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I won’t say the homepage is the most important page on a nonprofit’s website. I think it jockeys for importance with the Donate page, because that darn thing is pretty prime. The home page is, however, almost always the most visited and viewed page on a website. It often ranks for more terms. It's usually shown more in search results. The only exception is a website with an active and well-trafficked blog. Yeah, so your homepage is pretty darn important… and what we’re really talking about in this article is how to make a bang up first impression.

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Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

What to Put on Your Home Page – Website Planning Series Part 3

I won’t say the homepage is the most important page on a nonprofit’s website. I think it jockeys for importance with the Donate page, because that darn thing is pretty prime. 

The home page is, however, almost always the most visited and viewed page on a website.  It often ranks for more terms. It’s usually shown more in search results.

Yeah, so your homepage is pretty darn important… and what we’re really talking about in this article is how to make a bang up first impression. 

The purpose of the homepage.

The first purpose of your home page is to introduce people to your organization. Many of your website visitors may not know a whole lot about you. This is your opportunity to tell them what you’re up to, showcase what you do and tell people who you are just in a few seconds, in a very straightforward way.

<soapbox>

Let me step on my soapbox for a minute here.

I look at a lot of nonprofit websites. Many of which I cannot figure out what they do without digging or thinking really hard. I swear I’m not an idiot. I am an educated adult woman. I am of the age where I have funds that I can contribute to your cause. I am in your target market!  If I can’t figure out what you do then other people can’t either. 

Nonprofits think they’re being smart by arranging their mission in flowery language filled with words that can mean anything and nothing all at the same time. That language is just jargon. And jargon makes people feel yucky. It makes them feel left out. If I explained websites like that you wouldn’t get what I’m talking about either. But I don’t do that. That’s why we’re friends right? 

If you’re not sure if you’re using it, run a test to see if your home page actually communicates what you do in a simple straightforward way.

TEST OPTION #1

Ask a person, maybe a teenager, who isn’t associated with your nonprofit to read your homepage and tell you what they think you do. If they can do it, you pass.  

TEST OPTION #2

Go to the Nonprofit Marketing with Purpose Facebook page, and make a post with the URL of your website and ask me to look at your website. Because I’ll tell you straight up. 

</soapbox> 

Back to the purpose of your home page.

Your homepage is a springboard. 

It’s your first opportunity to direct visitors where YOU want them to go. 

It’s like when you enter the zoo, telling you where to go next – do you want to go to the polar bears or the penguins? Your website is the same way. Like the first big sign you see at the zoo. The zoo tells you to go to the concessions or the paid shows, you tell people to volunteer or donate.

Don’t be afraid to be a ‘repeater’. In creative meetings people always say, “Oh, I don’t think we need that donate button again on the homepage, it’s in the navigation.”

It’s OK, normal and advisable to pull people into key areas of your site by showcasing them on your homepage with extra oomph. Show a photo and give a description of why people should go visit the polar bears (or get involved 😏). Give the important parts of your site a little extra love on your home page.

It’s your first opportunity to help visitors go where they want to go.

Earlier in our first website planning series episode, we talked about how when people come to your website, and they either know who they are, or what they want. Make sure on your homepage you’re offering a springboard for both types of visitors, those that only know who they are and those who know what they know what they want, and drive them there. Those who know what they want can often just use your navigation to find it, but the people who only know who they are may need a little more help.

For example, if you offer programs for mothers with young children, like myself, you might dedicate a part of your homepage speaking to them and linking to the programs that you offer. Or maybe just have a button taking me to a section of your website that talks about all the things that you offer to families with young children. 

Not sure what visitors want? 

Take a look at your Google Analytics data. I make a lot of decisions based on my gut feeling or my gut reaction, but putting numbers behind your gut is gold. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your website right now, it is free and once installed it will tell you what pages people go to on your website and so many more things that I will not go into it right now. 

One trick though, if you don’t have Google Analytics installed is just google search for the proper name of your organization. Most of the time in search results you’ll see a link to your home page and a few more pages listed below. Oftentimes, not all the time, but oftentimes, those are the most visited pages in your site. Because those links are Google’s interpretation of what someone would want to find on your site. 

How long should your homepage be?

All that stuff we just talked about can feel like alot and some people put even more stuff on their homepage, like links to events, news and more. But how much is too much?

It’s OK to scroll. Your audience knows they have to.

Most people intuitively know to scroll down. If there’s any question you can even tell them to scroll down with a fun animated graphic. But scrolling forever is bad. 

Everyone has a different scroll comfort zone. I have a little scrolling wheel on my mouse, if I scroll four times, that feels pretty normal. Go to other sites you like, how many times does your mouse wheely go round? 

In order to remove all scrolling you have to shove everything up into the same area of the screen, then you just feel overwhelmed. It’s better to have them scroll down your homepage and view the information in an organized fashion.

There’s readers and then there’s skimmers. But either way you have to have words on your homepage.

Some people are really detail oriented. They want to read the nitty gritty details. Other folks are skimmers. They just want to see the overview. It doesn’t matter which one you are. Your website visitors are BOTH, so you need to cater to everyone.

Gotta have words on your homepage, people.

Do it for the readers and do it for Google. You need at least 200-300 words or more on the homepage of your website. It has to happen. This is how you get things to show up in Google, it has to have words on it. Google can’t read images yet. You don’t have to keyword stuff or do any of those crazy things but you have to have words on your homepage.

How should you format your homepage?

Think about the content on your homepage (and really every page on your website), like the table of contents meets an inverted pyramid. 

