|Homepages: The Achilles heel of websites|
October 31, 2001
- 43% of payment processes fall through because of poor website usability (Survey Creativegood).
At eShopability, we attach a great deal of importance the quality of homepages, since this has such an important influence on customers' behavior (stay on the site or leave).
The first impression
The first impression a visitor gets when he discovers a site comes from the quality of its homepage.
However, when you are building a homepage, it's also important to consider that many users looking at the page will already be familiar with the site, and will have different requirements to first-time visitors. They will be looking for rapidity, efficiency and personalization, if this is appropriate.
General harmony and coherence
First of all, the homepage must show general harmony as well as real coherence.
Added to this, there should be a "human touch", in other words a warm welcome and a friendly tone confirming the user's first impression. The Internet is a cold medium and it is always worth while making it more personal.
For example, you may want to put one or two photos of smiling people on the page, which is not very difficult technically.
Clarity is another important element on a homepage. A site should clearly show its identity via the graphic quality of its logo.
Once these basic elements are established, you can concentrate on the key question: how can I make my homepage efficient at selling the products on the site.
Neutralizing banner ads
Some sites have a business model that requires them to display a banner ad on their homepage. If this is the case, we recommend that you try and isolate the ad visually so it does not attract the user's eye immediately (tough luck for the advertisers!)
Good quality structure
A well-constructed homepage will draw the user's attention to the various features on it, in the order that the site considers to be the most profitable, the first point to bear in mind being that web pages are constructed in a completely different way to printed pages.
Another factor that influences the quality of the structure of the homepage (and also on all the other pages on the site) is whether the site uses frames, or has divided the screen display into different sections. We do recommend doing this: the top 50 sites in the world do not use frames. In addition, frames slow down the time it takes to download the page.
Site Map - Contact
Among the key elements that should appear on a website, we recommend including a site map (for more complex sites), a clearly displayed phone number and the main e-mail addresses.
Being able to find all the main categories on the homepage has an impact on the efficiency of the site. Naturally, they should be clearly displayed; however, this is not always the case
It is also helpful if the main categories can be accessed via a text link. This ensures that visitors who are in a hurry or only have a slow connection will be able to click on the category they are interested in without having to wait for all the graphic navigational elements to be downloaded.
If you want a user to enjoy visiting your site it is vital to make that you don't waste his time.
Complex sites often have a search feature to help visitors find products. This feature should, where possible, be found on the homepage, the idea being, as always, to avoid wasting the user's time.
Depending on your target customers and the orientation of your site, personalization elements such as "My site" should also be found directly on the home page.
Intermediate or Splash Pages
These pages often only serve to present the logo (animated or not) in the middle of the page and allow the visitor to pick the language they want. All they really achieve is to add an extra screen that users have got to go through to get to the main homepage, which most users perceive as being a nuisance and a waste of time.
A homepage should be efficient whatever screen resolution is used: not just 1024x768 or 800x600 pixels (the most commonly used), but also 640x480 pixels or lower (increasingly common to the arrival of PDA's and web TV devices).
You will notice, if you do a resolution test, that many web pages are totally impossible to use with certain screen resolutions.
Using space efficiently
Another important point to consider is how the space on your homepage is managed, especially the top part of the page. Clearly, it's not very smart to use 25% of the surface area or more just for the logo, the banner ad and general marketing messages; yet, this happens much more often that you'd expect ...
Unfortunately, we have noticed that more and more sites make users scroll two or even three times just to be able to view all the elements on the homepage.
We do not recommend this. When a user arrives on a homepage, he should be able to see practically all the information it contains at first glance.
Who? What? How?
When a user scans a homepage, 3 key points should be immediately obvious: Which site am I on? What can I do on this site? How can I access the things I'm interested in?
Lighten up the homepage
If you want users to be able to visualize all the elements on your homepage quickly, this also means that the page should not be too big. Yet, many sites are still making the mistake of constructing 200 or 300 KB homepages. This trend has been made worse by the increased use of Flash files, which don't usually add any extra value to a site, although they do increase the download time!
As well as these general points, there are many other factors that should also be taken into consideration when you are building your homepage, including the site's specific field, its positioning (Sales Machine, Customer Centric, Site Focus, etc), its target customers, the image it wants to project, etc.
Clearly, building a successful homepage requires real in-depth knowledge and expertise.