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A holiday-party host has a lot to think about, from helping guests feel welcome and comfortable to making sure everything runs smoothly from start to finish. Online retailers are similar to those hosting a party because they juggle a lot at once, while they focus on creating a successful end-to-end experience.

However, some retailers make small, yet big mistakes, while playing host. And these can ultimately deter shoppers away from sites. Tamara Adlin, partner and experience strategist for Seattle-based customer-experience strategy and design firm Fell Swoop, offers some tips on how a retailer can up its homepage manners this holiday season, and all year-round:

Use a homepage as a doorway. A homepage is not a destination, but rather a jumping off point to where the conversation begins.

“A party host should welcome guests at the door and then show them around, pointing to the refreshments or casually introducing them to people,” Adlin said. The homepage should act as the same landing strip; let them come in and get adjusted.

Don’t talk too much. Avoid cramming a lot of information on the homepage and save some of the conversation for the inside pages. Using too many words and providing too many links can overwhelm a customer. If your site has more than 50 links on your homepage, Adlin suggests you might be talking too much. Sometimes less is more.

As for promotions, Adlin said online retailers should focus on the most productive and popular offers instead of dividing shopper attention across multiple offers on the same page.

Don’t be everything to everyone. Know what your focus is and narrow in on the target audience.

Don’t be desperate. If a guest walks into a dull party, a host may offer them a free glass of wine, but that doesn’t mean they will stay. “Don’t buy your friends by offering ‘free wine’ or an iPod giveaway,” Adlin said. “Keep them there by being relevant.”

In addition, if a homepage is inundated with sales and discounts, this gives customers the message that the brand is all about discounts, and that they shouldn’t consider buying anything at full price. Be cognizant of how the site comes across.

Don’t scream at your customers. Retailers often get excited about promotions and make them as bold as possible on the homepage, sometimes with capitalization and exclamation points. Bold advertising and promotional tactics may get the attention of consumers, but once they are on your site, avoid preaching to the converted. “Use your inside voice with simple messaging and a clear value proposition,” Adlin said.

Don’t change the wallpaper in a rundown kitchen. Some retailers get wrapped up in colors, fonts and features, but it’s more about consistency, the end-to-end experience and the way you express your brand.

“You can get tiny changes by making something on your site, but that’s like climbing an ant hill when there’s a mountain of potential of sales right behind you,” Adlin said. “If retailers focused more on improving best practices, clarifying whom their audience is and creating good editorial copy, they would be better served.”

It might be the season for dressing up your site with frills and deals, but creating a strong user experience, from the moment a guest arrives until they receive a thank-you note after a purchase, is time-of-year agnostic.

And that’s worth celebrating too.

© 2014