|The perfect home page revisited|
Should 2005 advice be updated
The home page can make or break a site. I came across this little gem of a thread [webmasterworld.com] covering the 'perfect home page'. The advice from tedster struck a strong chord with me - but do you think cultural (and maybe technology and coding) changes since 2005 mean that the advice should be updated?
|1. Where am I? |
2. What can I do here?
I agree with those two points. Most people don't get that. Those two points need to be clear instantly.
What has changed since 2005?
1. CMS technology has become widely known and accepted since then. More people are using them now than ever. Altering the default settings and layouts of various CMS packages and themes is something to consider. So if you're going to have a perfect home page, then not accepting the default settings on templates or even SEO plug-ins is a must.
2. SEO considerations - How about the flow of link juice? Maybe this isn't different from 2005. But it might be a consideration. Are there pages you want users to see but not bots?
said in 2005:
|Jakob Nielsen is like so 1999 |
Havent heard that name for awhile. For an ecommerce site just learn from people who actually do $100+ million online and turn a profit.
Actually, I find Jakob Nielsen's advice still pretty apt in most cases. Bad usability turns off users and sends them scurrying. Just because I might put up with bad usability at a site or two where I can get stuff I can't get anywhere else, doesn't mean some other site couldn't suddenly come on the scene and lure me away with a much better user experience.
I think a lot of people miss the fact that Nielsen was on Google's advisoral board of directors for a number of years, and usability considerations permeate a lot of Google's development and decisions. If you understand good usability, you can understand what Google's up to a whole lot more, and design towards the types of elements that they desire to promote.
Just one single example of this would be the recent announcements coming out of Google that state that they will be incorporating the speed of page-load into ranking algorithms in 2010. Considering Nielsen's past harping upon how bloated and heavy people used to design webpages, I think we could even chalk this new ranking element up to him!
With the exception of guidance that online users are frequently irritated by banner ads, irritating animations (because they look like ads), and ads which obscure core webpage content and elements, usability advice is not all that frequently anti-monetary in nature.
I see a whole lot of instances where people are throwing usability out the window in favor of a quick buck. It might work well in the short term, but it's not a sustainable tactic. For instance, Dallas Morning News keeps launching these auto-expanding ads and semi-interstitial ads that obscure or abruptly push down page content. Those irritate the heck out of me, and I doubt I'm alone. I'm more likely to eventually bail out of ever visiting their site due to these irritating ad features. I even suspect they result in more clicks as people accidentally click upon the areas they're abruptly covering up.
No, usability is not divorced from profit optimizations, and to think so misses the big picture. Many of the landing page optimization shops and consultants offering advice on shopping cart optimizations are using good usability practices to help improve conversion rates. Their work is usability.
I think the definition of a "perfect home page " depends on the nature of the site.
For a relatively static site, Tedster's "Where am I?" "What can I do here?" works well.
For a news site, a busier layout with time-sensitive headlines, news stories, etc. is likely to make more sense.
Another consideration is how users get to the home page. Are they arriving from other pages within the site that they've reached through search? Or are they typing in a familiar URL, such as "www.example.com," and using it as a gateway to the site's content?
I agree, by the way, that too many sites use off-the-shelf Joomla, Drupal, etc. templates (or, in some cases, WordPress or Movable Type blog templates) that aren't appropriate for what their sites are trying to do. It may be easy to just take a stock multicolumn, multistory or multipost template and replace the Greek type with whatever you can find to fill the spaces, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
What to stress will depend.
SEO considerations - How about the flow of link juice? Maybe this isn't different from 2005.
Interesting how this isn't different than 2005, we just have a whole lot more options to confuse the process :P
Now that I actually have 5 sites up, I think I can finally make a contribution here. There are 2 major things I bring to my own design.
First - I spend ( and have spent) an incredible amount of time 'surfing'. I pay attention to how things effect me. My personal experience on various sites. I know what not to do, from this. It is an artists approach. science analyses things in a way that is guaranteed to eliminate personal opinion and bias from the process. An artist, however, does the exact opposite. They look at other peoples art, and pay attention to the experience. How different images and techniques effect them. Then they apply this personal knowledge to their own creations. There are a lot of valuable scientific studies related to web design and usability. They are not mutually exclusive to the artistic process.
