Blog - Archive for June, 2008


Are Home Pages Relevant?

June 30th, 2008
by Aaron Fries


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These days the chances are very high that users will not first experience your site on your home page. Any page that a search crawler can find is up for grabs. It’s a bit like having a supermarket with no walls. A shopper can walk in at any aisle to pick up the milk or eggs then walk right back out without ever bothering with the rest of your store. So what’s the point of having a front door?

Bleeding edge design gurus and product managers have started making the argument that home pages are now much less relevant in relation to the rest of your site design. Because you can’t control the point of entry, all landing pages need to serve the basic functions of a home page. They contend that the days of the home page being the most valuable real estate in the world are fading fast.

Traditionally a home page has 3 primary functions.

  1. Identify to the user who you are
  2. Explain what content the site offers
  3. Point users in the right direction to get what they want

Can other pages achieve this? Sure. Does that fact make home pages irrelevant? No. A home page does one thing that other pages can’t do: it lets users compare the possibilities on your site in a way that is difficult to replicate on specific content pages. A home page is your user’s way of “zooming out” to get a 30,000 ft view of what’s on your site. Not having this capability means users would be at the mercy of your site’s search engine; if the results don’t deliver, the user is gone because there’s no alternative.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen has found through his research that people still look for and expect a home page.

“A website is like a house in which every window is also a door: People can follow links from search engines and other websites that reach deep inside your site. However, one of the first things these users do after arriving at a new site is go to the homepage.”

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Google’s not perfect. Depending on site structure, users can end up close, but not exactly where they want to be. If you’ve done a good job representing who you are and what the site offers on any given page, users will be encouraged to engage your site. The user’s thought process should go, “Ok, this isn’t exactly right, but this site is promising. I’ll browse a bit. What else is here?”

Most major online brands such as Amazon and eBay still have pages that serve these functions, even if they might not call them home pages anymore. Ultimately, you can’t afford to neglect your home page because most users expect something that lets them step back and get oriented.

Rather than thinking of home pages as being less relevant, we suggest giving the home page and landing pages equal treatment when planning a site. As you go through the process of evaluating your users’ experience on your site, here are few things to keep in mind:

  • Every page needs to deliver a strong first impression about who you are and what’s on the site.
  • Make sure each page identifies you and what value you are offering.
  • Don’t assume that a logo and a simple navigation bar with drop-downs is enough.
  • Don’t think of your home page as an anchor or hub.
  • Think of home pages as a utility for the user to zoom out and see everything you’re offering summarized and compared.

This will help make sure that no matter the entry point, you are delivering a consistent unified experience.

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