The homepage on any website is also known as the index and is the landing page for the website (the area users see first). This is a good enough reason to make sure that this page is presented well with good content allowing the user to instantly understand what you do and what the website is all about.
When thinking about this from a design point of view, the page should be nice and clean, clutter free and easy to understand. The opportunity arises to use elements such as flash and jQuery to show important areas of content without cluttering the page and making it impossible to read. This said the important thing is balance out your images and content, remembering that search engines can not read images.
Position your menu in a recognisable area on the website too, have a look at competitors and see where they have put theirs. Users will look in certain typical areas for your menu, these tend to be right hand side, left hand side and just below your header. If you position this anywhere else you could affect the performance of the page and confuse your users.
The huge importance of a homepage is to get users interested enough so that they will explore the rest of the website and look through your services, products or blogs. A great way to check out how your homepage is performing is to check out Google Analytics, this is a must to have installed on your website. Google Analytics has a report within it called Bounce Rate¸ this is worked out as a percentage and informs you of the number of users who have visited your website and either come on and gone or explored your site further, hence the term bounce rate. The industry standard is usually set at around 35% which means that 35% of visitors to your website have left after just reading the homepage, obviously we want this to be a low as possible.
The bounce rate statistic can show up any problems you have, if your percentage is too high then maybe the content is poor or the page is too cluttered, confusing the visitor and making them go elsewhere. You can then look at the possible faults closely, is the design poor? Then adjustments can be made accordingly and by keeping a close eye on the stats the balance can be restored. One thing to consider with bounce rate is also poor links directing users to a website they were not expecting, so guess what, they leave.
If you are relying on enquiries for services, then make sure that your telephone number and email are prominent on the homepage (and each page for that matter), this way users do not have to go looking for a contact number or email, they can just do it from the page they are on.
So to sum things up, your homepage is very important and should appeal to the user straight away so they do not go checking out your competitor's sites. One more consideration for ecommerce websites, is it easy for users to get to a product and checkout quickly without too much hassle? There are many ecommerce websites out there that sell some fantastic products at low prices but just can not create sales, this is normally down to the fact that the user can not access the product they want quickly with a fast checkout, leading them to use someone of higher value just for convenience.
Have a good look at your websites homepage and ask yourself the following:
Does it appeal to the eye?
Do you instantly know what the site is about?
Does it load quickly within your browser?
If your answer to any of these questions is no then you must review your website quickly to resolve any problems.