Second - I have spent an even more incredible amount of time reading books. I also did my time as a paste up and layout artist in the days before the desk top computer. Web designers shouldn't forget that people have been working on page layout, and readability, and intelligibility, since Gutenberg. Look at books and magazines and newspapers. There is a lot of intelligence in many of their design decisions. An interesting thing I have noticed in books from the 1500's-1600's is that in many, on the bottom right of every page, is the first word that is going to appear on the next page. At the top left of every page, is the last word of the previous page. This is telling. Obviously, people then had a hard time keeping track of a sentence when they had to break off and turn the page to read the end of it :-) This was an early solution to one of the earliest problems of 'navigation'. I am not suggesting that this particular technique be revived for the web. I just want to remark on it. - You can find digital facsimiles of antique books at the World Digital Library [wdl.org], and universities and museum websites around the world.
My personal peeve - Giant newspaper style masthead at the top of every web page! (One of the few things modern web designers have taken from print media. But note how the masthead of a newspaper is only on the front page !) I really hate how every page on the web has the top third to one half of the page taken up by the same logo and motto and mission statement and blah blah blah. It is mentally and physically exhausting to have to scroll down every single page to get to the content of that page. Logos can be small and in a corner. My web design motto is " The Fun Starts at the Top of the Page! "
THe Best Advice I Can Give - Read the posts on webmasterworld.com at breakfast every morning for at least one year.
Is the home page important?
Not for my sites. Very few users come into my home page. They find the site via internal pages.
And I question the value of a "perfect" home page unless you are a multi-million $ enterprise.
Never forget the lesson you learned when you were sweating your guts out for an employer - forget the title just give me the money.Your site home page is a bit like "the title", your internal pages are your money.
Yes, I think that Mission Statements have mercifully fallen out of use in ecommerce sites.
Since 2005, we mostly ***removed*** stuff from our homepage.
On far too many sites, the only thing you want to do is "skip intro", but on far too many of those sites there's no such option.
On far too many sites, all you can do is sit and wait for an age, only for some awful flash video to play.
Can 2010 be the year that the splash page is abolished forever?
I doubt it.
Tedsters 2 rules are very good. I think #3 might be "How do I do it?".
Navigation, ads, and actual content are not easily discernible on most landing pages ( or internal ones).
Personally I see 3 typical 'schools' to web design.
2-"Pretty Picture Down"
3- "Rat Maze"
THe first is the style I learned here on webmasterworld from gurus like 'Pageoneresults'. SuzyUK, and many others. SEO and usability go hand in hand. "Content is king". The code frames and presents the 'content. Pproper page architecture applies h tags, the various lists, and any other html tag definitions that can be applied to the text to make it readable and usable by humans, and searchable by the various bots. Then the styling is applied. This styling is also done mainly in the service of navigability and usability. The web page is a device. It has a job to do.
The second is what I see most often. THe design is done by an artist. A photoshop expert. The "look and feel" of the site is preeminent in the design. Here 'branding is king'. The logo, header, or masthead gets all the attention. Navigability goes out the window. Content is squished and scattered in the service of the pretty picture that the designer wants the surfer to be affected by. This type of site is dictated by 2 kinds of clients. An individual who has very little personal experience surfing the web, and corporate department heads who have very little experience surfing the web. Each envisions their web site as an attractive piece of art that is supposed to impact the visitor with imagery and atmosphere and esthetics. I hate the "pretty picture down" school because my clients all want it and have no respect for solid code and content based architecture. When I try to explain why they should want it, their eyes glaze over. Appearance is all most people care about or understand.
The third is how Made For Adsense scraper sites are done. The landing page is a rat maze constructed to confuse and extort behavior out of the visitor. Either to get them to click on an ad, or even download malware, etc.
These 3 different schools don't have to be mutually exclusive. Everyone wants a fully functional landing page, a beautiful looking landing page, and a monetized landing page. I believe it is possible to design for usability and SEO, 'branding'and 'look and feel', and monetization and advertising, all at the same time. This is my idea of the 'perfect homepage'. But it must be done intelligently, respectfully, subtly, and deftly. Iit must be done following all of the good advice given out here on webmasterworld. I only wish my clients could read and understand the posts here, and stop asking me for flash intros, youtube videos and animated banners.
well, reading my own post above, I feel a little foolish. Given the reality of my situation, It sounds way to authoritative. Pompous even. Possibly hurtful. Let me say that of the sites I have up, only one is a paying client that I don't know socially. When all is said and done I have made about 6$ per hour of work. It's not really my place to say what's good or bad.
