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Negative First Impression

In terms of conveying brand quality, professionalism, and ease of use, the homepage is the single most important page on a Web site. Studies have shown that when asked to find high-quality Web sites, about 50% of the time, participants only looked at the homepage and moved on.

Treating your homepage as the key to conveying the quality of your site is like sending your best, most-experienced sales person to a meeting with your biggest client. If your Web site is acting as a 24/7 online sales representative, you wouldn’t want a less-experienced sales person making the first impression to your company’s potential biggest client in the middle of the night. Likewise, you shouldn’t hope and pray that a user lands on your well-polished portfolio, rather than your messy homepage.

Instead, include elements of the best features of the site right on the homepage. Because when appealing to today’s Web user, you will rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Most Important Options are Hard to Find

Users should not be required to click down to the second or third level to discover the full breadth of options on a Web site. Go a little bit farther than simply displaying a link to “Products” or “Services.” Use those labels as headlines, then list your product options and/or service options below with links to all of them. Particularly on the homepage, most major choices should be visible with no, or a minimum of, scrolling.

Be selective about what is placed on the homepage, and make sure the options and links presented there are the most important ones on the site. Keep in mind that anything displayed on the homepage is likely to be some of the most highly trafficked pages on the site. Put important, clickable items in the same locations, and closer to the top of the page, where their location can be better estimated.

Users will try to anticipate where items will appear on their screen. They will start ’searching’ a page before the layout appears on their screen. When screen items remain constant, users learn their location on a page, and use this knowledge to improve task performance. Experienced users will begin moving their mouse to the area of the target before the eye detects the item. Users can anticipate the location of items near the top much better than those farther down the page.

Put the most important items at the top left, top center, or left side of the Web page to facilitate users’ finding the information. On average, users scan Web pages in an “F-like” pattern, scanning the top of the page in this order: 1) The top left corner to the top right corner, 2) Then middle left to middle center, 3) Then bottom left.

Too Long

Limit the homepage to one screenful of information, if at all possible. If information must fall below the fold, keep the rest of the page within one “swipe” of scrolling for the user to travel from the top of the page to bottom.

Any element on the homepage 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 Web site if this information is crucial to generating leads or sales. 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, particularly elderly and novices, will take a long time to scroll down ’below the fold,’ indicating a reluctance to move from the first screenful to subsequent information, thus more likely to miss information that is placed below the fold.

Horizontal Page Scrolling

Horizontal page scrolling occurs when a user must scroll horizontally on their browser window in order to view the entire homepage. Horizontal navigation menus force the user to move their mouse from left to right to get from the homepage to subsequent pages. Both instances can be very frustrating experiences for any Web user.

Horizontal page scrolling is a slow and tedious way to view an entire screen. To eliminate the need for users to scroll horizontally, use an appropriate page width for your layout . Common page layouts including fluid and left- justified may require some users to scroll horizontally if their monitor resolution or size is smaller than that used by designers. Keep the absolute width of your page under 1024 pixels and you’ll be safe from frustrating most Web users.

Horizontal Sub-Navigation Menus

While most user frustration can come from difficulty in their eyes finding what their looking for, they may also find difficulties in how their hand and mouse interacts with what their eye sees.

When designing your site, it’s important to consider ergonomics, that is, how equipment and devices (in this case, a computer mouse) work with the human body. As you will see in this little experiment, horizontal navigation menus are actually ergonomically difficult for almost any user to execute with ease. Here’s the experiment:

Lift your hand about six inches above your mouse, palm facing the floor. Now move your hand towards your screen and away from your screen in a straight line, back and forth. Notice how the hinge of your elbow extends and retracts as your arm slides forward and backward in a near perfect straight line. Now bring your hand back to 6 inches above your mouse. This time, move your hand back and forth horizontally, from the left to the right, then right to left. Notice how your elbow stays in place and your should hinge ROTATES the rest of your arm around from left to right. Your forearm acts as a radius as your arm traces the edge of a circle, not a straight horizontal line.

As users scan the pointer of their mouse horizontally across a page, they rarely make a straight line. Go ahead, try to make a perfect horizontal line across your entire screen with ease. Unless you slow down or make a point to stay straight, it’s not so easy is it? Your pointer will almost always dip lower at the edges of the screen and you will notice the pointer making the top arc of a circle.

Users will not take the time to painstakingly think about how their arm interacts with a mouse and why your website is frustrating to use. Keep your lists of links VERTICAL in your sub-navigation menus in all cases. It is much less frustrating to have to move a mouse up and down a screen than it is to move a mouse left and right.

You’ve Restricted Access to the Homepage

Users will often want to return to the homepage to begin a new task or to start a task over again. Creating an easy and obvious way for users to quickly return to the homepage of the Web site from any point in the site can be crucial to increasing Web usability and decreasing frustration with your site and brand.

Users should always be able to access the homepage from any other page on the Web site.

Most Web sites place the company name or logo on the top left or top center of every page of the site. While many users expect that a logo will be clickable, as this has quickly become somewhat standard among new Web sites, many other users will not realize that it is a link to the homepage. With that in mind, it’s not a terrible idea to include a small link labeled ‘Home’ near the top of the page to help those users. Even better, add a small icon that resembles a house for even greater recognition.

Other places to add a link to the Homepage include:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Secondary Header Navigation
  • Footer Navigation

Written by: Daniel Griffith on November 7, 2011

Daniel is an Author, Designer, and Entrepreneur. With over 10 years of industry experience, Daniel utilizes his unique blend of mathematics and poetry, engineering and creative thinking to solve both technical and business challenges.

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