Determine the qualities of your community that are most important for newcomers to understand at first glance and then express those qualities through images, language, and page layout. Your Visitors Center is a great place to express your brand; dont be afraid to make a strong statement and show some personality. If everybody likes what youre doing, youre probably not doing it right. For example, eBay has garnered criticism for its simple, almost childish graphics, but they give eBay a distinctive personality and communicate a friendly, down-home attitude.
This is also a good place to tell your backstory--the history of how your community got started. At iVillage MoneyLife, for example, the community backstory is combined with a welcome letter from the founder (see Figure 5); the overall effect is personal and welcoming. And at Moms Online, the backstory is part of the Help and Info section, which includes links to many kinds of support materials (see Figure 6).
A button at the top of the MoneyLife home page leads visitors to a friendly welcoming letter and backstory from the founder. This page links to more introductory materials and includes a site map and search box.
Moms Online doesnt have a visitors center as such, but it does include introductory information in a section called Help and Info. It would be even better to greet first-time visitors with a well-marked sign right on the home page.