Saturday, 16 April 2011



Trinity Theatre & arts' centre

marketing style guide

Unlike tv, the Web is an active medium: Visitors are engaged and want to go places and get things done - they are not relaxing nor are they looking for entertainment or an online education.

Narrative vs. Actionable Content

Print publications - from newspaper
articles to marketing brochures - contain linear content that's often consumed
in a more relaxed setting and manner than the solution-hunting behavior that
characterizes most high-value Web use.

In print, you can spice up linear narrative with anecdotes and individual
examples that support a storytelling approach to exposition. On
the Web, such content often feels like filler; it slows down visitors and stands in
the way of their getting to the point.

For example, in print, discussing the tall-friendly rooms in the Palms Casino
Resort in Las Vegas feels somewhat interesting. That's not the case online when
a visitor is looking for tall-friendly rooms in Chicago (or wherever he or she is
going next week).

Web content must be brief and get to the point
quickly, because visitors are likely to be on a specific mission. In many cases,
they've pulled up the page through search. Web visitors want
actionable content; they don't want to fritter away their time
on (otherwise enjoyable) stories that are tangential to their current goals.

Instead of a predefined narrative, websites must support the visitor's
personal story
. Web content becomes not author-driven, but a visitor-driven narrative.

Print's narrative exposition calls for well-crafted, complete
. Online, less so. Fragments often let you
pull information-carrying keywords to the front, while also reducing froufrou
word count because Web visitors read only 18% of
added verbiage

The Web is too fast-paced for big-picture
. At the same time, the Web is perfect for narrow, just-in-time
of information nuggets - so long as the learner already has
the conceptual framework in place to make sense of the facts.

Writing for Selfish Readers

Unlike tv, in non-linear hypertext, the rules reverse. Visitors want to construct
their own experience
by piecing together content from multiple sources,
emphasizing their desires in the current moment. People arrive at a website with
a goal in mind, and they are ruthless in pursuing their own interest and in
rejecting whatever the site is trying to push. Banner blindness
is only the most extreme manifestation of this selfishness.

Particularly on commercial sites, visitors cherry-pick the information and concentrate narrowly on what they want. You will write accordingly: make your content actionable and focused on visitor needs.

10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities

Here are 10 Internet tactics with a particularly high return on investment (ROI).

1. Email Newsletters

Email newsletters let you
maintain a relationship
with your customers that lasts beyond their visits
to your site. The newsletter is the perfect website companion because it
answers a different visitor need: Newsletters keep customers
informed and in touch with the company; websites give customers detailed
information and let them perform business transactions.

Newsletters are fairly cheap. They require little technology and mustn't be
published too frequently. If you don't have a newsletter, then publishing one is
probably the single-highest ROI action you can take to improve your Internet
presence. If you do have a newsletter, then improving it according to research
findings will likely make it several times more valuable to your organization.

Newsletters have one more benefit: They are the primary way to liberate your
site from dependence on search
. In the long run, achieving this liberation is one of the most
important strategic challenges facing Internet managers.

2. Informative Product Pages

Tell your visitors everything they need to know to make a purchasing decision.

Poor product information accounts for your visitors having problems using your Site, even worse, it accounts for cases where visitors gave up, as opposed to "just" being delayed or annoyed). Designing product pages
according to visitor needs
is a highly targeted way to encourage sales at a
point where visitors have already indicated interest by virtue of visiting the

You need detailed product information, but it must be written in a way that
makes sense to people who aren't experts in your field. For example, on the
product page for a laptop, don't be like Dell and tell people that the screen is
"WSXGA+." Tell them it's 1680 x 1050 pixels. Or, better yet, be like
Apple and show different screen resolutions next to each other so visitors can see
how much data is visible with each.

3. High-Quality Photography

One of the simplest ways to improve product pages is to show better photographs. For the hero shot at the top of the page, show the most representative photo in a small size. Below that, offer several additional photos that show different angles and close-up details. Also, link to photos that are as close to full-screen enlargements as possible.

Using huge enlargements might seem to contradict the guideline about fast response times for
downloading Web pages. But there's a big difference between bloating a
navigational page with irrelevant graphics and showing a big photo
after the visitor asked for it. In the first case, the slow download
interrupts the visitor's flow. In the second case, the delay is expected,
and while delays are never welcome, they are less of a problem when they're
clearly necessary to fulfill a visitor request.

A great downside of the online medium is that people can't touch and
your products. But close-ups and quality photographs can still
give visitors a good approximation of a product's tactile qualities, and they are
essential to making people feel good about buying online.

For software products or online services, show full-resolution
screenshots instead of photos.

4. Product Differentiation and Comparisons

You must soothe visitor fears about buying the wrong product, or they'll postpone their
purchases and probably never buy from your site. When you have multiple products
in the same category, you must explain product differences so clearly that it's
obvious to people without industry expertise why they should buy one particular
product over the others.

Product differentiation is obviously easier for companies that simplify their
product lines in the first place. Why offer many different products with
virtually no true differences? For example, Dell has four different models of
laptops: Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, and XPS, several of which are available
in six different trim lines. If there's a clear difference between the models,
it's not explained well on the website.

Even if you have a small and clearly defined product line, you must make the
differences blatantly obvious on your site.

Comparison tools can also help visitors choose and thus
overcome decision paralysis and facilitate sales. But such tools work well only
when they illustrate key differences in a concise and unambiguous manner. Too
often, websites take the easy way out and simply throw up a huge table of
specifications without highlighting the points where products differ.

5. Support for Reordering

The best way to get repeat business: Offer an email newsletter, which will keep customers thinking about you even when they're not ready to buy. Then, when they want to spend
money, they'll remember you.

To make people spend more money, make it easy to reorder. People
often need the same things again and again. Why require them to navigate five
levels down your site each time? This means tailored e-mil newsletters.

Reordering is a matter of total visitor experience, beyond the website's visitor
interface. Compose your product line with a view toward reordering. Continue to
carry classic products so that people can order new copies of things they like.

6. Simplified Text

You can usually double Website usability simply by rewriting the text to follow the guidelines for online
. Better writing is probably the single most important improvement
you can make to your Site, but it appears fairly far down the top-10 list
because it's not a one-time fix. You must hire good writers for all your
projects, train them in
writing for the Web
, and have all of their content edited by even better
editors who are even more knowledgeable about content usability.

7. Catering to Seniors

Older people are the fastest-growing segment of Internet visitors. They are virtually the only remaining growth market in rich countries, where most younger people who want to get online already have accounts.

Many senior citizens are rich and have time on their hands. When it becomes
difficult for them to get around, the Internet becomes a natural place for them
to spend some of their money. Seniors are also less into piracy and tend to be more loyal than fad-chasing youngsters.

You can take advantage of the fact that most Websites discriminate horribly against
older visitors
. Because so many sites are hard for them to use, seniors will shower you with business if you're the honorable exception who acknowledges their special needs. (And, those needs aren't even that special - it's much easier to make sites usable for seniors
than for visitors with disabilities, plus there are many more seniors with more money.)

8. Gift-Giving Support

Wishlists and gift
are low-cost features that give you incremental sales and
introduce your site to new customers.

9. Search

The benefits from search are immense, but the required investment is higher than for the other redesign initiatives listed here. The cost/benefit ratio is not stunningly favorable but, it still needs to be done.

Visitors increasingly depend on
as a primary interface to the Web. Fixing your site's search requires buying and installing better search software, and then tuning it for your content and visitor queries. Moreover, you must fix your content so that it's searchable. For example, you have to write meaningful page titles that actually explain the page's content so that people will know what they'll get
when they click on a search hit. You also have to write using your
visitors' vocabulary

While it's expensive to rewrite your content for findability, doing so also
improves your standing in external search engines, and SEO (search engine
optimization) is one of the highest-ROI Internet marketing tactics.

10. Visitor Testing

Visitor testing should really be #1 on this list because
of its ability to set your project right with almost no investment.

Do your own visitor testing because there are always issues that are unique to your own industry that can't be resolved by reading general research insights. And usability studies can be cheap, especially when you use low-cost paper prototypes
that let you test an interface while it's still in the early design phase.

Bonus Tactic: Loyalty Program

Loyal-visitor programs, are likely to be one of the main ways the Internet can fight back against search engine overlords and return more of the value to the websites that create it.

To encourage more loyalty, reward your repeat visitors. Discount offers and free
shipping are the obvious ideas, but a website is a computer and we can go beyond these old-world
. For example, there are products in limited supply that sell out
every holiday shopping season; give your loyal visitors first dibs on your
allocation - or let them register for future allocations before you make them
available to the general public.

Serving Customers, Not Chasing Hype

The high-ROI ideas I have highlighted here have one thing in common: They add value to your site by enhancing its value for customers. That is, they give visitors what
they want and need. These ideas are not the latest over-hyped stories the trade
press loves to cover. Visitors want you to get back to
and invest in the simple things that really matter to them.

Interface design is about making money for the company.
Execution and workmanship are what you need, not fashion and advanced features.
Do the basics, and do them well.

113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability

While many of these guidelines can apply to web design in general, they are
especially critical to follow when designing your homepage, because the stakes
are so high. Your homepage is often your first - and possibly your last - chance
to attract and retain each customer, rather like the front page of a newspaper.
One of the biggest values of a newspaper's front page is the priority given to
top news items. All homepages would benefit from being treated like a front page
of a major newspaper, with editors who determine the high-priority content and
ensure continuity and style consistency.

All said, these are just guidelines, not axioms. For all sites, there are
surely exceptions - although you can greatly improve the usability
of your homepage by following these guidelines.

Determining Homepage Content

One of the most important design decisions
for any homepage is determining what content merits homepage coverage. We don't
address this issue in these guidelines because it depends on each site's visitors
and tasks, as well as the company's business goals. Unfortunately, many
companies' corporate politics drive homepage design more than visitors' needs do.
Often many departments are lobbying for homepage real estate, and the best
lobbyists win. We encourage you to champion visitors' needs as the key factor in
design decisions.

General Web Design

We have limited our guidelines to those that are
critical for successful homepage usability, although many would improve the
usability of other web pages as well. Similarly, many, if not most, of the
guidelines for the design of general web pages, web content, and web navigation
would increase the usability of homepages. After all, a homepage is a web page,
and thus homepage designers should consider all of the guidelines for web
usability, not just those that are specific to homepages.

The Guidelines

The following sections contain our 113 guidelines for ensuring homepage usability: The guidelines are categorized by topic area.

