Websites – Designing the Homepage

Mon, May 18, 2009

Web Design / Usability

INTRODUCTION

Designing a website’s homepage presents a unique set of challenges and design considerations. In today’s article we will look at and discuss some of them.

Just to be clear on terms, when I say “home page”, I mean the page you hit when you type in whateveryourdomainnameis.com. The very first page a vistor sees when they show up at your “front door”.

WHY IS THE HOMEPAGE SPECIAL?

First things first! Why is the homepage special? What about it means that we have to treat it any differently to any other page on your website?

Well, for starters the homepage will be most sites’ “face to the world” and possibly the sole opportunity for the site to explain to a casual visitor who they are, what they do, and why the visitor needs to use them. Also, for many users, the home page is a place to start again if they get lost. Usability testing clearly demonstrates that users will often want to return to a site’s home page to reorient after becoming lost or distracted.

WHAT MUST THE HOMEPAGE DO?

The homepage has a number of goals, some of which may at times conflict with each other. A designer’s job will often be to balance these competing interests to the satisfaction of all
stakeholders – a potentially onerous position.

A successful home page will reflect and balance business objectives and user needs. A succesful homepage will:

Establish your site identity and mission.
The homepage should answer these four questions quickly and unambiguously: What is this? What can I do here? What do they have here? Why should I be here–and not somewhere else? If a first time visitor to your site’s home page does not understand what it is within three seconds, you have failed. The user will feel foolish, will leave, and will never come back. After all, what would you do if you met someone and they made you feel like an idiot? Would you want to hang out with them again?

Display your site hierarchy and show the new user where to start.

Enable site search.

Enable site registration.
This should be highly prominent if registration is required to use the site.

Establish credibility and trust.

Not get in the repeat visitor’s way.
A good homepage will get out of the way of the users who already know what they’re doing. These are the users like you, the ones who have been here before and already get it. There are a variety of ways of accomplishing this, from quick login and navigations links for returning visitors, to displaying a completely different environment to someone whom the site recognises.

GENERAL TIPS FOR HOMEPAGE DESIGN

Find out what users’ high-priority tasks are and provide good (above the fold) visibility for these high-priority tasks.

Use user-centric language, not internal, company language.

On the primary navigation bar, present items of interest to customers first. Any links to company information should be toward the end of the navigation bar.

Provide a clear path back to the home page on the primary navigation bar, using the label Home.

CAVEATS AND TRAPS FOR THE UNWARY

Designing a homepage for any medium to large company inevitably involves compromise.
It’s prime website real estate. Different groups will compete for the space, and they will all want different things from it. Don’t get discouraged or pressured into making poor design and usability choices.

Navigation on homepage can be different to the internal site’s, but not too different.
Try to keep roughly the same “look and feel” across the site.

Don’t tell the user about things the organization cares about, but the user doesn’t.
Testing indicates that users blow right past this content and pay no attention to it. When customers visit your home page, their attention span is limited. They are busy and want to find answers quickly. They don’t want unnecessary distractions and will immediately leave and go to another site if they cannot find what they want on your home page. They definitely do not want to wade through marketing messages.

It’s important to know that the two top user-rated functions of a homepage are:

  1. To deliver the content that users are seeking
  2. To provide “strong scent” to the pages that contain the content that users are seeking

Do not use pop-up windows.

Do not display Flash splash pages before allowing users to get to the home page.

CONCLUSION

Designing for good user experience is about communicating clearly, setting expectations early, and then delivering what you’ve promised. Think of your home page as the opening verse of a song. All you have to do is make sure you stay in tune throughout the user’s entire listening experience.

Does your homepage follow all these guidelines? Do you disagree with any of them? Are there any you’d like to add? Feel free to let me know in the comments. Take it easy!

, , , , ,

23 Responses to “Websites – Designing the Homepage”

  1. blinkky Says:

    Thanks for the info about the homepage. I always wonder how to make my homepage special from others =)

    blinkky’s last blog post..My Alexa Rank After 50 Days Blogging

    Reply

  2. Melody Says:

    Usability is one of the biggest concerns for most visitors when they come to a website. I still don’t understand why so many webmasters try to fancy the website to a point where you literally don’t know where you going when you click on a button..

