Webmasters looking to optimize their site for SEO leave no stone unturned. Everything is a potential vector for site improvement, from the pixel height of the navigation links to the hex color code of the call to action buttons. The home page is absolutely one of the most important pages to be optimized, so questions naturally come up. One among them is simple; how many words should you have on your home page? Is less more, in this case? Or is more actually more? How much is too much?
Of course, as with almost anything in SEO, the answer is highly subjective and depends a lot on your traffic, your customers and your site.
No one in the world, not even Google, can give you a number for this question. Some sites will rank high with a 300-word homepage and see their ranking fall if they expand it. Some sites will rise and rise the more they add to their page. What you need to do is strike the appropriate balance between thin content and fluff.
Does your homepage have a high bounce rate? If so, it’s a sign that your page is not compelling. This could be because of a low word count – users finding little of value on the first page they see – or it could be because of a poor layout, navigation or advertising.
Make use of your analytics. Does your homepage show up in search results for queries, or are all of your landing pages subpages? In particular, make use of a click and activity heatmap to see what users are doing on your homepage. Are there navigation links they never clicks? Are there graphics they click in hopes of being taken to content they can’t reach? Optimizing the user experience on your homepage will be more important and more effective than tweaking your content endlessly.
Your homepage is, just like any other page on your site, an opportunity to include powerful keywords and links. You must avoid writing for the search engines, however. If your homepage looks like a mess of keywords and links with no reasonable user content involved, no user is going to stick around. You may be optimized for the search engines – and in fact the techniques you’re using are outdated and likely to become ineffective – but your users are more important.
Consider the fold. When a user views your homepage, all they see is the top segment. Anything that requires scrolling remains hidden until they actually scroll. The fact is, many users don’t bother to scroll down. If they don’t see what they want in the top screen, they’re just as likely to back out as explore further. If you’re including all of your powerful calls to action beneath the fold, they’re doing you no justice. Tweak your layout or your content to present them higher up, where they can be seen.
For many users, the homepage is the first view of your site they get. As they say, the first impression is the most important. Look at your site from the perspective of the user. What do they see when they land on your homepage? Are they immediately presented with options for content? Are they showered with an introduction in fluffy language but little meaning? Are there distracting advertisements, banners, slideshows and pop-up windows? Anything that acts as a barrier between your users and your content should be minimized, moved or removed entirely.
If your homepage has an autoplay video, turn it off. Please. No one actually likes an autoplay video. At best, they scramble for the pause button to stop the distraction. At worst, they accuse your site of shady advertising tactics and leave immediately.
Do you have a quick introductory tagline? A new user visiting your homepage should be immediately able to tell what the point of your site actually is. They should know if you’re selling a product or a service, if you’re providing written content or if you’re a developer. Your homepage design should further reflect your company profile. Choose colors that compliment your atmosphere. A graphic designer with a plain WordPress template site does not inspire confidence, nor does a Fortune 500 business with navigation drawn in crayon.
Ask yourself: Who are we? Does your homepage answer this question? You need a clearly visible logo and a readable brand name. You also benefit strongly from an easily located “about us” section, for curious users.
Ask yourself: What do we do? Again, does your homepage answer this question? A brief tagline and a short description should suffice, both of which require no more than 50-100 words. This is a great place to include a keyword, and to link that keyword to your general services or products pages. You can also use this opportunity to link to testimonials from your users.
Ask yourself: How does a visitor benefit from viewing our homepage? Does the homepage itself provide any value, or are users expected to dig for the content they require? You won’t be able to front-load every bit of value on your site, but you can begin by pointing them in the right direction. A brief overview of what you do and where they can find your services is beneficial. You should also include a visible search box for users to search your site. Avoid having a nearly-identical box for submitting email addresses to sign up for a newsletter. This is a surprisingly common issue and it disrupts your users ability to search your site. A site map or content archive page for a blog can help with finding content as well.
All of this is fine and good, but what about the numbers? Again, no one number is guaranteed to be the magic spot for your homepage. In general, however, you should avoid going over 1,000 words. The exception is if your site is primarily a blog, and your homepage shows excerpts from a number of recent blog entries. This can run up your total quickly, but it also gives users something to read that has value.
Rarely will your site work with under 100 words on the homepage. You simply provide too little for your users to go on with that little content. The exception to this is if your homepage is based on graphics and video content. Only a few sites can pull this off, usually those in an arts or design field. For an ecommerce site or a blog, a word count that low is barren.
Don’t be afraid to add more words, if those words add value. That’s the key in a nutshell; take as much space as you need to provide the maximum value possible to your users. If you’re truly concerned about a specific number, change your content and test.