Communicating the Site's Purpose

Imagine how disorienting it would be to
walk into a store and not be able to tell immediately what services or goods
were available there. The same is true of your homepage. It must communicate in
one short glance where visitors are, what your company does, and what visitors can do
at your site. If your site misses the mark here, it's nearly impossible to
recover. Why should visitors do anything at a site if they can't figure out what
there is to do there? And yet in countless visitor studies, we've seen visitors
staring right at the homepage, unable to satisfactorily answer the question
"What is the purpose of this site?" In order to communicate well, homepages must
give appropriate emphasis to both branding and high-priority tasks. The homepage
must also have a memorable and distinct look, so that visitors can recognize it as
their starting place when coming from any other part of the site.

  1. Show the company name and/or logo in a
    reasonable size and noticeable location.
    This identity area doesn't
    need to be huge, but it should be larger and more prominent than the items
    around it so it gets first attention when visitors enter the site. The upper-left
    corner is usually the best placement for languages that read from left to
  2. Include a tag line that explicitly
    summarizes what the site or company does.
    Tag lines should be brief,
    simple, and to the point. For example, Global Sources' tag line, "Product and
    Trade Information for Volume Buyers," is a good, straightforward summary of
    what the site offers (we did, however, offer minor suggestions for improvement
    in the homepage review). Vague or jargonistic tag lines only confuse visitors, or
    worse, make them mistrust the site, especially if visitors perceive them as
    marketing hype. For example, Ford's tag line, "Striving to Make the World a
    Better Place," while pluckily optimistic, doesn't describe Ford's automotive
    business in any way.

    Tag lines might not be necessary when the company name itself explains what
    the company does, such as the Federal Highway Administration, or if the
    company is extremely famous, such as Microsoft. If your company has many sites
    or services, the tag line for the main company homepage should summarize what
    the company is all about, and the subsites should have their own tag lines
    explaining the purpose of that particular site or service.

  3. Emphasize what your site does that's
    valuable from the visitor's point of view, as well as how you differ from key
    The tag line is a great place to do this, if you can do
    it succinctly. For example, Wal-Mart frequently differentiates itself from
    competitors in advertising media by claiming that it offers the lowest prices,
    but doesn't say so anywhere on its homepage except for a brief mention in the
    title bar. A simple tag line that stated this differentiator would give visitors
    unfamiliar with the company an instant sense of what the site can offer them.
  4. Emphasize the highest priority tasks so
    that visitors have a clear starting point on the homepage.
    Give these
    tasks a prominent location, such as the upper-middle of the page, and don't
    give them a lot of visual competition. In other words, if you emphasize
    everything, nothing gets focus. Keep the number of core tasks small (1-4) and
    the area around them clear. For example, a financial news website, like CNNfn,
    should devote prime real estate to high-priority tasks like checking a stock
    quote, getting the current summary of the major U.S. stock markets, and
    getting a summary of the current financial news headlines. The most
    challenging, yet most critical, aspect of this guideline is actually
    determining what the highest priority tasks are from the visitor's perspective.
    You must have a deep understanding of your visitors' needs, which is best
    acquired by studying your visitors in the context in which they will use your
    website before you begin the homepage design.
  5. Clearly designate one page per site as
    the official homepage.
    Within the site, restrict the use of the terms
    "Home" and "Home Page" to refer to this one main homepage and use a different
    term for the front pages of departments or subsites. Visitors should never face
    multiple "Home" buttons or links that go to different places. Of course, if
    your company is a conglomerate, the main homepage will likely link to other
    separate sites that have a clear identity and unique homepage apart from the
    parent company. For example, Philip Morris has a separate homepage for Miller
    Brewing Company (a subsidiary) that is linked to from the Philip Morris
  6. On your main company website, don't use
    the word "website" to refer to anything but the totality of the company's web
    Specifically, don't use it to refer to subsites or
    departments. Using "website" to refer to parts of the site separates, rather
    than unites, your company's total offerings and it can confuse visitors, who
    naturally think that a different website means that they are going to a
    different company. For example, Ford's homepage uses an icon to mark links to
    external websites. However, Ford only uses this icon next to the link for its
    dealer finder, making it seem like it isn't part of the company. From the
    visitor's' perspective, of course, getting information about the cars and getting
    information about where to buy the cars are all parts of the same task.

    If you offer web applications or services on separate websites, some visitors
    might go straight to a service website without going through the corporate
    homepage. It's fine to refer to those subsites as websites on the specific
    sites themselves, but from the corporate homepage it's better to present them
    as major categories. This portrays them as part of your total offering, rather
    than separate from it. For example, the Philip Morris website lists its
    subsidiaries, such as Kraft Foods International Inc., as part of its "Family
    of Companies," but doesn't label them as websites.

  7. Design the homepage to be clearly
    different from all the other pages on the site.
    Either use a slightly
    different visual design (that still fits with the look and feel of the site)
    or have a prominent location designator in the navigational apparatus. This
    visual distinction and navigational signposting ensures that visitors can
    recognize their starting point when they return from exploring a new part of
    the site.

Communicating Information About Your Company

In addition to the homepage tag line, all business websites need to provide a clear way to find information about the company, no matter how big or small the company is, or how simple or complex the range of products or services are. People like to know with whom they are doing business, and details about the company give credibility to the site. For some websites, such as those for large conglomerates, getting company information might be the sole reason that visitors come to the site. Yet even for sites that deliver a simple web service, many visitors still want to know who is behind the service.

These guidelines also apply to government sites and to sites for many other types of not-for-profit organizations, although some of the details may vary. For example, a government agency would not need an Investor Relations link. It is a common mistake, especially on government homepages, to play up the wrong kinds of information about the agency. People need to be able to find out how the organization is structured and who runs it, but they do not need to have an interface that's designed to emphasize internal bureaucratic structure or one that promotes the current minister or department head at the expense of granting citizens fast access to the services and information they need.

  1. Group corporate information, such as
    About Us, Investor Relations, Press Room, Employment and other information
    about the company, in one distinct area.
    This grouping gives people
    who want the information a clear and memorable place to go. It also helps
    visitors who don't care about this information by separating it from the rest of
    the homepage content. (See also our separate reports with much more detailed
    guidelines on "About Us",
    IR, and PR.)
  2. Include a homepage link to an "About
    Us" section that gives visitors an overview about the company and links to any
    relevant details about your products, services, company values, business
    proposition, management team, and so forth.
    The recommended name for
    this link is "About <name of company>." (See also our separate report
    with 50 design guidelines for
    the "About Us" section of a website
  3. If you want to get press coverage for
    your company, include a "Press Room" or "News Room" link on your
    Journalists appreciate and rely on sections like these when
    trying to cover a particular company. For more information on optimizing web
    design for press relations, see

  4. Present a unified face to the customer,
    in which the website is one of the touchpoints rather than an entity unto
    Don't separate your web presence from the rest of your
    company by referring to "" as different from "Company." Your
    customers should feel they are dealing with one indivisible, consistent
    company. It is important, however, to make distinctions between web-only
    services and services listed on the site that are available only through a
    different medium. For example, a television station might offer webcasts that
    are available only on the website as well as list information for programs
    that are available only on television. Visitors need to understand where to go
    for which service.
  5. Include a "Contact Us" link on the
    homepage that goes to a page with all contact information for your
    If you want to encourage site visitors to contact your
    company directly, instead of seeking information on the website first, include
    contact information such as the primary address, phone number, and email
    directly on the homepage.
  6. If you provide a "feedback" mechanism,
    specify the purpose of the link and whether it will be read by customer
    service or the webmaster, and so forth.

  7. Don't include internal company
    information (which is targeted for employees and should go on the intranet) on
    the public website.
    Not only does this internal information clutter
    the public website, it can actually be misleading if visitors think that internal
    policies are directed toward them. For example, Slusser's homepage links to
    its company's internal policy for computer resources, including guidelines for
    appropriate web usage, which could worry some visitors that Slusser's knows more
    about their web surfing habits than is actually the case. Job postings are an
    example of largely company-focused content that might be beneficial on both
    intranet and public sites, however, because they are chiefly targeted at
    potential employees, not current ones.
  8. If your site gathers any customer
    information, include a "Privacy Policy" link on the homepage.

  9. Explain how the website makes money if
    it's not self-evident.
    If visitors cannot easily discover a business
    model (such as selling stuff or carrying advertising), their trust in the site
    will be lowered because they will fear that it has some hidden way of
    "getting" at them. People know that there is no such thing as a free lunch

Content Writing

Effective content writing is one of the most critical aspects of all web design. Most visitors scan online content, rather than carefully reading, so you must optimize content for scannability and craft it to convey maximum information in few words. Although this is a general web guideline, we're offering content writing guidelines here that are especially important for homepages, where you must work hardest to capture and hold your visitors' interest, and where you often have the least amount of space to represent the greatest number of topics.

A skilled editor is an essential part of effective content creation. The editor should not only set style standards but must also ensure that the site follows them consistently. The editor should develop or revise content specifically for web use - it's not enough to repurpose content from other mediums and post it to the homepage. Of course, the design team must also involve real visitors in this process, both when gathering initial requirements and when revising the design as the site evolves.

  1. Use customer-focused language.
    Label sections and categories according to the value they hold for the
    customer, not according to what they do for your company. For example, on a
    heating oil site, what should you call a category of home energy tips?

    On, it's called "Consumer Information." This
    company-focused phrase is based solely on how the fuel company values this
    customer (as a consumer, not a business). Instead, think of how the customer
    would view the information, such as "Home Energy Tips." Ask customers what
    they look for when they need such information. Use the words they use.

