Homepage Usability - Book Review - WebReference Update - 011008
((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) October 8, 2001
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This week we review Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir's upcoming book "Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed." The authors reveal 113 usability design guidelines along with 40 design metrics you can use to improve the usability of your home page. Using these guidelines they mercilessly critique 50 popular websites.
We were fortunate enough to get an early galley of this book, and found it so helpful we've already incorporated a few of the authors' recommendations into WebRef's home page. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this book will help you ensure it's a good one.
New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:
1. INTERVIEW: New Riders Interviews Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir 2. DHTML: Hierarchical Menus: V4.1.1 3. UPDATE: Universal Related Popup Menus: v2.2 4. FEATURE: Inside XSLT: Accessing Node Values 5. BOOK REVIEW: Homepage Usability
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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. INTERVIEW: New Riders Interviews Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir
A wide-ranging interview with the authors of the upcoming book, "Homepage Usability." Be sure to catch my personal interview in Thursday's WebReference newsletter. From New Riders.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. DHTML LAB: DHTML Hierarchical Menus: V4.1.1
Our latest version of HierMenus squashes a long-standing issue: namely, the dreaded DHTML memory leak in Internet Explorer. Take a look at the new code and learn how you can prevent IE from eating up memory in your own DHTML applications. By Peter Belesis.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. UPDATE: Universal Related Popup Menus: v2.2
Select an option in box A, and new choices instantly appear in box B - that's the task of our Universal Related Popup Menus script (URPM). V2.2 improves on our latest improvement, and includes a new ASP-based method that pulls options from a DB. By Robert Gravelle.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 4. FEATURE: Inside XSLT: Accessing Node Values
The real key to effective XSLT transformations is the ability to access and manipulate the values within XML documents. Part 4 of our series of excerpts from "Inside XSLT" covers this feature, and also discusses XSLT support for the XML Base spec. From New Riders.
Jakob Nielsen is out to change the Web, one page at a time. His latest book, "Homepage Usability" coauthored by Marie Tahir, takes on the most important page of your site, the home page. Now that Nielsen and the usability community have "defeated bad design" by reducing "user-hostile" design practices they are fighting for good design. What better place to start than your own home page? The authors present 113 homepage usability guidelines that will make your site easier to use, and apply them mercilessly to 50 popular sites.
This book is part of a strategic campaign against the "enemies" of usability. The members of the Nielsen Norman group, a veritable who's who of usability and design gurus, realize their Fortune 500 fees are too high for most small to mid-sized companies. They are leveraging themselves accordingly to spread the usability gospel by giving world tours, seminars and tutorials, writing books, granting interviews, and teaching other designers about usability so design teams can help themselves.
The home page is a company's public face to the world, and is often the most popular page on a site. Spending more time to get it right is time well invested, as usability improvements can yield two or three-fold increases in conversion rates. The problem is, there is only one home page for each site, so conflicting forces like sales, design, and marketing invariably vie for its attention. The challenge is to design a homepage that allows access to all of your important features without cramming them all onto the page itself, overwhelming new users.
>Homepage Usability Guidelines
The guidelines are distilled from the authors' combined 14 years of Web usability experience, and countless hours testing actual users. They are grouped by topic area, and show examples from the 50 website reviews. Here are some highlights:
Communicate the Site's Purpose
Tag lines should be brief and concise. TITLEs should begin with the company name for bookmarkability, followed by a good tagline. Avoid using "online" or unnecessary articles ("the" etc.) Don't include "hompage" or "online" in the title. Limit titles to less than 64 characters.
Communicating Information About Your Company
About Us - Group corporate information etc. in one distinct area. Don't include internal company information targeted at employees on the public website, this belongs in your intranet.
Optimize content for easy scanning. Be clear use consistent capitalization. Hire a copy editor. Avoid exclamation marks!!
Revealing Content Through Examples
Use examples to reveal the site's content, rather than just describing it. Examples instantly communicate what the site is about. Be specific.
Differentiate links and make them scannable. Start links with the information-carrying word, as users often scan through the first word or two. Keep them brief and specific. Don't use "click here" or "More..." Instead tell users specifically what they will get more of, like "More Book Reviews." Allow link colors to show visited and unvisited states.
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As the primary purpose of a home page is to facilitate navigation it is important to make it effortless, easy to differentiate the choices, and reveal what is behind the links. Locate primary navigation in a highly noticeable place, preferably next to the main body of the page. Avoid putting top navigation above ads. Don't use self-referential links; don't link to home from the home page. Don't make up words.
Search is one of the most important elements of the homepage so make it visible, wide, and simple. Provide a wide (25 char) input box on the top right or left of the home page. Use a "Search" button only. Search the entire site by default, users are confused by scoped searches. Don't search the Web, that's what search engines are for.
Graphics and Animation
Use graphics to purposefully illustrate content, not just decorate your home page. Don't use animation, it distracts the user.
News and Press Releases
In order for them to work, you need to craft effective headlines and decks (story summaries). Give specific information, don't tantalize with hype. Headlines should be succinct, yet descriptive, to give maximum information in as few words as possible. Write and edit specific summaries for press releases and news stories that you feature on your home page. Don't just repurpose the first paragraph of the full article. Link headlines, not decks, to the full story.
Use them sparingly as they invariably draw users attention. Never use widgets for parts of the screen that you don't want people to click. Make graphic bullets clickable. Avoid using multiple text entry boxes, users confuse these with search.
Users have learned to ignore ads, or anything resembling an ad. Keep ads for outside companies on the periphery of the page, and as small and discreet as possible. Avoid placing navigation above ads. Avoid making content the shape of ads.
Gathering Customer Data
Don't provide plain links to registration on the homepage; instead explain (or at least link to) the customer benefit of registration. Explain the benefit and frequency of publication to users before asking them for their email addresses. Sell them a specific benefit, not just another free newsletter.
>Homepage Design Statistics
The authors also quantify homepage design conventions by tallying up the design stats on the 50 sites reviewed (page width/length, download time, search, wording conventions, etc.). Since most users spend most of their time *off* your site, the authors advise us to follow common Web design conventions. Don't fight your users' mental model unless you have a very good reason, and can back it up with user testing.
A handy table of recommendations based on these statistics sums things up. Some highlights:
* Download time at most 10 seconds at average connection speeds, < 50KB * Page width optimized for 770 pixels, but with a liquid layout * Page length of one or two screens is best * Provide a white 25 character simple search box in upper right or left corner * About us - always include this, helps establish trust * Body text color - black 12 point (relative units) sans-serif font, on white background for maximum contrast
At $10,000 per home page review, Nielsen says this is a 1/2 million dollar book. I wouldn't put the price quite that high, but it is invaluable. You only get one chance to make a first impression, this book will help you ensure it's a good one. Highly recommended.
Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed By Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir New Riders, $39.99 ISBN: 073571102X
That's it for this week, see you next time.
Andrew King Newsletter Editor, WebReference.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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