  • Put the most important part of your message up at the top, just like in a newspaper article (that’s inverted pyramid style writing according to my college journalism professor). 
  • Then allow someone to get the jist of what you’re covering on the page by skimming the subheadings. Your subheadings and photos captions should be enough to give skimmers the gist of what you’re saying so don’t have to read everything.
  • Fill in the actual words under the subtitles for the people who do want to read it. And for my frenemy Google.
  • Break up your messages like you would PowerPoint slides. Divide up the information into organized sections so people can see each message individually without a bunch of visual noise.

What’s the best size for your header image or slider?

Seems like every site has one of these, a really big picture or video, or a slider. Sometimes web designers call it a hero image. We call it a header image. That’s our lingo around here. These images are usually taller on your homepage and shorter on the secondary pages if you have them. We tend to vary the image sizes so not every page on your site feels like a home page. 

Here’s the deal. If you don’t want to have a huge image or video at the top of your, you don’t have to have one. We build a lot of sites with half or quarter screen height images at the top. 

If your image is amazing. 

Feel free to take up as much real estate as you want. If it is some crappy stock photo, that means nothing and does not have any relativity to your organization. Maybe go with a smaller photo or do away with an image all together in favor of some meaningful words. 

Be careful of the image or the video load time, if your image isn’t formatted correctly it will slow your site down. It’s a pretty common affliction. You want your site to load fast. Google likes it, your viewers like it, so be careful of those image sizes.

Showcase some modular content.

Some things are different on each nonprofit’s website, it flips out based on what’s in the rest of your site. We call this modular content. Common types of modular content are news, resources, events, FAQ, and success stories. 

We call this type of content modular because it’s entered into your site (or should be entered into your site) as posts. When it’s added to the site as posts, it can be pulled from the database and displayed in other locations where it’s relevant.

So before showcasing modular content on your home page make sure it’s relevant on the homepage. You want to make sure that you’re using this real estate wisely. Not EVERY piece of modular content needs to be highlighted. Pick the ones your viewer will be most interested in and ones you keep updated regularly. 

Now I shall sing a song about the donate button.

Donate. I really wanted to sing a song about donating, because it should be everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere! Please make sure you’re asking people to donate everywhere! 

Some websites don’t even have a donate link in the navigation. Don’t be that website. You can make it stick to the bottom of the screen on every page. Or put it on the navigation as a little button with a heart by it. I love the hearts next to the donate button. 

Also have a call for donations (whatever kind you need) on the home page. As part of your ask, or near it, share a testimonial or a success story. Really, you want success stories sprinkled throughout your site, in places where they make sense and deepen the story. Think about success stories like product reviews – you want them in the right place at the right time to help people see how awesome you are. 

Now I shall sing the navigation song!

Since we mentioned navigation above now might be the right time to address the rest of your navigation. And for those of you who do not know, your navigation is all the links at the top of your site linking to your pages. 

Make sure your navigation is obvious and easy to see and read. Don’t hide your navigation. Don’t put it in a hamburger menu on a desktop website. A hamburger menu is the little icon in the upper corner of mobile sites with three lines that sit on top of each other. Top and bottom lines are the bun and the middle line is the burger 🍔. It may feel hip but I don’t think that’s the right plan for most nonprofits. That’s my opinion. You can take it or leave it. Remember your audience. If you have an older audience we want them to know just how to use your navigation, no questions asked.

The pages you put on your navigation are the ones that are most important to your audience, not the ones that are most important to you. Clearly you’re claiming some space for the donate button up there, that’s your freebie. But if you don’t have enough space to have a link up there for your board of directors, it’s okay. Your board of directors page is probably not the most important page for visitors to learn why you’re so incredibly awesome. Consider what people are looking for when they come to your site and put the most important items on the navigation. 

If there’s not enough space, group the information logically and create drop down menus. If there’s a popular page in the drop down menu then add it to your featured information on your homepage so people don’t have to dig for it.

Highlight your sponsors! 

Some organizations dedicate a page of their website to sponsors…but, and this is a big BUT…I have looked at the traffic to those pages, most sites have little to no visits to their sponsors page. Now, since your sponsors have generously donated to your organization  because they believe in you, I’m of the opinion they deserve to be on a page that people will actually see. Give sponsors value by sprinkling tributes to them throughout your site like you do success stories. 

For each sponsor, show a link to their website with their logo and if you want to go above and beyond, share a few sentences about why they support your organization.

On your homepage you may have just logos with links to their websites, they might scroll or be shared in a grid. These are usually closer to the bottom of the page. 

One great way to show the marketing value you offer your sponsors is to add a tracking code to their link so you can show them how many times people clicked on your site to visit theirs. Then you can really prove to your sponsors what an asset you are to their business. (If you’re interested in doing this Google “UTM Parameters” I’ll get an article written about it someday with directions but until then…you’re on your own with Google at your back!)

But your homepage is just the beginning. 

Don’t forget about your other pages.

There are all kinds of very important pages on your website. So don’t sink all your energy or all of your funds into your homepage and forget about all of those other pages. Because when people leave a homepage that’s beautiful and flamboyant and amazing. And land on a dismal sad internal page that does not build the relationship that you want with these people. 

Keep pulling visitors through the site and build that credibility with them. Do not forget about your other pages! Which is why we’re going to talk about all of them in upcoming episodes. And next time. Next time we’re going to talk about event sections! Oh man. Event sections are super exciting for such dorks.

In the meantime, for a rich yet easily digestible list of things you should have on every page of a perfect nonprofit website, check out our free checklist titled… (can you guess?):

Pefect Nonprofit Website Checklist!

— It can also be found below in the Related Resources section.

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