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Thursday, 20 May 2010

Is Your Homepage Too Big?

It's good to keep a homepage small for a variety of reasons.

1. Google likes fast-loading homepages. Say no more.

2. The homepage is just a shop window for the information on your website, so you shouldn't worry about there being too much actual content on it.

3. People don't like to scroll. I know it sounds bizarre, but it's true. So you should try to keep most, if not all, of your homepage content "above the fold". Above the fold is an old newspaper publishing expression – the theory goes that when I newspaper is on the rack, the most important elements (ie. the masthead and headline) should be visible at a glance even if it's folded over or partially obscured by competing publications. The same rule applies with a website homepage, except that with a website you're trying to avoid forcing visitors to scroll down to find what they want.

Of course, there are examples of good website designs where you do have to scroll down to see the whole homepage, but generally speaking you will find that (a) they have a lot of content on their site and (b) they use above-the-fold space to state their intent and to proffer their most important products and services.

See How The Big Guys Do It
In my opinion, the size of the homepage should be in keeping with the size of the website as a whole. If you've got 40,000 pages in your site, then by all means have 100 links on your homepage. The current version of the homepage, for instance, has 294 things you can click on. (Yes, amazing, I have a thing that counts them, would you believe? I never knew that would ever come in useful). But I think you'll agree they have stuck pretty firmly to the above-the-fold rule.

How the site uses the above-the-fold rule

Homepage Dos
Do use your homepage to do the following things:
  • Make an impact

  • Capture the imagination of the reader

  • Make yourself look good

  • Make it completely clear what you do

  • Highlight a particular product/service or range of products

  • Tell people why you're better than or different to the competition

  • Boast about your awards, credentials, testimonials, guarantees or any other evidence of your expertise/value for money

Homepage Don'ts
You should avoid the following things on your homepage:
  • Showing exactly the same thing 365 days of the year

  • Saying "Welcome to [insert company name]" - it's a waste of valuable space

  • A 'News' item that is weeks or months out-of-date

  • A detailed explanation of products or services

  • A Flash-y "splash page"

  • Audio or video that starts playing without the visitor having clicked a Play button

  • Corny, royalty-free images of people in suits shaking hands or pretty receptionists wearing telephone headsets

Say What You Do
Finally, just a note to emphasise a point from the above list of "dos": make sure your homepage makes it clear what your website is about. Again, I know it sounds crazy, but I've lost count of the number of websites I've seen for companies that offer "business solutions" and "enterprise solutions" but you'd be hard pressed to decide whether they're an IT consultancy or a cleaning firm.

Further Reading:
Is My Web Page Too Wide - Or Not Wide Enough?