Homepage advice from the experts
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed (2002) by Jakob Nielson & Marie Tahir takes a look at the websites of a variety of companies and analyses what’s good about their homepages and what can be improved. These case studies serve as a good reminder as to what you must do to have an effective homepage.
The authors begin the book describing a homepage as “your company’s face to the world”. Your homepage will likely be the most viewed page on your site, and as such, you’ll want to make a good first impression.
Use clear titles
Users should be able to tell from a short glance at your homepage what your unit does and what can be done on your site. Navigation titles and summaries should not only be clear to the reader, but succinct.
Remember, the homepage is a gateway to the rest of your site–time spent on it is minimal. Users may choose to leave your site if the homepage looks hard to navigate and does not relate to the top tasks they want to perform on your site.
Know your audience
Knowing what users’ top tasks on your website are means knowing who your top audiences are. By having a firm grasp of this information, you should structure your homepage by placing highest priority tasks at the top.
As such, Nielson and Tahir remind readers that homepages are not a good place for a welcome message. They can take up prime space in a site that should be reserved for high priority links.
Clarify abbreviations and links
The authors also reiterate important writing for the web guidelines that apply to all pages in a site, but are especially important on a homepage.
One of these is to avoid using uncommon abbreviations in links and spell them out instead. Using unfamiliar abbreviations will make your homepage harder to navigate.
In the same vein, homepage links are expected to link further into your site, so if you link to external sites or formats (e.g. PDFs), this should be specified in the link text.
Writing for the Web
UWP cover many of these points in our Writing for the Web course. If you’d like to learn our guidelines or have a refresher on them, have a look at our presentation handout or come along to our next training session.
To find out more about the book, visit the publisher’s website.