  2. Avoid redundant content.
    Repeating identical items, such as categories or links, on the homepage in
    order to emphasize their importance actually reduces their impact. Redundant
    items also clutter the page; all items lose impact because they are competing
    with so many elements. In order to feature something prominently, feature it
    clearly in one place. On the other hand, redundant content can help people if
    you repeat items that belong in multiple categories or you include links to
    the same page but offer synonyms that represent words your visitors use to
    describe the content.
  3. Don't use clever phrases and marketing
    lingo that make people work too hard to figure out what you're
    For example, the "Dream, Plan, & Go" category on
    Travelocity might sound catchy to a marketing person, but it's not as
    straightforward as "Vacation Planning." Every time you make visitors ponder the
    meaning behind vague and cutesy phrases, you risk alienating or losing them
    altogether. Visitors quickly lose patience when they must click on a link just to
    figure out what it means. This isn't to say that homepage text should be
    bland, but it must be informative and should be unambiguous.
  4. Use consistent capitalization and other
    style standards.
    Otherwise visitors read meaning into things when they
    shouldn't. For example, if some items in a list follow sentence-style
    capitalization, but one item uses initial uppercase letters, the inconsistency
    gives that one item undue emphasis over the other items. Usually this kind of
    inconsistency happens not by design, but because the content comes from
    different sources and isn't appropriately edited for consistency. Although
    these small mistakes might seem nitpicky, they can cause visitors to feel that
    the site is unprofessional or untrustworthy. We also advise against the
    popular style of using all lowercase letters for titles, categories, and other
    links. Not only is it not as scannable as mixed case, but also invariably
    you'll need to break with the style standard for a proper name, which will
    look inconsistent.
  5. Don't label a clearly defined area of
    the page if the content is sufficiently self-explanatory.
    example, it is usually not necessary to label the main news headline of the
    day because the size and placement indicate its role. Similarly, if you have a
    boxed area where you feature a product, it's probably not necessary to give it
    a generic title such as "Featured Product." Titles often are meaningless space
  6. Avoid single-item categories and
    single-item bulleted lists.
    It's overkill to categorize one item, and
    things that don't fit into existing categories can signify a need to rewrite
    or reorganize the content. See Asia Cuisine for an example.
  7. Use non-breaking spaces between words
    in phrases that need to go together in order to be scannable and
    (&nbsp;) Most homepages use multicolumn layouts, and
    text must fit into narrow spaces. Because there are many possibilities for
    where text breaks depending on the visitor's screen resolution, monitor size,
    window size, browser version, and so forth, forcing certain phrases to stay
    together can maintain the integrity and logic of the content.
  8. Only use imperative language such as
    "Enter a City or Zip Code" for mandatory tasks, or qualify the statement
    For example, you might say, "To See Your Local
    Weather, Enter a City or Zip Code." People are naturally drawn to text that
    tells them what to do on a site, especially if it is next to a recognized
    widget, such as an input box or a dropdown menu, and often dutifully follow
    instructions because they think that they must do what the instructions say.
  9. Spell out abbreviations, initialisms,
    and acronyms, and immediately follow them by the abbreviation, in the first
    This is helpful for all visitors, especially for anyone using
    a screen reader. For example, the Federal Highway Administration's homepage
    refers several times to the "MUTCD" but fails to explain on the homepage that
    this is short for "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices." Abbreviations
    that have become widely used words, such as DVD, are exceptions to this
    guideline. Especially avoid using unexplained abbreviations as navigation
  10. Avoid exclamation marks.
    Exclamation marks don't belong in professional writing, and they especially
    don't belong on a homepage. Exclamation marks look chaotic and loud - don't
    yell at visitors. If you break this guideline once, you're likely to start
    breaking it all over the homepage, because all items on the homepage should be
    of high importance.
  11. Use all uppercase letters sparingly or
    not at all as a formatting style.
    All uppercase words are not as easy
    to read as mixed case words, and they can make the page look busy and loud.
    For example, "PSYCHOLOGY OF WORDS" is not as readable as "Psychology of
  12. Avoid using spaces and punctuation
    inappropriately, for emphasis.
    For example, L O B S T E R S or
    L.O.B.S.T.E.R.S. might look interesting to you but would foil a visitor who was
    searching for "lobsters." Unusual punctuation also reduces scannability and
    would be annoying to visually impaired visitors whose audio browsers spell out
    the word instead of reading it as a word.
Content usability is covered in more depth in our two-day course on Writing for the Web at the annual Usability Week conference.

Revealing Content Through Examples

Showing examples of your site's content on the homepage helps visitors in many ways. First, example content can help instantly communicate what the site is all about, so visitors know whether they are on the right site for their needs. Second, examples can reveal the breadth of products or content offered at your site. Third, specifics are more interesting than generalities. You stand a better chance of piquing visitor interest if you provide something concrete to read or look at instead of just abstract category names. Last, and probably most important, examples can help visitors successfully navigate, because they show what lies beneath the abstract category names. Examples help differentiate categories, saving visitors from clicking through categories just to see what's there.

  1. Use examples to reveal the site's
    content, rather than just describing it.
    Well-chosen examples of
    content can convey much more than words alone. For instance, a category called
    "Breaking News" with a description that says "Get All of Today's Top Stories
    Here" is not nearly as interesting or informative as showing the top five news
    headlines, followed by a link to all breaking news. Or, on an e-commerce site,
    a simple category called "Sale Items" is not as compelling as seeing a few
    actual products that are on sale, complete with their prices. Often it takes
    more words and space to describe a category than it does to show some of that
    category's contents and link to more information. In brick-and-mortar stores,
    customers rely on examples to orient themselves and find the items they need.
    Similarly, homepages should show small pictures of the products or other
    content in each department, so visitors can do a quick visual sweep to see if
    they are in the right place. Examples also help visitors who don't read your
    site's language very well.
  2. For each example, have a link that goes
    directly to the detailed page for that example, rather than to a general
    category page of which that item is a part.
    Don't put the burden on
    the visitor to find the item they're interested in once again on the second page.
    For instance, if your homepage features news coverage of a film festival, and
    you show a photo and caption for a specific film, those items should link
    directly to information about that particular film, not a general page for the
    festival. The exception is examples that are so short and self-contained that
    there is no more information about them deeper within the site.
  3. Provide a link to the broader category
    next to the specific example.
    If you prominently feature a single
    product, service, or article on the homepage, make sure that the rest of the
    page clearly communicates the full breadth of products, services, or content
    supported by the site (unless you are a one-product company), because people
    sometimes believe that the main feature is all there is. For example, if a
    job-listing site prominently features three listings in the medical industry
    with no adjacent link to "Listings in Other Industries," visitors might easily
    think that the site lists jobs only for medical personnel.
  4. Make sure it's obvious which links lead
    to follow-up information about each example and which links lead to general
    information about the category as a whole.
    Do this both by wording
    and placement of the links. The link for the example should be directly next
    to the information about the example, while the link to the category should be
    offset with a small amount of whitespace. For example, if features
    a specific mystery novel on its homepage, it should have a link at the end of
    the description of the novel to "Complete Description and Reviews," as well as
    a link a bit lower in the section to "Complete Listing of Mystery Novels."

Archives and Accessing Past Content

Often, you have visitors who return to your site often or new visitors who are interested in what you've done before they found you. It's helpful to include archives to content that has recently moved off the homepage.

  1. Make it easy to access anything that
    has been recently featured on your homepage, for example, in the last two
    weeks or month, by providing a list of recent features as well as putting
    recent items into the permanent archives.
    If you rotate content of
    featured stories or products, make sure to include a link to the other
    featured stories or products. If the featured story will be moved to another
    URL after it rotates off the homepage, make a link to the URL for the
    permanent location right away so people can bookmark the permanent link
    instead of the temporary link.


Links are obviously not unique to homepages, but because homepages serve as the portal to the site and thus tend to have more links than typical site pages, following design guidelines for homepage links is especially crucial to visitor success.

  1. Differentiate links and make them
    scannable. Begin links with the information-carrying word, because visitors often
    scan through the first word or two of links to compare them.
    links as specific and brief as possible. Don't include obvious or redundant
    information in every link - adding non-differentiating words makes visitors work
    harder to find the important words. For example, if you list press releases
    for your company and every one of them begins with the company name, it's
    difficult to quickly get the gist of each press release by scanning through
    the list. Or, if the proper names of your subsidiaries include the company
    name, such as "FedEx Express," "FedEx Ground," "FedEx Home Delivery," listing
    them as such presents visitors with a column of identical words ("FedEx"), and
    they must read through all of the links carefully to glean the difference.
  2. Don't use generic instructions, such as
    "Click Here" as a link name.
    Instead, use meaningful text in the link
    names to tell visitors what they'll get when they click. This helps visitors to
    quickly differentiate between links when they are scanning through them. For
    example, instead of saying "Click Here for Layette Items" just say "Layette
  3. Don't use generic links, such as
    "More…" at the end of a list of items.
    Instead, tell visitors
    specifically what they will get more of, such as "More New Fiction" or
    "Archived Book Reviews." Generic "More…" links are especially problematic when
    the page has several of them, since visitors can't easily differentiate between
    them when scanning the page.
  4. Allow link colors to show visited and
    unvisited states.
    Reserve blue for unvisited links and use a clearly
    discernable and less saturated color for visited links. Although some sites
    are now using gray for visited links, we recommend against doing so because it
    is difficult to read and has been widely used in visitor interfaces to mean that
    something is unavailable. Similarly, it is unhelpful to use black for visited
    links when the text color is black, because it can cause people to have
    trouble finding the links they visited before.
  5. Don't use the word "Links" to indicate
    links on the page.
    Show that things are links by underlining them and
    coloring them blue. Never name a category "Links" by itself - this is akin to
    labeling a category of information "Words" in a print medium. Name the
    category after what the links are pointing to.
  6. If a link does anything other than go
    to another web page, such as linking to a PDF file or launching an audio or
    video player, email message, or another application, make sure the link
    explicitly indicates what will happen.
    For example, CNNfn uses icons
    quite effectively to indicate audio and video files as such. Being thrust into
    a new medium without warning is startling for any visitor, but is especially
    agonizing for visitors with slow connections, who often have to wait for the new
    application to load just so they can exit out of it. Worse, in a limited
    memory situation, launching a helper application or memory-intensive plug-in
    can crash the browser or computer.


Because the primary purpose of a homepage is to facilitate navigation elsewhere on the site, it's critical that visitors be able to find the appropriate navigation area effortlessly, differentiate between the choices, and have a good sense of what lies beneath the links. Visitors should not have to click on things just to find out what they are. The navigation area should also reveal the most important content of the site so that visitors have a good sense of what's there by looking at the top-level categories.

