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“My Homepage is Better than Your Homepage..”

Homepages are important.  We established that in my previous blog.  But, now that we know why and how to make them better (Homepage Design and Navigation), let’s look at a few examples of good and bad design and how all pages, even the best, leave room for improvement.  Some of it is based on personal preferences of the client or their customers and some is based on basic design principles.

“How can design teams be confident their content pages are understandable to users? How does a team ensure they’ve designed content pages that communicate the essential information effectively?” This is a question Christine Perfetti asks in her article entitled:  5-Second Tests: Measuring Your Site’s Content Pages.  I’ve used that “5-Second Test” to review various website homepages and see what works and what doesn’t.

The first site I looked at is Shutterfly.com.

When you enter this site you know this is a company that offers photo printing products such as cards, calendars, photo books, etc.  They provide a good example of their product variety with direct access to specific product categories.  The main goals of this website are to get viewers to sign-up for a membership and to order their products.  Membership information is predominantly displayed with straight forward form entry sections.  Most users do not like entering a site, only to find that signing up for a membership is required to have access to a company’s products. Shutterfly.com, however, anticipates this and provides a brief overview of the benefits of signing up, located within the form section of the page.  This strategy, along with the images included in the design of the homepage, help entice the user to take action and sign-up for a membership.  This website’s homepage is also successful because it is routinely updated with new product photos and features throughout the year to keep the content fresh and interesting and make users want to return to their site.  The only recommended revisions in the home page would be to replace one of the product images with a slideshow of product examples specific to current consumer trends.

Another site I looked at was Flickr.com.

This is a great example to compare the previous site to, because of the obvious difference in design style.  While Shutterfly.com had a clean and organized design, Flickr.com takes an even simpler approach.  They use the white space to focus on a few key areas without any other content.  Although this is a successful mainstream website, I don’t feel like the homepage emphasizes the benefit to users of creating an account in the same way Shutterfly.com does, so my suggestion would be to add a small section giving incentives or benefits that would make a viewer take action and create an account on their first visit to the site.

Unsuccessful Homepages

With the creation of web-authoring software and the growing number of webisodes offering instruction to amateurs on how to build a website, chances are you will come across sites that defy all design and navigation guidelines, if you haven’t already.  It didn’t take long to find examples of website homepages that needed help in both those areas.  Take a look at Photography-on-the-Net.com and InspirationalImages.com and think about what changes you would make to the design and navigation features on those sites.

Let’s start with the first one – Photography-on-the-Net.com

When first viewing the homepage you know it’s about photography, but you aren’t sure to what extent.  Is it an educational site?  Is it a resource for other photographers, or maybe a source for images created by one or a community of photographers?  One thing the site does correctly is include a tagline that explains the purpose and content of the site – but it doesn’t stand out on the page and is only noticed after viewing all the information in bolder typefaces.   I would apply design to that information that draws the viewer’s eye immediately so they know where they are and why they might want to stay on the site and look around.  I would also add images to the page that give an instant visual cue as to what the viewer can access from this site (i.e. photo galleries, forums, industry info, etc.)

Now let’s look at the second site –InspirationalImages.com

You can tell fairly quickly that this is a gallery for an independent photographer.  It has images displayed on the page and a centrally placed content area that tells you about the website and it’s purpose.  Underneath that content area are three links to other pages in the website, but there is no design coding that lets the user know these are links, so your eye wanders around the page, with no navigation cues.  The best navigation on this homepage is positioned below the fold.  I didn’t even realize it was there at first.  The user must scroll down to find it and as you scroll down even further, you find an email subscription option, search bar, articles and much more information most viewers will probably never see because it wasn’t visible in the browser window when entering the site.  This homepage needs to include all important links, forms and tools above the fold, where it can be seen immediately by those coming to the website.

All these examples, give you an idea of the importance of good homepage design and how it affects the success and usability of a website.  When working with clients, web designers need to stress the importance of quality vs. quantity when it comes to homepage content, while ensuring that the homepage contains enough information to attract the attention of those who come to the site.  No company wants to invest time and money into promoting a website that is ineffective.  Getting users to your website is only half the battle – keeping them engaged once they arrive on your site is the ultimate goal.

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