The first step in recovery is admitting that the Home Page is beyond your control
To design your website home page takes a lot of time and planning. Think about all the things your home page has to accommodate.
- Site identity and mission. Right off the bat, the home page has to tell you what site this is and what's it for and if possible, why I should be here and not at some other site.
- Site hierarchy. The home page has to give an overview of what the site has to offer, both content ("What can I find here?") and features ("What can I do here?") and how it's all organised. This is usually handled by the persistent navigation.
- Search. Most sites need to have a prominently displayed search box on the home page.
Teases. Like the cover of a magazine, the home page needs to entice you with hints of the “good stuff” inside. Content promos spotlight the newest, best, or most popular pieces of content, like top stories and hot deals. Feature promos invite you to explore additional sections of the site or try out features like personalisation and email newsletters.
Timely content. If the site’s success depends on customers coming back often, the home page probably needs to have some content that gets updated frequently. And even a site that doesn’t need regular visitors needs some signs of life, even if it’s only a link to a recent press release to signal your customers that it’s not moribund.
Deals. Home page space needs to be allocated for whatever advertising, cross promotion and co-branding deals have been made.
Shortcuts. The most frequently requested pieces of content (software updates for instance) may deserve their own links on the home page so people don’t have to hunt for them.
Registration. If the site users registration, the home page needs links for new users to register and for old users to sign in and a way to let me know that I’m signed in.
In addition to these concrete needs, the home page also has to meet a few abstract objectives:
- Show me what I am looking for. The home page needs to make it obvious how to get whatever I want assuming it’s somewhere on the site.
- ...and what I am not looking for. At the same time, the home page needs to expose me to some of the wonderful things the site has to offer that I might be interested in, even thought I am not looking for them.
- Show me where to start. There’s nothing worse than encountering a new home page and having no idea where to begin.
- Establish credibility and trust. For some visitors the home page will be the only chance your site gets to create a good impression.
And you have to do it blindfolded
As if that wasn’t daunting enough, it all has to be done under adverse conditions. Some of the usual constraints:
- Everybody wants a piece of it. Since it’s the one page almost every visitor sees and the only page some visitors will see, things that are prominently promoted on the home page tend to get significantly greater traffic.
- 'Too many cooks. Because the home page is so important, it’s the one page that everybody (even the CEO) has an opinion about.
- One size fits all. Unlike lower level pages, the home page has to appeal to everyone who visits the site, no matter how diverse their interests.
The First Casualty of War
Given everything the home page has to accomplish, if a site is at all complex even the best home page design can’t do it all. Designing a home page inevitably involves compromises. And as the compromises are worked out and the pressure mounts to squeeze in just one more thing, some things inevitably get lost in the shuffle.
The one thing you can’t afford to lose in the shuffle and the thing that most often gets lost is conveying the big picture.
As quickly and clearly as possible, the home page needs to answer the four questions I have in my head when I enter a new site for the first time.
You need to be able to answer these questions at a glance, correctly and unambiguously, with very little effort.
If it’s not clear to what you should be looking at in the first few seconds, interpreting everything else on the page is harder and the chances are greater that you will misinterpret something and get frustrated.
But is you do “get it” you will be much more likely to correctly interpret everything you see on the page, which greatly improves my your chances of having a satisfying, successful experience.
“A customers input is crucial when involving a web team"
When preparing this newsletter the main source of information and illustrations was Don't Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability second edition by Steve Krug ISBN 0-321-34475-8