  1. Locate the primary navigation area in a
    highly noticeable place, preferably directly adjacent to the main body of the
    Avoid putting any top horizontal navigation (primary or
    otherwise) above graphical treatments such as horizontal rules or banner areas
    - visitors often ignore anything within or above a rectangular shape at the top
    of the screen. We call this behavior "banner blindness," and we have seen it
    in numerous tests. See Microsoft's top navigation area, which begins with "All
    Products" for an example of navigation that many visitors will likely miss.
  2. Group items in the navigation area so
    that similar items are next to each other.
    Grouping helps visitors
    differentiate among similar or related categories and see the breadth of
    products or content you offer. For example, group product categories for
    prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Similarly, on an
    e-commerce site, all items related to shopping, such as the shopping cart,
    account information, and customer service should be in the same area.
  3. Don't provide multiple navigation areas
    for the same type of links.
    Groups that are too similar can fragment
    and complicate the interface, making the visitor work too hard to create order
    and meaning.
  4. Don't include an active link to the
    homepage on the homepage.
    For example, if you include a "Home" link
    as part of your regular navigation bar, it shouldn't be clickable on the
    homepage. If you use components, create a special component that is used only
    on the homepage with an inactive Home link. If it's clickable, some visitors will
    inevitably click it and wonder if the page has indeed changed. Similarly, if
    you link your logo to the homepage from other pages on the site, the logo
    shouldn't be clickable from the homepage. All other pages on the site do need
    a link to the homepage.
  5. Don't use made-up words for category
    navigation choices.
    Categories need to be immediately differentiable
    from each other - if visitors don't understand your made-up terminology, it will
    be impossible for them to differentiate categories. For example, although
    Accenture uses the made-up word "uCommerce" for its flavor of e-commerce, they
    appropriately use the more familiar term "eCommerce" in the navigation bar. On
    the other hand, Disney's mysteriously named "Zeether" category will likely
    give both kids and adults an undesirable pause in the navigation area.
  6. If you have a shopping cart feature on
    your site, include a link to it on the homepage.
    This allows visitors to
    immediately see what they've selected, without having to navigate through any
    product screens or go through checkout before they are ready to do so. This is
    especially important if your site saves shopping cart selections from prior
  7. Use icons in navigation only if they
    help visitors to recognize a class of items immediately
    , such as new
    items, sale items, or video content. Don't use icons when simple text links
    are clearly differentiable from each other, such as in category names. If you
    find that you need to ponder to come up with an icon for navigation, chances
    are it's not going to be easily recognizable or intuitive for visitors. For
    example, the icons for "Links" and "Forum" on Asia Cuisine don't help to
    further explain these categories or make them more immediately recognizable;
    they just clutter the page.
Much more depth in our full-day course on Navigation Usability at the annual Usability Week conference.


Search is one of the most important elements of the homepage, and it's essential that visitors be able to find it easily and use it effortlessly. Our recommendations for the homepage treatment of search are fairly straightforward: make it visible, make it wide, and keep it simple. Of course, the real power of search is all in the implementation. For a much larger set of in-depth search guidelines, see

  1. Give visitors an input box on the homepage
    to enter search queries, instead of just giving them a link to a search
    Visitors now expect and look for an input box with a button next
    to it - if they don't see it, they often assume the site doesn't have a search
    feature. Try to find search on Boeing's, Coles', or Southwest's homepages, for
    examples of how difficult it is without input boxes as the visual cue to
  2. Input boxes should be wide enough for
    visitors to see and edit standard queries on the site.
    Allow enough
    space for at least 30 characters in the font size used by most of the visitors.
  3. Don't label the search area with a
    heading; instead use a "Search" button to the right of the box.
    design is preferred because it is the simplest. "Go" is also acceptable as the
    action button for search, but requires that you label the area "Search." Place
    search at the top of the main body of the page, but below any banner area.
    This gives people the greatest chance of finding search when they need it.
    Even if you follow the other guidelines for search, it doesn't help if you
    place it in a low-priority position on the page. See ExxonMobil for an example
    of a poorly placed search input box.
  4. Unless advanced searches are the norm
    on your site, provide simple search on the homepage, with a link to advanced
    search or search tips if you have them.
    If you have advanced search,
    but it is used infrequently, don't include a link to it on the homepage.
    Instead, offer visitors the option to do an advanced search when you present the
    search results.
  5. Search on the homepage should search
    the entire site by default.
    Never hide search scope from visitors if you
    narrow their search in any way. Visitors nearly always assume that they've
    searched the entire site, unless you tell them otherwise, and assume the site
    doesn't have what they're looking for if they don't find it with search.
  6. Don't offer a feature to "Search the
    Web" from the site's search function.
    Visitors will use their favorite
    search engine to do that, and this option makes search more complex and error

Tools and Task Shortcuts

Homepage tools, or shortcuts to certain tasks, can be a great way to give prominence to popular features of your site and meet your visitors' needs more quickly. The key is to choose carefully which tasks to feature as tools on the homepage.

  1. Offer visitors direct access to
    high-priority tasks on the homepage.
    These homepage tools should let
    visitors enter any required data directly on the homepage. If possible, consider
    giving visitors zero-click access to the answers, meaning that the homepage
    displays the most-needed information automatically. This kind of feature is
    typically possible only for sites that recognize the visitor and personalize the
    page to display information that visitor is likely to request as a first task,
    such as "Current Balance of Your Bank Account: $xx." More commonly, you can
    offer visitors one-click access to the answers, meaning that you load a separate
    page to display the results. For example, the Travelocity "Book Your Flight
    Now" feature is an effective one-click tool, which allows visitors to enter
    criteria for a desired flight directly on the homepage and then see the
    results on a separate page.
  2. Don't include tools unrelated to tasks
    visitors come to your site to do.
    Some sites seem compelled to include
    tools simply because they are available, not because they are appropriate. For
    example, you don't need to offer visitors a tool to get their weather forecast if
    you have a non-news or non-weather site, such as James Devaney Fuel Company.
    Tools are one of the first things visitors look at on homepages because they
    often contain input boxes and dropdown menus, which visitors recognize and are
    attracted to, so don't show them unless they are truly essential and
    facilitate top-priority tasks.
  3. Don't provide tools that reproduce
    browser functionality
    , such as setting a page as the browser's
    default starting page or bookmarking the site.

Graphics and Animation

When you use graphics to purposefully illustrate content, you can greatly enhance a homepage. On the other hand, graphics can weigh down the design in visual clutter and slow download times, so it's important to use them judiciously and edit them for the Web. Similarly, animation with a purpose can enhance online content - but it typically is best suited for more complex content than appears at the homepage level.

  1. Use graphics to show real content, not
    just to decorate your homepage.
    For example, use photos of
    identifiable people who have a connection to the content as opposed to models
    or generic stock photos. People are naturally drawn to pictures, so gratuitous
    graphics can distract visitors from critical content.
  2. Label graphics and photos if their
    meaning is not clear from the context of the story they accompany.
    the level of specificity between the picture and the story differ, it's a good
    idea to label the picture. For example, if you have a story about a film
    festival and show a still photo from one of the films, label it to clarify
    both what it is and how it relates to the more general category. On the other
    hand, if you're using a picture in an iconic way to help visitors quickly
    identify what a story is about when scanning the page, you probably don't need
    to label it. For example, if you use a close-up of a medicine bottle with
    pills in it next to an article on a new drug approved by the FDA, you don't
    need to label it. It's usually a good idea to label any photos of people - it
    doesn't hurt people who recognize the person and can help people who can't
    match the face with the name.
  3. Edit photos and diagrams appropriately
    for the display size.
    Overly detailed photos and drawings don't
    convey information and look cluttered. It's often unhelpful just to shrink a
    big photo - it's usually better to crop it. See ESPN for examples of
    well-cropped photos; see CNNfn's photo of the market floor for an example of a
    poorly cropped photo.
  4. Avoid watermark graphics (background
    images with text on top of them) .
    They add clutter and often
    decrease visibility. If the graphic is interesting and relevant, visitors won't
    be able to see it clearly; if it's not, it's unnecessary. Often, watermark
    graphics are purely decorative and add no value. For example, Ford's busy
    watermark graphic nearly disguises the only car photo.
  5. Don't use animation for the sole
    purpose of drawing attention to an item on the homepage.
    rarely has a place on the homepage because it distracts from other elements.
    Animation requires a visitor's attention and should be shown by itself, whereas
    homepages have multiple elements requiring attention. For example, animation
    could be very helpful to show how to do a procedure that is easier seen than
    described, like swaddling a baby, but it wouldn't be appropriate to show it on
    a homepage, where it would draw attention from all other elements on the page.

  6. Never animate critical elements of the
    page, such as the logo, tag line, or main headline.
    Not only do visitors
    tend to ignore animated areas because they look like ads, they're also
    difficult to read. Animation tends to have a hypnotic effect on viewers, so
    even if you get people to stare at animated elements, they're less likely to
    absorb and retain the information than if they'd seen it in a simpler format.
    For example, Asia Cuisine's logo is difficult to read because it is still only
    for a few seconds at a time - the rest of the time (no joke) it is being drawn
    onto the screen by a lobster.
  7. Let visitors choose whether they want to
    see an animated intro to your site - don't make it the default.
    you do ever automatically launch an animation without the visitor's request,
    provide an easy and noticeable way to turn it off.

Graphic Design

Graphic design most often hurts usability when it's used as a starting point for the homepage design, rather than as a final step to draw appropriate focus to a customer-centered interaction design. Graphic design should help lend a sense of priority to the interaction design by drawing the visitor's attention to the most important elements on the page.

  1. Limit font styles and other text
    formatting, such as sizes, colors, and so forth on the page because
    over-designed text can actually detract from the meaning of the
    If text elements look too much like graphics, visitors tend to
    overlook them, mistaking them for ads.
  2. Use high-contrast text and background
    colors so that type is as legible as possible. .

  3. Avoid horizontal scrolling at
    Horizontal scrolling invariably causes usability issues -
    the biggest being that visitors don't notice the scrollbar and miss seeing
    content that is scrolled off of the screen.
  4. The most critical page elements should
    be visible "above the fold" (in the first screen of content, without
    scrolling) at the most prevalent window size
    (1024x768 as of 2009).
    If you have critical content that appears "below the fold" (requiring that the
    visitor scroll down), add visual clues so visitors know it is there. For example,
    don't include large amounts of whitespace between items that are above and
    below the fold - it's better if the items are closer together, since even
    seeing the top of a line gives visitors a good hint that there is more content
    below the visible portion of the screen.
  5. Use a liquid layout so the homepage
    size adjusts to different screen resolutions.

  6. Use logos judiciously. Aside
    from the logo for the site, use other logos only if your visitors know them well
    and you want to draw visitors' attention to them. Don't use a logo just because
    one exists for a particular product or program. For example, many government
    agencies design logos for each new initiative or program. Keep such logos for
    internal use - visitors don't need to see all of them. See the Coles image on
    this page for an example of how logos can clog up the interface.

UI Widgets

UI widgets, such as dropdown menus, selection lists, and text boxes, invariably draw visitors' attention. As we recommend you do with any graphical addition to your homepage, use them sparingly and only when they are necessary for the task.

