Have you ever wondered what might have been had you made one move differently? Say in one scenario, you fall asleep and miss your train stop home from a nowhere job. At the next stop, the doors open and you’re the first to get off. The next train back isn’t for a few hours, so you wait it out in a coffee shop, where you meet someone who offers you an exciting new job opportunity. In the other scenario, you get off the train at your usual stop and remain where you are for the next 10 years. Yawn.

Website home pages are kind of like those two scenarios. A weak home page is the marketing equivalent of a shut door, and you miss the chance at a great prospect or conversion. Forever. A killer home page, on the other hand, will open all kinds of doors and invite a whole new world of possibilities into your company.

Not only is your home page that critical, and only, chance to make a first impression, it’s also the oldest, most advertised URL on your site with the most accumulated inbound links and direct visits.

So how do you get a killer home page? It’s not easy, let’s start with that.

Sure, there are all kinds of pre-fabricated web templates out there that will cost you little at first and, very likely, a lot in the end. In addition to being insufferably generic, cookie cutter websites are highly susceptible to hackers, spammers and myriad security issues. They are also frustratingly restrictive in that they do not, cannot, consider your individual needs because they have no customization abilities, unless you’re willing to pay a lot for new code or wrangle with it yourself. Ugh.

Plain and simple, a custom website designed by a professional working with your company and tending to your needs – and yours alone – is vital to a successful business gateway.

Here are some non-negotiables that every website, particularly its home page, must possess to attract visitors and get them to stay more than three seconds. (Three seconds is the lowest bar, of course; you want visitors to stick around for hours and return time and again.)

Curb appeal: First and foremost, your home page must create a positive emotional response in visitors. A clean, uncluttered layout, compelling graphics reflective of who you really are, and digestible copy that is well-written, easily understood, convincing, and engaging – all at once – will capture consumers psychologically and inspire them to explore your site further.
Clear value proposition: What does your business do for customers that others do not? This question must be answered immediately, succinctly, and without hyperbole. A web-skilled marketing team can help you identify exactly what differentiates you in the marketplace and most benefits your target audience.
Orderly navigation: Nothing is more aggravating for visitors than hunting and pecking for answers on your site, and they’re likely to give up trying. Your marketing experts can help you anticipate your audiences’ needs and determine which menu options belong on the home page and how best to organize them upfront and sub-categorically throughout your site.
Calls-to-action: Steer your visitors in what to do on your site with clear calls-to-action on the home page, whether it is to contact you, schedule a tour, view your pricing, etc.
Blog: Blogs build trust in your brand in a way that other marketing communications cannot. They don’t push a sale; rather, they offer information that is meaningful to visitors in some way, whether or not they ever engage in a purchase. If your company has a blog – and it should – put it on your home page, where it can’t be missed. Your marketing team can help you develop and create the right content for your blog.
Content offers: Like blogs, content offers of an e-book, white paper or supplementary resources answer questions or solve problems for consumers without directly leading them to a sale. They build trust and foster connections that are indelibly associated with your company, laying the groundwork for future interaction with you.
Testimonials or social proof: Leverage existing clients’ positive experiences with your company with a few outstanding testimonials on your home page. Include any social media icons, too, so that visitors can follow you and see further evidence of customer satisfaction.
Promising images: Quite literally, icons and images can convey your company’s promises to consumers and should appear on your home page. In addition, trust builders such as star ratings, business accreditations and special awards should be prominently displayed in graphic format. Your marketing experts can create icons and images tailor-made to your unique company pledges.

The right marketing team can take your home page from “never had a chance” to broad new horizons you might never have known.