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Your Homepage Should Serve Your Strategic Goals

It is of critical importance to the success of a site to make sure the homepage clearly directs people to the strategic activities the site was designed to promote. Thus, if the goal of a site is to offload customer service from the call center, it is critical that the homepage points people clearly in the direction of online customer service—and makes it as appealing and apparent as possible. To this end, the homepage must announce what a given site was designed to accomplish in the first place, whether that's to sell, to inform or educate, to extend your brand, or to provide an additional customer service channel.

As simple as these goals may sound in principle, we've seen many sites fail to accomplish them. They neglect to make it clear to users what functionality and content they are offering.

For example, one major brand constructed their site expressly for the purpose of creating an additional channel to sell products. At the outset, they used a small shopping cart icon on their homepage to direct shoppers, even though the majority of the page contained corporate and industry news. Not surprisingly, few users understood that they could shop, let alone where they should go on the site to do so.

Similarly, a major computer company wanted their site to provide online customer service, to assist in handling high call volume for obtaining and installing printer drivers and patches. Yet the homepage offered no direct route to obtain these, and customers were forced to drill down through their product line, numbers, and models to find the needed driver or patch. Many of these customers were first time users who didn't feel confident about what a driver or patch was, so it wasn't long before they were headed for the 800 #.

We offer, as a final example, the case of a successful TV news channel that wanted to extend its programming and audience by creating a web site. While users enjoyed the site and felt that the show largely established the site's credibility, visitors didn't immediately see how the site related to the show. In research, we discovered that prospective visitors to the site anticipated much more from this site than a recapitulation of the day's headlines. Where was a calendar that showed upcoming programs and features? Where was a summary of the shows they'd missed? Why didn't the homepage direct them to more information about a particular company or topic covered on a show? After all, wasn't the Internet supposed to be the place to get as much information as possible on a given topic? Essentially, the site was losing out on key opportunities to extend the brand by providing practical information online that supplemented the television channel.

Each of these examples points to the relevance of using the homepage in near single-minded fashion; whatever other functions it serves, the page must successfully direct users to the more strategic pages on the site. Visitors to the homepage will thus view it as a "sign post," guiding them to where they really want to go.

Figure 3.5. (Next two images) The homepages for television personalities Oprah Winfrey (http://www.oprah.com ) and Martha Stewart (http://www.marthastewart.com) are online supplements to popular offline brands.

Designers must learn to conceive of the page in this manner as well, imagining themselves as first-time visitors and walking an electronic mile in the user's shoes. If you are a designer, the questions to pose to yourself are clear:

  • Is it obvious what you want the user to do?

  • Is it obvious where the user is to go?

If not, have your team brainstorm what the homepage would need to do to fairly scream the relevant categories (for instance, "SHOP," "COMPARE PRICES," "GET HELP," and so on) from the homepage. Indeed, if these and other links don't all but leap off the homepage to grab the consumer's attention, you can well expect these pages to go unviewed altogether, regardless of the toil that surely went into their construction.

Figure 3.6. GQ.com both complements the newsstand version and offers consumers a way to subscribe online.

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