  1. Never use widgets for parts of the
    screen that you don't want people to click. Make sure widgets are
    For example, if you use graphical bullets next to text,
    make them clickable as well as the text. In countless studies, we've seen
    visitors carefully try to click bullets, and if they're not clickable, they
    assume the whole line isn't a link, even when the bullet text is clickable.
  2. Avoid using multiple text entry boxes
    on the homepage, especially in the upper part of the page where people tend to
    look for the search feature.
    Visitors sometimes confuse text entry boxes
    with search boxes, and often type search queries in the wrong place. This is
    especially problematic if you don't offer an input box for search but do have
    input boxes for other features. See Victoria's Secret and PBS for examples.
  3. Use dropdown menus sparingly,
    especially if the items in them are not self-explanatory.
    Visitors are
    attracted to them, and they're often the least effective navigation devices.
    If you have very few items in a dropdown list, it's often better to list them
    directly on the homepage. Similarly, avoid long dropdowns - they are difficult
    for visitors to operate effectively, and visitors often struggle to differentiate
    between the items in the list. It's often better to take visitors to a separate
    page for the selection, where you can explain the different items or at least
    organize them into more meaningful categories than a single list.

Window Titles

Each homepage needs a simple, straightforward window title (determined by the TITLE tag of each HTML document). Although many people might not notice window titles while they are using websites, titles play a critical role in bookmarking and finding the site with search engines. When visitors bookmark a site, the window title becomes the default bookmark name, so the title should begin with the word that visitors will most likely associate with the site when they are scanning through a bookmark list. Similarly, search engines display the window title in search results and use it to determine relevancy to the search terms, so the title must be scannable and identifiable in long results lists. In order to be scannable, window titles should convey the most information possible in the fewest words.

  1. Begin the window title with the
    information-carrying word - usually the company name.
    Visitors scan,
    rather than read, text on screens, so if you don't catch them with the first
    word, you risk losing their attention. If you start the window title with
    anything but the most important word, the company name gets lost in bookmark
    lists and search results. For example, many window titles begin with "Welcome"
    or "Homepage," which might look okay in isolation, but convey no
    differentiating site information in the first word. Similarly, if your company
    name begins with an article, such as "the" or "a," don't include the article
    in the window title. For example, the window title for "The New York Times"
    should be "New York Times."
  2. Don't include the top-level domain
    name, such as ".com" in the window title unless it is actually part of the
    company name, such as ""
    Suffixes such as ".com" add an
    unnecessary word to the window title and create an artificial distinction
    between a company's presence on and off the Web. Visitors already know that they
    are on the Web when they go to a website, so they don't need the ".com" to
    tell them so.
  3. Don't include "homepage" in the title.
    This adds verbiage without value.
    As long as you have a simple URL
    for the homepage of the site, it's not necessary to specify the homepage as
    such in the window title. Of course, each page in your site should have a
    unique window title, so that no other page can be confused with the homepage
    in history lists and bookmarks.
  4. Include a short description of the site
    in the window title.
    This description is especially important for
    sites that are not yet widely known, so visitors can easily remember or
    understand what the site's purpose is if they've previously bookmarked it or
    get it as a search result. Consider using the tag line for the site, if you
    have one, but only if it is short, meaningful, and in straightforward language
    instead of vague marketese. For example, Slusser's window title, "Slusser's
    Commercial Landscaping and Heavy Highway," works well because it lists the
    company name first, followed by an understandable description (although we
    suggest moving "Landscaping" to the end).
  5. Limit window titles to no more than
    seven or eight words and fewer than 64 total characters.
    titles are less scannable, especially in bookmark lists, and will not display
    correctly in many applications. See JobMagic's window title for an example of
    an overly long, truncated window title.


It's critical to keep homepage URLs as simple and memorable as possible. Visitors not only need to be able to remember the URLs for sites they've visited, but they also need to be able to succeed quickly when they are guessing a company's domain name, as people often must do. Once visitors locate a website, a simple homepage URL helps them quickly understand that they are in the right place, whereas complex URLs can make them wonder if they're indeed on the correct page.

  1. Homepages for commercial websites
    should have the URL (or an equivalent for your country
    or non-commercial top-level domain) .
    Do not append complex codes or
    even "index.html" after the domain name. It is especially startling when visitors
    enter a simple URL and get to a site, only to have the URL they typed replaced
    by a long, scary-looking URL. Make sure your site responds to both
    "" and ""
  2. For any website that has an identity
    closely connected to a specific country other than the United States, use that
    country's top-level domain.
    A country-specific domain is appropriate
    either for localized sites that feature a particular country's language and/or
    content, or for sites that are differentiated because they are located in that
    country. If the site also has customers outside of its country, and especially
    if it has customers in the United States, it's good to also register the name
    with ".com" as the top-level domain. For example, Asia Cuisine is a
    Singapore-based company, but it appeals to an international audience. Visitors
    can reach the site by either the Singapore URL,
  3. If available, register domain names for
    alternative spellings, abbreviations, or common misspellings of the site
    This is especially true if you have any punctuation in the
    company name, such as Wal-Mart, or names made from several words, such as
    Victoria's Secret. Both of these sites allow for common misspellings - you can
    reach Wal-Mart's website at or
    and Victoria's Secret through or
  4. If you have alternative domain name
    spellings, choose one as the authorized version and redirect visitors to it from
    all the other spellings.
    Use this correct spelling in all instances
    on the site and in any offline promotions.

News and Press Releases

In order for news stories and press releases to be effective on your homepage, you need to craft effective headlines and decks (the summary of the story below the headline). This applies to either the company news that you show on your homepage, or any news that your site delivers as content. Headlines and decks should actually give visitors information, rather than merely trying to tantalize them into clicking through to the real information. It's just as important to help visitors know when not to click something, if they're truly not interested. You can only get so many wasted clicks from visitors before they give up.

  1. Headlines should be succinct, yet
    descriptive, to give maximum information in as few words as possible.

    For example, the headline "Ben Affleck Recovering" gives more information in
    fewer words than "Doctors Report on Ben Affleck's Progress," which promises
    content in the article that follows, but doesn't really tell visitors anything.
    Headlines should relate to the deck below them, rather than to the whole story
    that follows.
  2. Write and edit specific summaries for
    press releases and news stories that you feature on your homepage.

    Don't just repurpose the first paragraph of the full article, which was likely
    not written to be a standalone piece. Give visitors content in the deck - don't
    just describe the content that follows. Trying to hold out on the details in
    order to entice visitors to click through can backfire; generalities aren't as
    captivating as specifics. For example, "Getting more sleep and spending time
    with loved ones are two of the five ways you can increase your life span by
    five years, says Surgeon General Satcher" is more intriguing and informative
    than "Surgeon general describes ways that people can increase their life
  3. Link headlines, rather than the deck,
    to the full news story.
    If your headline style doesn't have a
    perceived affordance for clickability, such as blue underlined text, include a
    "Full Story" link at the end of the deck. A perceived affordance is what you
    think you can do with a UI element based on looking at it. For example, the
    pseudo-3D appearance of a button suggests that you can click it. For more
    information about the use of affordances in visitor interface design, see Don
    Norman's classic book The
    Design of Everyday Things
    (Currency/Doubleday: New York, NY, 1990).

  4. As long as all news stories on the
    homepage occurred within the week, there's no need to list the date and time
    in the deck of each story, unless it is truly a breaking news item that has
    frequent updates.
    The time and date at the top of the homepage are
    enough to show a visitor that content is current. For example, Red Herring uses a
    good deal of space unnecessarily listing dates that all occur within the same
    week. It is essential, however, to list the date prominently on the page for
    the full article, because articles can be found and cached (for example by
    search engines) much later in time, and old content can be mistaken for
    current news unless items are dated with a full date, including the year. For
    the same reason, articles should not refer to relative times, such as "today"
    or "next week."
See also our separate 287-page report Designing Websites to Maximize Press Relations: Guidelines from Usability Studies with Journalists for more information about online PR and newsrooms.

    Popup Windows and Staging Pages

    In general, it's best to show site content immediately. Intermediary screens are rarely necessary and keep visitors from getting to the main site content. What may be amusing once is often extremely annoying the 3rd or 30th time. Worse, the intermediate pages might confuse some visitors into not recognizing the "real" homepage.

    1. Take visitors to your "real" homepage when
      they type your main URL or click a link to your site.
      Splash screens
      must die. An exception: If your site has material that is inappropriate for
      minors or that is likely to offend some visitors, it is appropriate to have a
      splash screen warning about the content.
    2. Avoid popup windows. Extra
      windows keep visitors from getting to your site content, and even if such windows
      contain valuable information, visitors are likely to dismiss them immediately as
      ads. Instead, put critical information in a highly noticeable area of the
      homepage. The other drawback to popup windows is that they go away - once the
      visitor gets rid of them, they're gone, so visitors often can't find the information
      again even if they want to. It's better to design your homepage to give high
      priority to critical content.
    3. Don't use routing pages for visitors to
      choose their geographical location unless you have versions of your site in
      many different languages, with no single dominant language.
      If you
      have very few language choices, it's best to provide homepage links to those
      languages in the native language. If you have a dominant language for your
      site with multiple other languages, take visitors directly to the homepage in
      that language, and include a single link to "International Versions of Site."
      It's best not to use dropdown menus for this purpose because they're difficult
      for visitors to navigate when long, and they often don't show visitors all the
      options at once.


    Warning: visitors have grown savvier about ads on websites. Visitors have learned to ignore ads. Unfortunately, they often also ignore anything resembling an ad or next to an ad. If you use advertising from outside companies, you must ensure that you preserve the integrity of your content. The cost of lost customers might quickly outweigh the benefits of advertising revenue.

    1. Keep ads for outside companies on the
      periphery of the page.
      Never place ads next to high-priority items;
      they will cause such items to be ignored. Especially avoid placing any
      important items above an ad, because visitors will often exhibit banner
      blindness, ignoring anything above the banner area.
    2. Keep external ads (ads for companies
      other than your own) as small and discreet as possible relative to your core
      homepage content.
      When you have visitors evaluate your homepage, ask
      them to tell you the first three things that come to mind when they open the
      page. If any of the three comments are about ads, the ads are attracting too
      much attention.
    3. If you place ads outside the standard
      banner area at the top of the page, label them as advertising so that visitors
      don't confuse them with your site's content.
      See CNNfn for an example
      of how to label an advertisement in the middle of the page, and see USA Today
      for an example of how easily an unlabeled ad in the middle of the page can
      look like actual content.
    4. Avoid using ad conventions to showcase regular
      features of the site.
      The more you make content look like an ad, the
      less likely visitors will read it. For example, GE describes its acquisition of
      Honeywell on the homepage in a box that looks very much like an ad, rather
      than a press release or news item.