    I think Flash has absolutely no valid purpose in web design unless it’s to show a presentation for a project or a video, and definitely not as the website itself…

    Melody’s last blog post..The Top 5.5 Myths of Online Marketing

    Reply

    • Mogul Says:

      Yeah, I hear you. Those flash presentations that people force you to sit through before you even get to the homepage make me throw up in my mouth a little.

      Reply

  3. Precy Says:

    Kudos to the info above! A good homepage for me equates user friendliness. Nothing beats that.

    Reply

  4. Jericho Says:

    A company’s homepage is its face to the world and the starting point for most user visits. Improving your homepage multiplies the entire website’s business value. So I say, better be good in designing the homepage.

    Reply

  5. Katherine Says:

    True that Jericho. Surfers nowadays want websites to be somewhat eye catchy.

    Reply

  6. Pesto Says:

    Aside from being eye-catchy, usability is more important. I wouldn’t want to go websites that are cluttered and don’t know where to click the buttons and stuff.

    Reply

  7. Bad Girl Says:

    Points taken. Flash presentations just don’t interest me. It makes me leave the site right away especially those that load long.

    Reply

  8. Mayer Says:

    I want some sites that are fast loading. I don’t wanna consume much bandwidth with sites that are too graphic-loaded.

    Reply

  9. Far Com Says:

    Enable site registration.
    This should be highly prominent if registration is required to use the site.

    Some surfers do not care about this. Makes them think you’re selling their email address.

    Reply

  10. Parker Says:

    Find out what users’ high-priority tasks are and provide good (above the fold) visibility for these high-priority tasks.

    I second to this. Great inputs here. Keep it up.

    Reply

  11. Jonathan Says:

    Homepage should be simple and userfriendly. Plain and simple.

    Reply

  12. Destiny Says:

    Your post is very helpful. I admire those websites that are clean, user-friendly and not cluttered. This should be applied when designing sites.

    Reply

  13. MRT Says:

    For the enable site registration, I don’t think that will interest surfers unless it is really needed for the site.

    Reply

  14. Shaina Says:

    Do not use pop-up windows. In some cases, this is necesary depends on the site structure.

    Reply

  15. Josh Zehtabchi Says:

    This was a very awesome article. As a web designer, I can totally agree with many statements made! I have bookmarked this site and plan on doing much more reading.

    And yes, Flash is a horrible, out dated resource IMO (for web design, atleast).
    .-= Josh Zehtabchi´s last blog ..About V2interactive: =-.

    Reply

  16. Xcite Says:

    The webpage should be well designed in terms of navigation and the total structure.

    Reply

  17. Emmanuel Says:

    Flash should be used in work presentation at office as substitute to powerpoint. That’s it.

    Reply

  18. Mrs. Beasley Says:

    Very helpful and professional article, I wish though you had something to say about whitespace versus clutter. My designer insists my website isn’t too cluttered while I think it could use way more whitespace, but I don’t know really what’s best. If anyone would like to look at the site at http://www.mrsbeasleys.com (think you can just click on my name) and give me their opinion I’d love to hear it. So on a percentage scale of whitespace where we probably have at most 10% whitespace on the homepage now (not counting the right and left bleed margins), do you think that’s okay or not enough and if so what percent of whitespace should one aim for?

    Reply

  19. Net-Traffic-Pro.com Says:

    Content. Thank you for adding that valuable content to the net. All of the comments show there are a lot of good marketers out there.

    Search engine spiders read and analyze content first. They don’t much care for Flash or images.

    Also, with original and valuable content, search engine users benefit as well by finding the information they are searching for.
    .-= Net-Traffic-Pro.com´s last blog ..Dec 27, Website Traffic And Income Generation For The (Small) Small Business =-.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. An Introduction to Whitespace | Adventory Blog - 18. Aug, 2009

    [...] I recently received the following comment on this post. [...]

Leave a Reply