jon Dykstra.
One of the most important elements I look for when choosing a WordPress theme for a new website, is finding a theme with the right home page layout. When referring to home page in this article, I’m really referring to the front page.
With literally tens of thousands of themes to choose from, there is a vast number home page layouts to choose from. Many are usable out of the box, while others may require some customization through a web design company.
However, home page layout and design doesn’t stop with choosing a theme. Most themes offer options for home page layouts as well. Yes, it’s a process.
Home Page Options
A good starting point is getting an understanding of the different types of home pages.
1. The chronological full blog post home page.
This type of home page is one where a blog’s entire most recent blog post takes up the lion’s share of the home page. Previous blog posts may fill out the remainder of the home page, but it’s the latest post that takes up the most real estate.
2. The chronological blot post excerpt home page.
For my blog sites, this is one of my favorite layouts. This format is a list of blog post titles accompanied with an image (usually) and post excerpts. It’s a classic magazine style. I love this style because it serves visitors by enabling them to scan several posts quickly and to choose one that resonates with them.
3. The slider or slide show home page.
For business sites (my client sites), I almost always choose a theme with a slide show or slider above the fold on the home page. It’s a contemporary website design that works well.
Usually a slider or slide show home page sits atop a list of blog post excerpts or a full-blown blog post. Business websites often provide links to key pages such as the Services, Contact, About, Products, Features, etc. pages.
4. The blatant opt-in home page.
For business owners seeking to build up an e-mail subscribers, their website’s home page may focus solely on a newsletter sign-up form. If above-the fold, there may be other content under it … but the bulk of the above-the-fold home page real estate is dedicated to the “opt-in” form.
5. Product catalogue home page.
E-commerce websites often feature their best-selling or on-sale items on the home page. Often the top of the home page includes a slider or slide show followed by featured products.
If it’s a one-product website, the home page will offer links to more details about the product such as features, comparison charts with competing products and/or buying options (i.e. a package comparison chart).
And then there are columns…
Most websites these days are 2 or 3 columns. Therefore, an additional decision you must make is the number of columns to have on the home page. It may be, if your theme uses widget zones, that you can have some sections with 3 columns, some sections with 2 columns and other parts only 1 column. I love these widget-zone-heavy home pages because it puts layout control in my hands.
And widget zones…
Theme home pages are either widget-zone oriented or not. Most “blog” themes only provide sidebar widget zones. Most e-commerce and business themes offer widget-zone home pages. What this means is that the entire home page is a series of widget zones in which you place your content. The widget zone design is terrific if you wish to present different types of content on the home page. It’s also great if you like having control over layout.
Choosing the Right Home Page
So, how do you choose what’s right for your website?
Step 1: Decide what type of website you’ll be publishing.
Is it purely a blog? Are you selling something? Are you offering services?
One key question to ask yourself is what is the most important element of your website?
- If it’s content, go with a blog style home page.
- If it’s services, highlight your services with a slider or slide show followed by links to your key selling pages.
- If you’re selling products, feature your best-selling products.
- If it’s building out your newsletter, feature your incentived opt-in form.
An even better question to ask yourself is what do you want your website visitors to do?
- If it’s call you, design your home page to encourage visitors to call you.
- If it’s fill in a contact form, place your contact form in a prominent location on the home page. Don’t just offer a link to a Contact page.
- If it’s read your content, have your latest content at the top. Consider adding “most popular” posts to your sidebar to encourage longer visit duration.
- If it’s sign up to your e-newsletter, design your home page to get people to sign up.
It doesn’t end there …
The following suggestion requires testing, but it may just be the case that your content (i.e. blog posts) sell whatever you’re selling very well. If this is the case, you may well want to feature your excellent pre-selling content on the home page. It could be linked from the featured slider image. It could be the first excerpt on the home page. You have many options.
Step 2: Research similar websites.
There’s no research quite as effective and fast as checking out what your competitors are doing. You’ll get ideas fast that you can incorporate into your home page. Of course you don’t want to copy them entirely, but getting inspiration is easy by checking out other websites.
When researching other websites, ask yourself what you like and don’t like about the site. Visit with an analytical eye.
Step 3: Pay attention to your own “consumer behavior.”
Remember, you’re a consumer as well. When you visit websites, pay attention to what gets you to take various actions. If you buy from one website and not another, ask yourself why.
Step 4: Sketch a rough home page concept.
Imagine or put pen to paper and come up with a rough sketch of what you want your home page to look like. What you really want to do here is determine a layout with each section identified.
Step 5: Start researching themes.
This can be fun. Scour the web for a theme. I restrict myself to premium themes because I find them easier to use, I like the support and I like the fact I can trust there aren’t any unfavorable links/code.
Don’t decide on color. Color can be changed easily. Focus on the layout and navigation placements. These are harder-to-customize features. If the layout is perfect, you can create your ideal home page.
Step 6: Buy your theme.
Once you decide, build your site. If you’re new to WordPress, take your time and be prepared to learn. If you run into a stumbling block, search your theme provider’s support forum and Google the question. You’ll be amazed at all the help available online when you look for it.
That’s all there is to it. It seems like a lot, but it’s not. It’s important to start with your website in the right direction to reduce the chances of any site overhaul in the near future.
Your home page will likely be your most visited page, so it warrants care and attention.