The Home Page
The home page is different from all other Web site pages. A well-constructed home page will project a good first impression to all who visit the site. It is important to ensure that the home page has all of the features expected of a home page and looks like a home page to users. A home page should clearly communicate the site's purpose, and show all major options available on the website. Generally, the majority of the home page should be visible ’above the fold,’ and should contain a limited amount of prose text. Designers should provide easy access to the home page from every page in the site.
Enable Access to the Home Page
Enable users to access the home page from any other page on the website. Many users return to the home page to begin a new task or to start a task over again. Create an easy and obvious way for users to quickly return to the home page of the website from any point in the site. Many sites place the organization’s logo on the top of every page and link it to the home page. While many users expect that a logo will be clickable, many other users will not realize that it is a link to the home page. Therefore, include a link labeled ‘Home’ near the top of the page to help those users.
Show All Major Options on the Home Page
Present all major options on the home page. Users should not be required to click down to the second or third level to discover the full breadth of options on a website. Be selective about what is placed on the home page, and make sure the options and links presented there are the most important ones on the site.
Create a Positive First Impression of Your Site
Treat your home page as the key to conveying the quality of your site. In terms of conveying quality, the home page is probably the most important page on a website. One study found that when asked to find high quality websites, about half of the time participants looked only at the home page. You will not get a second chance to make a good first impression on a user.
Communicate the Website’s Value and Purpose
Clearly and prominently communicate the purpose and value of the website on the home page. Most people browsing or searching the Web will spend very little time on each site. Emphasize what the site offers that is of value to users, and how the site differs from key competitors. Many users waste time because they misunderstand the purpose of a website. In one study, most users expected that a site would show the results of research projects, not merely descriptions of project methodology. In some cases the purpose of a website is easily inferred. In other cases, it may need to be explicitly stated through the use of brief text or a tagline. Do not expect users to read a lot of text or to click into the Site to determine a Site’s purpose. Indicating what the Site offers that is of value to users, and how the Site differs from key competitors is important because most people will spend little time on each Site.
Limit Prose Text on the Home Page
Limit the amount of prose text on the home page. The first action of most users is to scan the home page for link titles and major headings. Requiring users to read large amounts of prose text can slow them considerably, or they may avoid reading it altogether.
Ensure the home page Looks like a Home Page
Ensure that the home page has the necessary characteristics to be easily perceived as a home page. It is important that pages ’lower’ in a site are not confused with the home page. Users have come to expect that certain actions are possible from the home page. These actions include, among others, finding important links, accessing a site map or index, and conducting a search.
Limit home page Length
Limit the home page to one screenful of information, if at all possible. Any element on the home page that must immediately attract the attention of users should be placed ’above the fold.’ Information that cannot be seen in the first screenful may be missed altogether—this can negatively impact the effectiveness of the website. If users conclude that what they see on the visible portion of the page is not of interest, they may not bother scrolling to see the rest of the page. Some users take a long time to scroll down ’below the fold,’ indicating a reluctance to move from the first screenful to subsequent information. Older users and novices are more likely to miss information that is placed below the fold.
Announce Changes to a Website
Announce major changes to a website on the home page—do not surprise users. Introducing users to a redesigned website can require some preparation of expectations. Users may not know what to do when they are suddenly confronted with a new look or navigation structure. Therefore, you should communicate any planned changes to users ahead of time. Following completion of changes, tell users exactly what has changed and when the changes were made. Assure users that all previously available information will continue to be on the site. It may also be helpful to users if you inform them of site changes at other relevant places on the website. For example, if shipping policies have changed, a notification of such on the order page should be provided.
Attend to Home Page Panel Width
Ensure that home page panels are of a width that will cause them to be recognized as panels. The width of panels seems to be critical for helping users understand the overall layout of a website. In one study, users rarely selected the information in the left panel because they did not understand that it was intended to be a left panel. In a subsequent study, the panel was made narrower, which was more consistent with other left panels experienced by users. The newly designed left panel was used more.
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