Since JotForm has been released one of remarks I received often has been why we don’t have a regular homepage. You know, the common wisdom supposed to say a homepage should give some introduction. It is supposed to talk about what is the service is all about, why do you need it, how great it is. Things like that. Well, I don’t think there is much truth about this assumption. In fact, I think this is one of the biggest misunderstandings about the web users.
I see this mistake all over web all the time. Long registration forms to try some basic functionality, software products with no screenshots, community forums you can’t even read without registration. You expect the web users to trust you and invest their time. But, why should they do that? They just met you, and they are in rush. They are always in rush because they have been burned many times before by spending hours on sites like yours without getting anything accomplished. They are one second away from clicking that back button and you are expecting them to read your long mumbo jumbo and fill up that required occupation question and figure out those messed up CAPTCHA characters. Thank you very much!
If we look at the most successful sites today, there is something very common on all of them. They let you accomplish things.
Why people come to your site? Think about it for a minute. If your main landing page is your homepage, why don’t you make things as easy to as possible for them. In fact, give them the meat. Turn your homepage into your application.
Here are some good examples to “Homepage is The Application”:
Google: Do you remember the 90s? It was hard work to just find the search form on a search engine inside all those banners dumped on your screen. By making their homepage uncluttered Google gained the attention and love of their users.
Last.fm: I go to last.fm to listen some music or find out similar music to something I liked. I can do both of these things without ever leaving the homepage. Their site is actually filled with lots of text, but it doesn’t bother me, since I can accomplish my goals without leaving the homepage.
Firefox: Have you ever been to a site to download something and spend half an hour of browsing and typing. Well, Firefox homepage has just a large “Download Firefox – Free” button that even knows you are an OS X user.
I understand there will some cases in which you cannot turn your homepage into an application. For instance, if you have a content site. Then your application is your content. You should simply provide the content on your homepage. Slashotdot did this best and became a huge success.
Homepage Strategies for your site:
- If you have a web application, give them the meat. Don’t ask for registration or login. Let them use your application right on your homepage.
- If you are a content site, give them the most popular and recent content. Slashdot became a success using this formula and now Digg and Reddit are following the path.
- If you have a subscription site give them screenshot or movie tour. But that’s not enough, you should still provide some meat on your homepage. Depending on the type of content you are providing, you must still provide some meat on your homepage.
- If you are a matchmaking site, let them search profiles without registration.
- If you are selling software, give them the free version right there up front.
- If you are selling books, give them excerpts to read.
- If you are an online radio, let them listen from your homepage.
I can hear some people saying “OK, let’s say I cut out all the text from my homepage. Then what? How will Google find out about my site”. That was also one of my worries at the beginning, because for couple of months, the homepage of JotForm did not have a PageRank while the internal pages were ranked 3. However, this only took couple of months. Then the whole site including the homepage jumped at PageRank 5. In any case, I don’t think it is a good idea to build your site for Google. Make it good for your users and don’t worry, if people love your site, there will be plenty linking to it. If you don’t believe me, look at the Google homepage. Does it talk about what they do and how great they are?
On a response to a comment on this blog, I explained how our site uses Homepage is the Application principle.
1. JOTFORM.COM IS THE APPLICATION. If you are a web designer and would like to just design a form, I want you to type “jotform.com” instead of firing up DreamWeaver or FrontPage. Or if you are like me vim.
2. JOTFORM.COM IS THE DEMO. If you are interested in finding a form builder/processor, I want you to have a chance to try it before committing. I don’t want to waste your time with registration. Last couple of days I am trying to submit JotForm on some webmaster sites. It is a big pain. All of them first want me to create an account. Then want me to verify my email to go to my gmail account and clicking on a link. And couple of them actually did not even work. I have spent like 10 minutes on a site and was unsuccessful at signing up and gave up. Come-on, all I am trying to do is to submit a listing to your database so that you can better serve your visitors and earn money from banners.
3. GOOGLE EFFECT: Google did not put a gazillion links on their homepage like all other search engines at the time and users loved it. Google’s homepage keeps the attention at the task. Google respects the users and not try to trick them into doing something else. I just like that attitude.