The majority of community homepages I’ve seen are designed for the wrong audience.
People visiting your community homepage aren’t looking for an answer to a question. In the data of almost every public community I’ve worked with, the majority of people arrive at a specific discussion. They typed their question into Google and landed on a discussion (note – not the homepage!)
The majority of people visiting your homepage fall into one of two categories.
a) People who have clicked a link (probably your homepage). These folks are often newcomers to the topic/product/company and found the community in the ‘getting started’ experience.
b) People who are returning to the community. These folks have participated before and are visiting to see what’s new. They’re not going to spend a lot of time browsing, they simply need to know if there’s anything interesting happening.
In an ideal world, you can use the information gathered about them (i.e. did they join within the past month or not) to show entirely different community experiences.
When that’s not possible, you need to abide by a couple of rules here.
1) Keep newcomer content visible, but minimal. Once someone has seen the newcomer areas, they don’t need to visit again. Avoid the big ‘welcome’ banners/messages for the same reason. People ignore what they’ve already seen.
2) Create the definitive newcomer location (and link to it prominently from the homepage). Create a destination and set of resources to help newcomers get up to speed. Combine this with your knowledge base, member journeys, best practice examples, top newcomer tips, and safe places where newcomers can ask their beginner-level questions. Your community should offer the definitive place for the newcomer experience.
3) Showcase the latest activity prominently above the fold. This should go without saying these days. The easier you make the community to scan to see what’s new, the more engagement you will get. It’s impossible to sustain a highly responsive community if it’s hard to see everything that’s new at a glance.
4) Highlight the ‘MVP/champions’ program. If people are already visiting frequently to see what’s new, they’re the most likely group to be interested in taking things up a notch. In the majority of communities the majority of members don’t even know a top member program exists. Make it visible (or make members aware they’re eligible to apply) after [x] contributes in the community.
5) Highlight high-signal, low-noise, content at the advanced level. Things like release notes, latest additions to the knowledge base, new announcements, a digest of the top tips/upcoming events is extremely useful for this audience.
This is far from a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. The people coming to your homepage are complete newcomers (who need some guidance) and returning visitors who need to see what’s fresh (and useful) to keep returning.