I've been feeling rather proud of myself of late. Because in fact the principles I learned and applied to what I think of as the 'code up' page, have born fruit. My paying clients site shows up in google serps for many of the searchable words on their site, in the first 3 pages. More show up if I ad the initials of the city they are in to the search query.
It's kind of funny. There are many very ethnic terms ( for America), and some of them are misspelled (in english). For one of these, my clients page shows up number one in the serps. In fact, out of the whole world, this site is the only result that actually contains that exact misspelled ethnic phrase :);):-) I made pdf's of these resuts and emailed them to my client. Then I went over and explained them. I didn't lie. I told them that I thought I should bring their spellings in line with what the google suggested or guessed terms were, since these were probably the most commonly used spelling that surfers were using.
On the other hand, I recoded a site for a friend. At the time they were trying to advertise and sell their product online. I did my 'code up' thing. Later they decided that they weren't going to bother selling their product this way. Instead, they wanted to use it as a showcase for their product, where people could see what it is that they do. I advised them to find a photoshop web designer, what I have come to think of as the 'pretty picture down' school. Every time I discuss doing a site with someone, they start out with a flash vision, etc. So I've gotten irritable about it. However the friend has a legitimate need for this kind of site. Designers who can do it have a unique and hard won skill. I hope I didn't insult anyone.
As for the 'rat maze' appellation - since I am currently doing web design for less than minimum wage where I live, and my own 2 sites aren't making me any money at all, well, all I can say is that I still have some resentments from the days not long ago, when I was simply a web surfer. But I don't need to insult anyone who can afford to buy themselves a new computer or even a new pair of shoes, off the money they earn on the web, when I still have to work a day job.
So, with this caveat, let me say that the previous post actually describes not what I know, but what I hope and pray is the perfect home page :S
|Is the home page important? |
For sites where a lot, maybe the majority of their traffic enters through internal pages, the home page might seem less important.
But the home page is more than a traffic entry point.
Maybe more importantly the home page is the foundation stone that the site link structure is built on.
Next to page content, that link structure may be the most important on site reason the internal pages draw more traffic than the home page itself.
And that link structure plays a very important role in the user experience on a site.
|For instance, Dallas Morning News keeps launching these auto-expanding ads and semi-interstitial ads that obscure or abruptly push down page content. Those irritate the heck out of me, and I doubt I'm alone. |
I think tedster's advice can be applied to any landing page, not just the home page. After all, if you arrive via a search engine, you want to know where you are and what you can do there. I don't file these stats in my head, but there is some brief period, like 2 seconds, when you have to get the visitor's attention, else they leave.
|Next to page content, that link structure may be the most important on site reason the internal pages draw more traffic than the home page itself. |
So what's a good link structure? I'm not being funny \, I'd really like to know.
In my observation, I've seen the basic link structure change during the years. Now, to me, a number of sites look like a hodgepodge, especially those that use a blog-type format. In many cases, a user is better off doing a search at a site than trying to find a topic via the link structure. Does it even matter?
|what's a good link structure |
Here are a couple threads started by Tedster on Information Architecture. (These threads are a few years old, but still a good model.)
Part 1: [webmasterworld.com...]
Part 2: [webmasterworld.com...]
Home page and "inside-little-home-pages-like" as for the internal pages. My opinion is:
On a rich content site most of the traffic goes into internal pages (the first page people see jumping form SE's) so every internal page must have features of homepage, mostly to tell people where they are, what to expect and how to browse around.
The homepage as an entry page is mostly visited by direct input (business cards, informal marketing, word of mouth and when people just hear about your site). Sure it matters how you organize it.
In my personal experience the home page is very visited by returning visitors to see recent content (just like RSS feed) and depending on the website, is a valuable piece when it comes to your content-publications = clients, who want to stay on the "cover" for a certain amount of time.
I think the most valuable thing on the sites is navigation and how you implement this on your pages. It all depends on your market. I have many returning visitors to some sites having RSS but some people just wont use the RSS. I bet the homepage look and behavior of the visitors depends from market to market and niche.