    Many sites seem compelled to include welcome messages on their homepages. Cheerful "welcomes" on homepages are nostalgic remnants of the early days of the Web, when getting to one of the few available sites was a feat worth acknowledging.

    1. Don't literally welcome visitors to your
      site. Before you give up prime homepage real estate to a salutation, consider
      using it for a tag line instead.
      The best welcome you can give visitors
      is a concrete definition of what they can do on the site and a clear starting
      point from which to begin. An exception to this guideline is the more
      appropriate use of "welcome" in a phrase that confirms that the site has
      recognized a registered visitor.

    Communicating Technical Problems and Handling Emergencies

    Unfortunately, sometimes you encounter problems on your site or your company is affected by an emergency. It's important to update your homepage with relevant information that your visitors need.

    1. If the website is down or important
      parts of the website are not operational, show it clearly on the
      Provide an estimate of how long it will take to correct the
      problem - not just "Try again later," but "We expect that we'll be ready to
      serve you again at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time." Inform the visitor about alternatives
      that might be available while the website is down, for example, "Our customer
      service department is ready to serve you at 1-800-456-7890." Reserve such
      messages for critical information that already exists on your site - don't
      give visitors "under construction" messages for parts of the site that are yet to
      come or are getting a redesign.
    2. Have a plan for handling critical
      content on your website in the event of an emergency.
      In an actual
      emergency, there won't be time to come up with alternative versions of your
      homepage. For example, prepare an alternative homepage design that has a main
      feature area to notify visitors of the emergency, as well as a simplified
      navigation scheme that offers a few cross-references and a way to get back to
      your site's regular homepage. Emergencies are often characterized by flash
      crowds in which many times the normal number of visitors want to get information
      about the emergency. To serve this increased load, the alternative design
      should be more lightweight than the normal design: fewer graphics and other
      embedded objects, simplified HTML, and no dynamically computed elements.


    Visitors come to your site for content. Avoid cluttering your homepage with useless credits or telling visitors how great your site is.

    1. Don't waste space crediting the search
      engine, design firm, favorite browser company, or the technology behind the
      Visitors really don't care, and each item you add to a page adds
      to its overall complexity and steals focus from the actual content. If these
      items are links to other sites, they can also cause visitors to get lost on those
      sites when looking for something on yours. For technology-oriented sites, it
      might be appropriate to include a "How We Run This Website" section under
      "About Us," but keep the specifics off the homepage.
    2. Exercise restraint in displaying awards
      won by your website.
      Most visitors don't really care that you have been
      appointed "Hot Site of the Day" by somebody. At the same time, awards,
      recognition, and favorable reviews from independent authorities can be one way
      to enhance credibility. Awards for the quality of products or services are
      usually more helpful in building trust than awards for "cool design" or other
      aspects of the website itself. Thus, awards for customer-oriented issues may
      be mentioned on the homepage, whereas awards for the web team's efforts should
      be relegated to an "About This Site" area. In either case, don't let awards
      overstay their welcome. Featuring a stale award from last year undermines
      credibility since it communicates that you haven't done anything good lately
      (except if it's included in a history section).

    Page Reload and Refresh

    When visitors reload or refresh your homepage, changes can be jarring. Try to keep the transition as smooth as possible and maintain continuity with their previous experience of your page.

    1. Don't automatically refresh the
      homepage to push updates to visitors.
      Automatic reloading feels
      intrusive - it's like pulling the rug out from under your visitors, particularly
      if they are using a part of the page that disappears or changes position
      during the refresh. For example, NewsNow automatically updates the page every
      five minutes, which means many of the headlines move off of the homepage and
      get replaced by new ones. This forced reloading can also lead to technical
      problems for visitors on dialup connections, whose computers might try to dial up
      at unexpected times (such as when the visitor is on the telephone on a line
      shared by a modem), or when the previous version of the page is replaced with
      an error message stating that the page could not be loaded. On slow
      connections you're taking up the visitor's bandwidth and time without asking if
      it's okay. For site features that require real-time updates, like sports
      scores, chat rooms, and stock tickers, consider providing a tool that enables
      visitors to get a live data feed. Such tools might potentially utilize an audio
      signal to attract the visitor's attention in case of breaking news. If you do so,
      it will be important to exercise restraint and only "ring the bell" for
      something truly important, as determined by an editorial decision or by a
      visitor-defined alert preference setting.
    2. When doing a refresh, update only
      content that has actually changed, such as news updates.
      For example,
      don't rotate through a set of photos, because visitors will waste their time
      trying to figure out what has happened and why the change has happened instead
      of focusing on useful tasks. Meaningless change is especially bad when sites
      randomly rotate through content - visitors waste time trying to figure out the
      pattern when there is none.


    Homepage customization can work well if it gives visitors value without requiring much or any setup effort from them. If it is possible to make intelligent and relevant recommendations based on a visitor's past behavior on your site, or if you can offer visitors specialized content based on criteria such as their geographical location, then visitors might indeed benefit.

    1. If your homepage has areas that will
      provide customized information once you know something about the visitor, don't
      provide a generic version of the content to first-time visitors - craft different
      content for that space.
      For example, if you have a customized welcome
      message that shows a registered visitor's name, don't display any of the text if
      you don't know the visitor's name. See MotherNature's homepage for an example of
      how silly such welcomes look when you don't have visitor information yet. Generic
      welcomes are akin to Dear Sir letters - they don't make anyone feel special.
      Similarly, don't offer visitors recommendations that purport to be tailored just
      for them, when in fact they are generic for all visitors. So, if you have a UK
      site that has an area for local weather, don't choose a city, such as London,
      for your visitors - if you don't know their city, offer visitors an area to enter it
      and a rationale for doing so. For example, "Enter Your City Name or Postal
      Code to See Your Local Weather Report."
    2. Don't offer visitors features to customize
      the basic look of the homepage UI, such as color schemes.
      It's better
      to focus resources on coming up with the best design that will be the most
      readable for the greatest number of visitors. You should respect visitors' browser
      preferences, however, such as font size, by using relative rather than
      absolute sizes.

    Gathering Customer Data

    Many websites, including several of the ones in this book, begin asking for visitor data, such as email addresses, right on the homepage. Most do not explain why visitors should give up their privacy. In general, many web visitors, even experienced ones, are justifiably wary about giving away their personal information because they know now that fulfilling these requests often results in unsolicited commercial email and clogged inboxes.

    1. Don't provide plain links to
      registration on the homepage; instead explain (or at least link to) the
      customer benefits of registration.
      For example, Amazon explains the
      benefit by simply saying "Sign in to get recommendation." Visitors don't come to
      sites to register, but they might do so if the reasons are compelling enough.
      Thankfully, more websites seem to be allowing visitors to explore the site
      without mandatory registration - none of the sites in this book required visitors
      to register. Yet many sites offer homepage links to registration without any
      explanation of why visitors might want to do so.
    2. Explain the benefits and frequency of
      publication to visitors before asking them for their email addresses.

      Don't ask visitors to give their email addresses to get an unspecified newsletter
      or other item of unknown content or frequency. Also, link to a sample
      newsletter and explain the privacy policy next to the place where you ask for
      the visitor's email address.

    Fostering Community

    The best thing you can do at the homepage level to foster a community of visitors is to reveal what resources the site has to bring people together. Of course, the deeper issue is whether a visitor community is appropriate for your site, but if so, it's good to give people specific examples of what they can get from community features you provide.

    1. If you support visitor communities with
      chat or other discussion features, don't show generic links to them. Instead
      list actual discussion topics and provide any schedules on the

    2. Don't offer a "Guestbook" sign in for
      business sites.
      Guestbooks make a site look amateurish and give no
      customer benefit. Sites that cater to clubs or subcultures, where visitors might
      enjoy some benefit from just getting their names in the book or seeing who
      else visited the site are excepted from this guideline.

    Dates and Times

    Visitors need to know that information they see on your homepage is current, but they don't necessarily need to see dates and times next to each item. When you do show dates and times, it's important to format them so that all visitors will be able to translate them to their local time.

    1. Show dates and times for time-sensitive
      information only, such as news items, live chats, stock quotes, and so
      Don't show dates and times on e-commerce or other transaction
      sites that don't have time-sensitive material. It's not necessary to show the
      day of the week, but if you do, only do so if it is from the current week.
    2. Show visitors the time that content was
      last updated, not the computer-generated current time.
      indicate this distinction, with a phrase such as "Updated <date, time>."

    3. Include the time zone you are using
      whenever you reference a time.
      If your site has international visitors,
      show the time in the most common time zone, as well as relative to GMT, for
      example, 9:00 a.m. EDT or (GMT -4). Any localized homepages should show that
      location's local time, as well as the time relative to GMT.
    4. Use standard abbreviations, such as
      p.m. or P.M. Don't abbreviate further, such as "p."

    5. Spell out the month, or use month
      abbreviations, not numbers.
      Jan. 2, 2003 is much less ambiguous than
      01/02/03, which could mean either the 2nd of January, or the 1st of February,
      since many countries conventionally mention the date, rather than the month,

    Stock Quotes and Displaying Numbers

    Because many homepages include stock quotes now, we've included a few guidelines to make them more readable and understandable. Although you can display stock quotes and numbers on any web page (and use these guidelines to optimize their display), it's especially important to follow these guidelines when displaying such information on the homepage, where even minute optimizations can reduce distracting clutter.

    1. Give the percentage of change, not just
      the points gained or lost in stock quotes.

    2. Spell out stock abbreviations unless
      the abbreviation is completely clear, such as "IBM."
      Many stock
      symbols are unintuitive, such as "C" for Citigroup, or "HWP" for Hewlett
      Packard ("HP" is taken by Helmerich & Payne).
    3. Use a thousands separator appropriate
      to your locale for numbers that have five or more digits.
      example, in the United States, fifty-three thousand should be written
    4. Align decimal points when showing
      columns of numbers.
      This makes it much easier for visitors to compare or
      mentally add and subtract numbers.

    Homepage Design Conventions

    In addition to the guidelines presented in this chapter, the next chapter (in the Homepage Usability book) presents design conventions that have evolved and are continuing to evolve on the Web. The chapter ends with our "Recommended Homepage Design" (page 52), which we suggest that you use, along with the guidelines in this chapter, to evaluate your existing homepage design and inform future designs.

    Inverted Pyramids in Cyberspace

    Frames: Just say No!

