Ten tips for homepage usability

21 April 2009
Ben Logan

Author: Ben Logan

Passionate about improving services and experiences for the people that use them.

In this article we look at ten tips aimed at improving the usability of your homepage. Your homepage gives an impression to end users about how professional your organisation is. Users may arrive at your site at a landing page or an article deep within your site and they are highly likely to navigate back to the homepage in their journey.

1. Is it clear what you do and what your site offers?

This should be immediately apparent to the end user, and if you have one, your tagline should help summarise in one sentence the purpose of the site and what you can do on there.In the example below from the ASOS site, the strapline immediate indicates what the business does “The Online Fashion Store”.

ASOS strapline example

usability-homepage-strapline2. Does the title bar in your web browser describe your site?

You should aim to get a title bar working for your site by having targeted keywords relevant to your business. Try and avoid words such as “the” and “we” instead focus on a description of your site.

Spotless Interactive title bar example

usability-homepage-title

3. Prioritise your homepage and user tasks

A well considered homepage will prioritise content to meet the end users needs.You should identify what tasks are key to the end users, and ensure that they have access to these as a starting point.

4. Avoid unnecessary distractions

You should avoid music, animation or video playing without any input or control from the user. There is nothing more annoying than a music video or track playing as soon as you visit a homepage. Provide options for the multi-media but allow the user to control the playback and volume. Consider people who work in an open plan office environment, or someone who might be on the phone and needs to pause moving content.

Universal music – auto playing video example

usability-homepage-video

 

5. Include a search box

Users have different surfing habits and some users prefer to head straight for a search box to find content. This is particularly relevant if your site contains a lot of products and is relatively large. You should test your search to see the relevance of results that are returned. Consumers lose confidence if the search facility does not bring back relevant results. Another common mistake is to make the search box very small so that only one word at a time can be typed in. Users generally like big search boxes, and this is highlighted in the examples below:

Amazon search box example

usability-homepage-search1

Google search box example

usability-homepage-search2

 

6. Download speeds

With fast broad band penetration in the UK at an all time high, designers and developers who naturally gravitate towards the latest technology often forget that there are people who simply don’t upgrade their PC every year. There are plenty of people in the UK still on low bandwidth connections and also we need to consider mobile users who don’t necessarily have the luxury of super fast data connections.Keep flash files low if you are using interactive advertising areas on your site, and if you are using JavaScript libraries such as JQuery, then try and optimise the JavaScript by removing items you do not intend to use.

7. Give the user the option to call you

Displaying a relevant telephone number throughout the site and in particular the ordering process can boost consumer confidence incase anything goes wrong with the order. Some users need to speak to someone in the event of an order not completing, especially if they have not had an email order confirmation or an onscreen confirmation.

Example of Spotless Interactive phone number in right hand corner

usability-homepage-telephone

 

8. Your homepage should be unique

Your whole site should have functional and design consistency, but your homepage should stand out from other pages. The visitor should know immediately that they are on the homepage and not a page at a lower level.

9. Make your graphics relevant

Imagery can help sell your brand or product but typically when the images themselves are relevant to the subject matter. Are the graphics supporting features on your homepage relevant or are they mainly decorative with no meaning to support the content?

Example of BBC homepage graphics supporting a story

usability-homepage-image

10. Provide a site map

Whilst some user groups head straight for the search box, other user groups prefer to use a site map to give them a snapshot of the site structure and to help them drill down into relevant content areas. This should be available as a link in the header of your site.

Example of Site map link in header

usability-homepage-site-map

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