Homepages often have multiple objectives. Everyone in your organization wants to pile stuff on your homepage: products, partnership announcements, press releases, job opportunities, marketing copy, positioning statements, special offers and welcome messages. But most importantly, it is often the first step a visitor takes on the way to a conversion action. So the single most important goal for your homepage is to get people to click off the homepage and on to their task.

Serving Too Many Masters

Consider these three rules of web awareness:

• If the visitor can’t find something easily, it doesn’t exist
• If you emphasize too many items, all of them lose importance
• Any delay increases frustration

Take an inventory of your homepage design. What are all the things you are trying to communicate with your homepage? Then think of your business model — what is the single most important thing you are trying to accomplish in your business? How is that reflected on your homepage? It should be your top priority. But more likely than not your homepage is trying to serve too many masters, and your design has given prominence to wrong priorities. Even worse, by emphasizing too many items on the homepage, you destroy your visitors’ ability to find key information, paralyzing them from making a decision. If you emphasize everything, then nothing will be important.

Prioritize, Align & Focus

Once you list out all the things you are trying to do with your homepage, categorize and prioritize them, and get agreement company-wide. Ultimately, the main focus of your homepage should be on key conversion actions that have a measureable impact on company revenue. Other objectives that are identified as important can then be simplified so that there is a logical flow to how they are presented.

You first want your visitors to focus on the primary goal of your website. Their attention should then follow a streamlined flow to other priority content on the page. But be sure to reduce the number of options you provide them, making sure the user is able to stay focused on their intent and that the homepage design mimics their thought sequence.

Keep it Simple

Everyone likes to try the next new thing. But many widely-used design elements are actually conversion killers. Visual elements include such as vivid background colors, giant photo billboards, creative text treatments, visual embellishments, animations and video not only take up prime page real estate, but can steal your visitors’ attention away from your conversion action. Photos of people and nything that moves (like a Flash animation) can be especially distracting, because they immediately draw visitors’ attention and can easily overshadow the conversion action.

When it comes to your homepage design, borrow this important tip from landing page optimization: unless a visual element directly supports a key conversion action, it should be removed. Use visual elements only to focus visitors on a small number of initial objectives, so they are not confused about what they can do on your site.

You should also consider, from a business perspective, whether using cool multimedia graphics or video is the best way to communicate your message. Try instead to use brief text to tell your brand story, but focus your layout around getting visitors to the content that they need. If you have a splash page remove it. It keeps the visitor from getting to the desired information and you may be losing a good number of your visitors to the backspace button while they wait for your site to load.

There is an important principal called the Platinum Rule that is an excellent motto for your homepage design process: “Do unto others as they want done onto them” (Dr. Tony Alessandro). Get out of your own head and look at your homepage from your visitors’ perspective. Even good pages can be improved. And keep your graphic designers on a short leash; their creativity should be subordinated to the business purpose of the site.

Your goal is to lighten the load of your homepage. Make it accountable to fewer people in the organization by creating a very simple environment for visitors to absorb your information and take action. Ultimately, conversion will always trump cool, and a clear and simple homepage design will generate an increased conversion rate that will translate to very measurable bottom-line increases.

Tim Ash is the CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers consulting and conversion improvement tools. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com and a speaker at events worldwide. Tim is a contributing columnist at many publications and author of Landing Page Optimization.