    This succinct introduction is an example of the inverted pyramid style: starting with the conclusion. If I wanted to write a column about frames I would continue with one or two examples of why frames suck (can't bookmark or print a view) and conclude with a discussion of the fundamental issues (frames impair the visitor's navigation and break the fundamental visitor model of the Web as being composed of unitary pages).

    Journalists have long adhered to the inverse approach: Start the article by telling the reader the conclusion ("After long debate, the Assembly voted to increase state taxes by 10 percent"), follow by the most important supporting information, and end by giving the background. This style is known as the inverted pyramid for the simple reason that it turns the traditional pyramid style around. Inverted-pyramid writing is useful for newspapers because readers can stop at any time and will still get the most important parts of the article.

    On the Web, the inverted pyramid becomes even more important since most visitors don't scroll,(*) so they will very frequently read only the top part of an article.

    Journalism on the Web is definitely different from print journalism. For example, Melinda McAdams' case study of the Washington Post's Digital Ink notes that online newspapers allow articles to remain available online for years. This again means that writers can link to old articles instead of having to summarize background information in every article. Also, as noted by Sam Vincent Meddis, it is possible to link to full background materials and to construct digests of links to multiple treatments of an issue (as indeed I have done with the two links in this paragraph).

    In other words, the Web is a linking medium and we know from hypertext theory that writing for interlinked information spaces is different than writing linear flows of text. Both ends of the link need to give visitors some understanding of where they can go as well as why the arrival page is of relevance to them.

    Therefore, we would expect Web writers to split their writing into smaller, coherent pieces to avoid long scrolling pages. Each page would be structured as an inverted pyramid, but the entire work would seem more like a set of pyramids floating in cyberspace than as a traditional "article".

    Tagline Blues: What's the Site About?

    A Website's tagline must explain what the company does and what makes it unique among competitors. Two questions can help you assess your own tagline:

    1. Would it work just as well for competitors?
    2. Would any company ever claim the opposite?

    Well-designed B2C sites can easily explain their products and services in text that is short enough that visitors will actually read it online., for example, tells us to Search the largest inventory of cars and trucks on the Internet. More than 1.5 million listings, updated daily. Given this information, most people can figure out what the site does.

    Getting it (half) right

    CSG Systems had dropped the tagline Harness the power of convergence. The company is now wisely willing to tell us what they actually sell: customer care and billing solutions. Much more specific, and thus more likely to harness the attention of stressed-out business executives looking at the homepage in search of products.

    The home page is reasonably simple, despite an annoying Flash animation that will likely distract visitors. The main text looks like it's written based on my guidelines for online content: Short paragraphs, scannable layout, a bulleted list:

    CSG Systems, Inc. is a world-leading provider of
    customer care and billing solutions for the convergent
    communications industry -- voice, video, and data.

    Our solutions are:

    • Scaleable and Robust
    • Modular and Integrated
    • Efficient and Cost-effective

    Unfortunately, when you read the words, you realize that the company is still paying copywriters to avoid communicating with prospective customers. Note how the "solutions" are robust, integrated, efficient, and cost-effective. As opposed to what? A product that was buggy, fragmented, inefficient, and expensive? Given that a website would never advertise such a product, stating the opposite has zero informative value.

    Tagline guidelines

    Visitors decide quickly whether to stay or leave a site. You must therefore assess whether your homepage communicates effectively to visitors in the crucial first 10 seconds.

    about us

    The About Us: Explain what you do in one paragraph. Yet, in place of a frank summary of the business, marketese and blah-blah text rules the day on many Sites.

    About Us information should be provided at 4 levels of detail:

    1. Tagline on the homepage: A few words or a brief sentence
      summarizing what the organization does.
    2. Summary: 1-2 paragraphs at the top of the main About
      page that offer a bit more detail about the organization's goal and
      main accomplishments.
    3. Fact sheet: A section following the summary that
      elaborates on its key points and other essential facts about the organization.
    4. Detailed information: Subsidiary pages with more depth
      for people who want to learn more about the organization.
    This layered content presentation forms an inverted pyramid that uses hypertext to shield visitors from overwhelming details, while making specific information available to those who need it. This context allows for greater understanding by the Visitor who digs as deep as he wishes to go on the Site.

    For example, average visitors will rarely click a link for "corporate governance," but that destination page can be important for sophisticated investors or business journalists. People who don't know the term "corporate governance" won't click it (because people don't click links they don't understand). Visitors who don't know the term probably won't need the associated information.

    A good tagline helps visitors understand the rest of the site by providing context for the detailed content. Similarly, reading the organizational summary gives them context for the fact sheet that follows it on the main About Us page.

    A good example is HSBC's tagline: The world's local bank.

    Summary statements often degenerate into worthless mission statements with feel-good verbiage and no specifics: X Corporation provides highly specialized services to businesses of all types throughout North America. But what do they do?

    The need for scannability, conciseness, and plainspoken exposition remains.

    Alcoa provided a good example of the 4-stage model.

    Tagline: "Global excellence in aluminum."

    Summary: "Alcoa is the world leader in the production and management of primary aluminum, fabricated aluminum and alumina combined, through its active and growing participation in all major aspects of the industry." (Followed by a second paragraph summarizing the company's main target markets.)

    Fact sheet: Nice use of bulleted lists (following guidelines for writing for the Web), supplemented by clean and useful business graphics.

    Detailed information: 14 additional pages listed in a drop-down menu.

    Why Explain Yourself?

    People with little to no knowledge about your organization might have several legitimate reasons for wanting to learn about it:

    • Professionals who are new to your industry and want to interact with business partners and investigate potential vendors.
    • People who take up new sports or hobbies, discover a new genre of
      literature, are diagnosed with a new disease, start eating a new type of food,
      or otherwise become interested in companies and organizations that they've
      never dealt with before.
    • Journalists who are writing their first story on a new beat or first story
      including your company: This is good PR.
    • Individual investors who read something positive about your company or saw
      it pop out of a statistical screen of stock metrics, who may wish to fund or otherwqise support the business.
    • Job seekers who were attracted by one of your ads, but want to learn more
      about the organization before applying.
    • Children who are investigating
      new areas of knowledge.

    • E-commerce sites,
      transactional sites, and online services sites need a strong About Us
      section because visitors often wonder who's behind a Web-based
      service, how it's funded, and whether it's credible. If you order from an
      e-commerce site, can you trust the company to ship the package? Will it accept a
      return if the product arrives in poor condition? If you register on a site, will
      it sell your personal information to anyone who can pay, and thus expose you to
      endless spam?

    • (For government sites, it's a basic point of democracy that
      all taxpayers have access to clear information about various
      departments and how those departments are using taxes - whether or not
      they're experts in an agency's topic area.)

    • Finally, for non-profits, a good About Us section
      is a must for attracting donations from a broader donor base.

    Trust and credibility are major issues on the Web, where even the biggest company exists as only a few words and pictures in a browser window. The most deceitful and unethical company can look as good as a company with a long history of community involvement and honest customer relationships. Explaining who you are and where you come from does matter, as do simple things like providing management biographies and photos.

    Connecting to Visitors

    In any conversation, saying who you are and what you do is basic to good manners. In business, it's also good to establish credibility and respect by explaining your company's origins, how you view your business, and how you relate to the community.

    Having a good About Us section facilitates this understanding. Clearly stating what you do helps customers understand your site as a whole. Of course, your overall site is what ultimately represents your organization to visitors. People look at product pages and read the site's content when they're evaluating an organization as a possible vendor, business partner, employer, investment, or (in the case of charities) donation recipient. Communication isn't restricted to About Us. But dedicating an area to providing visitors with facts about your organization and its history and values helps pull all of the site's content together.

    Use Old Words When Writing for Findability

    Familiar words spring to mind when visitors create their search queries. If your writing favors made-up terms over legacy words, visitors won't find your site.

    Speak the visitor's language as a primary usability guideline results from the fact that the Web is a linguistic environment further increases the importance of using the right vocabulary.

    In addition, Web visitors are growing ever-more search dominant. Search is how people discover new websites and find individual pages within websites. Unless you're listed on the first Search-Engine Results Page (SERP), you might as well not exist. So, the first duty of writing for the Web is to write to be found.

    There are many elements to search engine optimization, but SEO guideline #1 is, speak the visitor's language. Or, more precisely, when you write, use keywords that match visitors' search queries.

    Winston Churchill said that short words are best and the old words when short are best of all. To be found, precise words are often better than short words, which can be too broad to accurately describe the visitor's problem. For example, people are more likely to search for "usability" than for "easy".

    Old words rule because people know them intimately. Familiar words spring to mind unbidden. Thus, visitors are likely to employ old words when they boil down their problem to a search query, which is typically only 2-3 words long.

    How New Words Ruin Your Search Rankings

    Many forces pressure Web writers to diminish a website's value by filling it with words that are unlikely to appear in search queries. Here are some guidelines for writing to ensure that visitors will find your site:

    • Supplement made-up words with known
      It's tempting to coin new terms because you can own the
      positioning if the term catches on. But, more likely, people will continue to
      use their old terminology. It's long been a usability guideline to avoid
      made-up words in navigation menus, because visitors scan them for words they
      know. In full-text content, you can include new words for effect, but make
      sure to supplement them with legacy words -- that is, words that your
      customers know and use in everyday business practice.
    • Play down marketese and internal
      Call a spade a spade, not a digging implement. Certainly
      not an excavation solution. Many marketers like to embellish products to make
      them seem grander than traditional fare. But customers define their needs in
      known terms, so be sure to use them, even if you don't think they're exciting.
      The very fact that a word is unexciting indicates that it's frequently used.
      People search for terms like "cheap airline tickets," not "value-priced travel
      experience." Often, a boring keyword is a known keyword.
    • Supplement brand names with generic
      If people know and already like your brand enough to search
      for it, wonderful. This is particularly true if you're a
      B2B site, where a main goal
      is to simply survive the sales funnel's initial discovery and research stages
      and make it to the shortlist. But don't abandon the other 95% of prospects who are searching for their problem and don't know the name of your solution. In the funnel's early stages, people tend to use non-branded search terms, because they haven't yet decided which companies to put on the shortlist. This is exactly the time when you have the potential to
      influence them.
    • Avoid "politically correct"
      When writing about accessibility, for
      example, talk about blind visitors or low-vision visitors, not visually challenged
      visitors. First, nobody searches for a made-up phrase like "visually challenged."
      Second, "blind" and "low-vision" are more precise: They refer to two separate
      groups of people. Each group uses different assistive technologies and has a
      different experience of your website. They therefore have distinct usability

    If you fill your pages with fancy new words, you'll lose the most powerful tool in Internet marketing: The ability for visitors to find you in search. Making the search listings is a crucial first step, but it's not the only step: Visitors must also click your entry, and your site must have a good conversion rate.

