Why your homepage should be like the front cover of a magazine

If you’ve ever had a conversation about website content with Rin, you’ve probably heard her say that a business website’s homepage should be a bit like a magazine front cover. OK, so it’s a natural comparison for her, given her background in journalism. But it’s also very apt.

A magazine cover needs to grab your attention, stand out from the crowd and invite you to explore the magazine further. It isn’t covered in adverts, nor is there much detailed information available. It’s all about creating an impression that encourages further engagement. Ditto a website’s homepage.

Let’s break the analogy down a bit further…

Imagery

What’s the first thing you notice when you look at the front cover of a magazine? Given that the human brain is designed to interpret visual information rather than written text, it’s probably the cover image.

Whether it’s Sheryl Sandberg or Cristiano Ronaldo, an indulgent dessert, colourful craft project, prize-winning trout or the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, the choice of cover star (human or not) is the first clue as to what the magazine is about.

Take away: The imagery on your website’s homepage is a vital part of helping your visitor understand what they’re going to find ‘inside’ the rest of the site.

Headlines

Next up in the priority ranking on a magazine’s front cover is the text – or cover lines, to use the correct publishing term. These showcase the most interesting and important content within the magazine, and are designed to catch the consumer’s attention and invite them to read further.

A front cover isn’t the place for displaying the feature text itself, it’s about selling concepts and encouraging further exploration. With the wrong cover lines – or the wrong text on your home page – you won’t get people to do more than glance and then move on.

Take away: You don’t need to put all your information on your homepage. Instead, catch people’s attention with a series of clever content bites that will signpost them deeper into the site.

Emotion

Together, a magazine’s cover image and cover lines are designed to stimulate an emotional response in the consumer. It might be excitement as they imagine themselves holidaying in whatever destination is on a travel magazine’s front cover, or curiosity as they pick up Heat and wonder, “Ooh, who is Kylie Jenner’s secret love interest?”

The influence of emotion on purchase decisions is well documented, and the best magazine covers will ultimately create a sense of desire. That desire may be to be informed, to improve a skill, to indulge oneself or to have fun, but it needs to be strong enough to spur a purchase.

Take away: When designing and writing your homepage, always think about what your audience needs to feel in order to explore further, as well as what they need to think.

Benefits

Editorial teams are experts at understanding what their readers want. They know that no one is looking at the magazine stand and thinking, “I wonder how qualified the journalists are?” or “I’d better find out how long the magazine has been running before I buy a copy.”

Instead, readers want to know if the contents will help them cook better or show them how to look fashionable this season or let them fantasise about what it would be like if they could afford to build their Grand Design after all.

Take away: Understand the benefits your client is looking for – the problems they want solved, the hopes they want fulfilled – and use your homepage to show them how you can deliver that.

Selling

What you won’t find on the front cover of a magazine is an advert, despite the fact that advertising is where magazines make their profits. In fact, even once you venture inside the magazine, the number of ads should still be less than the number of features.

Why? Because even the advertisers understand that what buys them the right to promote their goods and services is the value that the readers are getting from the editorial content. No one’s going to pay for a magazine that’s more advert than value.

Take away: While there’s nothing wrong with a call to action for those who are ready, don’t start selling in earnest on your homepage. Instead, use it to get people to dig a bit deeper into your site, where you can give them more detail about why you’re the best choice before asking them to buy.

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