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PracticeByte - Common Mistakes: Home Page Design

Issue: What pitfalls should companies avoid on their Web, Intranet or portal home pages? 
The home page of a Web site, Intranet or portal is the most important page. It should tell site visitors, what they can do precisely deeper in the site or at least inform them, what they may be able to expect. However, in most cases, the home page is just a compromise to satisfy internal politics and neglecting site visitors' needs. To set up an effective homepage that matches corporate objectives and user's expectations the following pitfalls should be avoided:
Home Page Design Mistake #1 - Too much information instead of links
Many home pages provide detailed information such as complete news, company description, etc. or are overloaded with images. Site visitors do not want to read information on the home page nor guessing what might be hidden behind an image. They want to find a link to start navigating to the information, which they came for. Providing detailed information on the home page limits the space available for valuable links.
Further, it increases the risk that site visitors do not even start navigating the site, as they do not find their specific entry point to start their specific action or scenario. There are two types of pages, which apply to any Web applications such as Web sites, Intranets and portals. Those are navigation pages and destination pages. Navigation pages allow site visitors discovering the options to navigate.
Destination pages provide the information, which site visitors are looking for. The home page is the ultimate navigation page. It needs to provide as much as possible links to the various Web sections. The Web strategy determines the links from the homepage to the site sections. There are two major linking approaches:
Individual link, which relates to one link for a complete Web section. 
Category links, which is one link to a complete Web section, followed by links to further detail this section (sub-category links).  
Provide category links for strategic Web sections that you want your target audience to browse and navigate to (for example for IT companies provide category and sub-category links to product and service overviews, customer engagements, download section). Use individual links for Web sections that target secondary audiences (for example company profile or recruitment.
Home Page Design Mistake #2 - Animations / Large Banners
Even though that usability research clearly shows that animations such as rotating banners, animated text, etc. distracts site visitors, it is still used on many business sites. In most cases, marketing managers request Web designer to implement animations although designers know that animations are more destructive than increasing site effectiveness. Web designers need to clearly explain the differences between offline and online media. In offline marketing, publicity needs to attract the attention of prospects. For example, if you are walking on a street, advertising such as ad posters must attract your attention, as you are not walking down a street to discover ads. In online media, site visitors already decided to go to a Web site with a specific goal in mind (e.g. finding contact, product or support information, etc.). Hence, the Web site does not need to attract the visitor's attention. There are successful concepts to replace animations such as the so-called hooks. Hooks are static images or graphics with a minimum of text to tell site visitors what they can expect by clicking on them. Hooks are not limited to the home page but can be used on all navigation pages. Effective hooks target the page audience (best practice sites:, Place hooks on the homepage that target the prime Web audience, on subsequent navigation pages, refine hooks accordingly to the page audience.
Home Page Design Mistake #3 - Not telling what site users can do on the site
Not telling what site users can do on the site: Site visitors do not go unintentionally to a Web site. They have a specific action in mind such as finding pricing information, applying for a job, downloading the annual report, etc. Using action verbs such as download, apply, compare, discover, etc. facilitates site visitors to find immediately the link to start their scenario. Action verbs define further links (for example a link named "product" can be misleading as it does not tell what kind of "actions" will be available such as downloading, comparing, ordering, test driving, etc.). Complementing links with action verbs helps to reduce site visitor frustration and to increase site effectiveness.
Home Page Design Mistake #4 - Missing the home page basics
There are a few usability practices, which Web designer should implement on the home page such as:
1) Home page length less than two screens at a resolution of 800x600, best would be to fit within one screen. Place strategic links on the first screen (upper half of the home page, if the homepage exceeds one screen), as site visitors generally do not scroll on navigation pages and hence would miss the important links.
2) Links to site support tools such as site map or site search. About 30 percent of site visitors prefer finding their information using site search. Therefore it is crucial that Web sites provide search functionality (e.g. the search box) directly from the home page. 
3) Link to privacy policy from the text navigation at the bottom and link to the company profile (navigation bar and text navigation bar). 
4) Company logo available in the upper left corner.  However, it should not provide an active link on the homepage but from any other pages within the site. Navigation consistency with the rest of the site. Ensure that the navigation on the home page is consistent with the rest of the site to avoid user confusion.
Written by: Nicolas Bürki (founder of Effbis provides usability review, competitive usabiliy Web benchmark and Intranet, B2E Portal Usability Review