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4 Common Non-Profit Homepage Design Mistakes

AlanasblogWe work with non-profits large and small, and whenever we dive into a website redesign, the homepage is always a dramatic part of the process.

Most of our clients assume that the homepage is the most important page on their website: It’s where the user lands first, and it helps drive them to the core content they’re looking for, right?. The problem is, statistically, the homepage isn’t necessarily the most important page on your website. (Zoltán Gócza and Zoltán Kollin have a great site called UXMyths that sums up lots of uninformed assumptions about how the web works.)

Like all of us, non-profits need to seriously assess their goals before thinking about how their new homepage should look. Chances are, if you’re paying to redesign your site in the first place, it’s time for a global rethink.

We’ve seen clients make a lot of the same tactical errors when approaching the homepage in any redesign, so we’ve come up with a few practical approaches to help them overcome these roadblocks.

1) New Site Design, Old Messaging

If a website is like a body, then the skeleton is the information architecture–the way your site content is organized. The muscle is the copy–what you are saying, how you are saying it, and how it achieves your goals. The skin is the design–the palette, typography, layout, images. The design should be easy to relate to you, even beautiful, but should function as a superficial skin on top of a muscular content base. That’s why it’s always interesting when clients don’t want to invest in rethinking their homepage messaging or site content during a redesign. This misses the most important structural issues. If your website is 7 years old, so is your copy. And if your organization is 30 years old, we’re going to wager that you’ve got some atrophied language that could use a trip to the gym.

If you invest in new messaging on any page of your website, it should be your homepage. Smart content strategy doesn’t just help you with SEO–it gives your design team something powerful to design around.

2) The Homepage Carousel

The classic homepage carousel (a rotating series of photo or content slides) has been the showpiece of websites for the last 5-7 years. Not only is it dynamic, but it allows you to swap up your homepage content. Fresher is better, right? Well, a couple of years ago, Eric Runyon tested this theory. His conclusion? Actually, no one clicks on your beautiful slider. If they do, it’s usually just the first slide. So why not seriously reconsider how you use that prime homepage real estate? Use it to articulate your key organizational mission or goal. How often do you actually have new content to put into that space? If your colleagues insist you need a slider because competing organizations have them, send them this article instead (or this one!).

3) Dynamic Content Feeds

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog rolls. Every week, someone asks if we can add more dynamic content to their homepage. Our response is always: can you tell us how this will serve your organization?

Even if a non-profit has a substantial engaged community, members may go days, or weeks, or months without posting anything new. A post from three weeks ago on your homepage doesn’t add any value. Nonprofits with heavily engaged social network communities will find that these people make up a fraction of their total audience, which includes donors, volunteers, etc. Why hand over your biggest platform to a minority of your target audience? The web is saturated with scraps of dynamically updated information. Many of your users have learned to tune it out. Before including your organization’s Facebook feed on your homepage, ask yourself if there’s more important information you could be sharing up-front with your audience.

4) Following Trends Before Creating Your Content

We once presented a set of homepage designs informed by extensive user research to the board of a large non-profit. “These look fine,” said one board member. “But I’m curious about why you didn’t put any video on the homepage.”

Having video on a homepages is trendy. It can look really cool. The problem is, if you don’t have high-quality video content, or if your organization doesn’t produce it on a regular basis, then it’s not a trend for you. Even if a client has plans to create more video, we would advise them not to put the cart before the horse. We see this with other media, too. Organizations that want high-impact photos on their homepage often don’t have an easy time sourcing great pictures. Clients want to feature podcasts, but aren’t planning on producing them for another month or two.

Use your homepage to feature the best of what you have, not what you want to have.