    Visitors often scan right past high-ranking listings when the headlines don't make sense. And visitors abandon websites with product pages that are confusing or fail to answer their questions. These two problems definitely also deserve the attention of your writers and your usability studies.

    Show Numbers as Numerals When Writing for Online Readers

    It's better to use "23" than "twenty-three" to catch visitors' eyes when they scan Web pages for facts.

    Digits enhance the scannability of Web content. It's that simple.

    Spell out numbers that don't represent specific facts. If I say something like "in recent years, we have tested thousands of visitors and seen their use of breadcrumbs increase," it's better to write "thousands" as a word than to write "1,000s" or something like that. "Thousands" is not really data in this context, it's intended to give an idea of the scope of the research. On the other hand, it's better to use numerals when stating the exact number (e.g., "we have tested 2,692 visitors"). Disclosing the exact number also increases the statement's credibility.

    Digits Boost Usability and Credibility

    For specific facts, representing numbers using digits rather than letters increases usability for people who are looking for either a particular piece of information or the gist of a page.

    Even when visitors aren't scanning for data, having your facts stand out visually by presenting them as numerals is an easy way to enhance credibility by making your page seem more useful.

    representing an organisation on the web

    Representing an organization on the Internet is one of a Website's most important jobs. Effectively explaining the company's purpose and what it stands for provides essential support for all other Website-marketing goals.

    How Visitors Read on the Web

    People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test visitors always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that visitors read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)

    As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using

    • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form
      of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
    • meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones)
    • bulleted lists
    • one idea per paragraph (visitors will skip over any
      additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the
    • the inverted pyramid
      style, starting with the conclusion
    • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

    We found that credibility is important for Web visitors, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

    Visitors detested "marketese"; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web visitors are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when visitors clearly see that the site exaggerates.

    objectivity v subjectivity

    As it turned out, our four performance measures (time, errors, memory, and site structure) were also better for the objective version than for the promotional version. Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on visitors who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts "Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions," their first reaction is no, it's not, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.

    writing guidelines

    Web visitors generally prefer writing that is concise, easy to scan, and objective (rather than promotional) in style. They prefer to scan (since PC monitors are harder on the eyes than printed matter) rather than read, want text to be short and to the point, and detest overly hyped promotional writing ("marketese").

    A common thread between conciseness, scannability, and objectivity is that each reduces the visitor's cognitive load, which results in faster, more efficient processing of information. (Concise text contains less information to process; scannable text calls attention to key information; and questioning the credibility of promotional statements seems to distract visitors from processing the meaning.) Thus, the aim is to minimize cognitive load and enhance speed and efficiency.

    Concise: This was the most difficult guideline to follow, because we were concerned about cutting out "too much":

    Facilities management also portend high growth. To be sure, microprocessors can be found today in electronic thermostats, intercom systems, automatic sprinkler systems, stand-alone light timers and alarm systems that themselves are linked to a central monitoring station. But picture a home network that ties all these things-and more-together into a coordinated facilities and environmental control system. ....
    Facilities management also will rely on new devices. Electronic thermostats, intercom systems, automatic sprinkler systems and alarm systems all will be tied into a coordinated control system linked to a central monitoring system. ...

    Scannable: We added tables of contents and section summaries, as visitors in previous studies found them particularly useful. We also included bullets, numbered lists, boldface and colored text to highlight keywords, additional headings and shorter paragraphs.

    Objective: Removing marketese adjectives (e.g., "great" and "overwhelming"), buzzwords (e.g., "paradigm"), and claims that were not supported with evidence.

    Information Pollution

    Excessive word count and worthless details are making it harder for people to extract useful information. The more you say, the more people tune out your message.

    Each little piece of useless chatter is relatively innocent, and only robs us of a few seconds. The cumulative effect, however, is much worse: we assume that most communication is equally useless and tune it out, thus missing important information that's sometimes embedded in the mess.

    Internet Pollution

    The Internet is the worst polluter of all. The Web is a procrastination apparatus: It can absorb as much time as is required to ensure that you won't get any real work done. Sites overflow with either low-value stream-of-consciousness postings or bland corporatese.

    Studies of content usability typically find that removing half of a website's words will double the amount of information that visitors actually get.

    How Little Do Visitors Read?

    Summary: On the average Web page, visitors have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

    We've known since our first studies of how visitors read on the Web that they typically don't read very much. Scanning text is an extremely common behavior for higher-literacy visitors; our recent eyetracking studies further validate this finding.

    The only thing we've been missing is a mathematical formula to quantify exactly how much (or how little) people read online. Now, thanks to new data, we have this as well.

    The Research Study

    For full details, see the following academic paper:

    Harald Weinreich, Hartmut Obendorf, Eelco Herder, and Matthias Mayer: "Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use," in the ACM Transactions on the Web, vol. 2, no. 1 (February 2008), article #5.

    In the study, the authors instrumented 25 visitors' browsers and recorded extended information about everything they did as they went about their normal Web activities. What's important about this study is that it was completely naturalistic: the visitors didn't have to do anything special.

    One downside of the study is that the visitors had above-average intelligence, with several being university employees. This might not be a problem in the long run, however. If, for example, we compare data we collected in 2008 for our Fundamental Guidelines for Web Usability seminar with a similar study we ran in 2004, we find that 2008's average behavior is close to that of 2004's higher-end visitors. Thus, even though Weinreich et al.'s data represents high-end visitors, it's likely to be fairly representative of broader visitor behavior in the future. In fact, the authors collected their data in 2005, so the recorded behaviors might already be fairly common.

    In any case, the research yielded several interesting findings, and the full paper is well worth reading.

    Among other things, the authors found that the Back button is now only the 3rd most-used feature on the Web. Clicking hypertext links remains the most-used feature, but clicking buttons (on the page) has now overtaken Back to become the second-most used feature. The reason for this change is the increased prevalence of applications and feature-rich Web pages that require visitors to click page buttons to access their functionality.

    Of course, Back is still the visitor's lifeline and is so frequently used that supporting it remains a strong usability guideline. (Breaking Back was the #1 design mistake of 1999 and it's one of the top mistakes to this date.)

    Real-Life Reading Behavior

    Harald Weinreich graciously provided me with the dataset detailing 59,573 page views.

    From this data, I removed the following records:

    • 10,163 page views (17%) that lasted less than 4 seconds. In such brief
      "visits," visitors clearly bounced right out without truly "using" the page.
    • 2,615 page views (4%) that lasted more than 10 minutes. In these cases,
      visitors almost certainly left the browser open while doing something else.
    • 1,558 page views (3%) with fewer than 20 words on them. Such pages are
      probably server errors or disrupted downloads.
    After cleaning the dataset, I was left with 45,237 page views for my analysis.

    I was able to fit very nice formulas to describe visitors' reading behavior for pages containing between 30 and 1,250 words. For longer pages, reading became quite erratic. Pages with a huge word count are probably not "real" pages anyway - they're more likely to be either academic papers or "terms & conditions" pages, which people don't give the time of day. (In research for the book Prioritizing Web Usability, we found that people read only about 10% of the text that they supposedly "agreed" to.)

    The following chart shows the average time visitors spend on pages with different word counts:

    Scatterplot: word count on the horizontal axis and the duration of average visits on the vertical axis.

    Obviously, visitors tend to spend more time on pages with more information. However, the best-fit formula tells us that they spend only 4.4 seconds more for each additional 100 words.

    Usually, I assume a reading speed of 200 words per minute (WPM), but because the visitors in this study are highly literate, I'll go with 250 WPM. At that reading speed, visitors can read 18 words in 4.4 seconds. Thus, when you add verbiage to a page, you can assume that customers will read 18% of it.

    Percentage of Text Read

    This wasn't an eyetracking study, so we don't know precisely how visitors allocated their time on the Web pages. The formula in the chart above indicates that there is a fixed time of about 25 seconds, plus an additional 4.4 seconds per 100 words. (Of course, the numbers are not "fixed" in the sense that they're always the same - these are averages.)

    The formula seems to indicate that people spend some of their time understanding the page layout and navigation features, as well as looking at the images. Clearly, people don't read during every single second of a page visit.

    However, the total time spent on a page is definitely the upper limit of possible reading time. Thus, we can calculate the hypothetical maximum number of words visitors would be able to read, if they allocated their entire page-visit to reading.

    The following chart shows the maximum amount of text visitors could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts:

     Scatterplot: word count on the horizontal axis and the largest proportion of this time visitors have time to read on the vertical axis

    This is a very rapidly declining curve. On an average visit, visitors read half the information only on those pages with 111 words or less.

    In the full dataset, the average page view contained 593 words. So, on average, visitors will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading. More realistically, visitors will read about 20% of the text on the average page.

    As an example of word count on various pages, here's the total for some popular Alertbox columns:

    Blah-Blah Text: Keep,
    Cut, or Kill?
    Passive Voice Is
    Redeemed For Web Headings
    Change the Color of
    Visited Links
    Information Architecture (IA)
    Application-Design Mistakes

    Clearly, the average visitor won't make it too far through most of my articles. But I've consciously targeted a small, elite readership with a firm commitment to usability. If you target a broader audience or have sales cycles that are shorter than 5 years, you'd be wise to put your word count on a strict diet.

    website metrics

    Beyond a top listing, you need two things:

    1. Visitors must click the link and actually visit your site.
      (CTR = clickthrough rate.)
    2. Once they arrive, your site must convert visitors from
      visitors into customers. (Conversion rate, which is one of the main usability metrics.)

    Clickthrough and conversion rates are driven by usability concerns: Writing links that make sense, and designing landing pages (and subsequent content) that meet visitors' needs.

    odds & sods

    building long-term loyalty

    how to get here


    1. put address just below logo - so that customers can see the Site clearly reflects a real-world business;
    2. check "Trinity Theatre" in Yahoo to see how listing actually reads;
    I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. Rudyard KIPLING 1865-1936 English Writer & Poet Just So Stories (1902) The Elephant's Child

    author contact details

    Mr Frank TALKER +44(0)7909-884724
    Copyright © 2011 Frank TALKER. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute it in any format; provided that mention of the author’s Weblog ( is included: E-mail notification requested. All other rights reserved. Frank TALKER is also the author of Sweaty Socks: A Treatise on the Inevitability of Toe Jam in Hot Weather (East Cheam Press: Groper Books, 1997) and is University of Bullshit Professor Emeritus of Madeupology.

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