Thinking Critically About Home Pages

Web site home pages are usually the main entry point for site visitors and are thus key in achieving site objectives. At the same time, home pages are some of the most misunderstood spots on the web.

How Not to Run Your Home Page

Lazy Home Pages

The lazy home page is a phenomenon at places like university departments, government offices, and businesses that build their sites themselves just to say they are online.

You can tell a lazy home page by its content. It starts off with, "Welcome to the XYZ home page! We're glad you made it!" Then slightly lower on the page, but quite prominent, it continues, "Our MISSION STATEMENT is blah de schma de blah…" It may even continue with the purpose and last year's objectives.

This approach makes a negative experience because it shows that the organization has not even tried to figure out what its audience desires to find on the web site. It does not speak in the language of its audience, and it focuses too much on itself and not enough on its visitors.

Overwrought Home Pages

Overwrought home pages litter the web. The logic goes like this. Because home pages usually get the most traffic, every piece of content on the site that is important should be on the home page. At least, that's how it seems at first. It is not the case.

The problem with this is that visitors end up being overwhelmed by the wide variety of elements on the page. And, to make it worse, many of these elements seem unconnected to one another.

This kind of approach ends up devaluing all the content while making it harder on the site visitors. The site appears unprofessional, and the first opportunity to create a great impression on the visitor has been wasted.

Getting the Home Page Right

What Should Be on the Home Page

In his book, Site-Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability, Luke Wroblewski catagorizes home page elements in three ways.

  • Introduction. This includes a logo, color scheme, footer, an introductory paragraph, and the like. This is how the site positions itself to its audience.
  • Entrance. This includes main site navigation and ways to navigate to frequently accessed site features. This is how the site communicates what visitors can find and do here.
  • Announcement. This includes product updates, important news that affects site visitors, upcoming events, and featured services the site offers.

If an element of your home page does not fit into one of these categories, it probably should not be on the home page.

Be Selective on Behalf of Your Users

Find out what gets used the most on your site. Maybe it is your events calendar. Bring that to the front.

Is something buried in the site that your visitors want to get at or would use if they knew about? If you are a bank, maybe its a mortgage calculator buried three levels deep. Bring that to the front.

Smart Design

Once you know what should be on the home page, you need to design the page in a way that makes it easy for the site visitors to find what they need.

Doing this means organizing the visual information using color, contrast, grouping, weight, type, and more. Ultimately, the most important pieces of information should step forward, and the whole page should be visually organized and easily scannable.

Rather than launch into a full treatise on visual design and information design, I'll direct your attention to other resources that show or explain how to design well.

Who's Doing it Well

  • Apple Computer, Inc. has a great home page. Its introduction, entrance, and announcement elements are well placed and well designed.
  • Google has a phenomenal home page not just because they are focused on delivering great search results, but because they have decided what NOT to put on the home page. They do not put all of their products on the home page. They do not put the latest headlines from their news section.

Learn More About Visual and Information Design