Thursday, July 17, 2008

Homepages That Try To Do Too Much

One of my pet peeves is home pages that try to do too much. I'm not talking about the psychotic pages you run across every once in awhile, like this one for an organization called Havenworks that will make your head explode (kudos for the folks at Web Pages the Suck for coming up with that one).

No, I'm talking about major corporations who should know better -- and have plenty of money to do website design right. I've always thought this about the website for Heinz. Depending on who you are (a consumer, an investor, a reporter), it can be really hard to figure out which parts of the website are for you. The Sara Lee website has the same problem: it's a melange of information for investors, consumers, reporters, business partners -- even job seekers.

Award winning website designer Derek Powazek admits, the process of designing a website is "anxiety-inducing" for even the best companies. It's your first impression, and you only get one chance. He offers four goals for homepage design that will insure a winning impression:

Goal 1: Answer the question, "What is this place?"

"This is, and always will be," says Powazek, "the number-one job of any home page. The first thing a new visitor does when they get to an unfamiliar site is ask that question. If the site does not do a good job of answering it within a few seconds, the user will feel dumb, leave, and never come back." Only companies like Google, where people already know how to use the site, can afford to be user hostile, says Powatek.

In my opinion both Heinz and Sara Lee don't do a great job of fulfilling goal #1. The Heinz homepage doesn't say anything about what the company does. Sara Lee's says "our mission is to simply delight you... every day" which tells me nothing about the company. Perhaps can get away with violating this rule because everyone already knows what their brands stand for.

Goal 2: Don't get in the repeat visitor's way

Powazek says one good way to do this is to make a homepage dynamic. New visitors get an explanation; return visitors who log in get information specific to them. That helps achieve goal three.

Goal 3: Show what's new

Powazek says: "Too many sites stop after addressing goals one and two. But once a user's gone through the trouble of figuring out what you do, and then actually coming back, you owe them something: what's new." Heinz does an OK job here: one of the boldest items you see when signing onto their page is a come-on for their latest "TopThisTV" make-your-own-commercial campaign. The only new thing on Sara Lee's homepage are the press releases posted at the bottom -- and who cares?

Goal 4: Provide consistent, reliable global navigation

Heinz's navigation is consistent and reliable, but by gosh there's a lot of it. There are 26 different links on the tabs that make up the top navigation bar, another 13 that run down the right side of the page, and another four on the bottom navigation bar!

Here's an example of a website that I think hits on all of Powazek's goals: the website for the language learning company Rosetta Stone. Call up their home page and there's goal number one, right in the upper lefthand corner: "The fastest way to learn a language. Guaranteed" cycles with "Comprehensive language learning for individuals, organizations and schools." Goal number 2 is met with their "sign-in" feature on the homepage that allows those who are already subscribers to sign in and get immediately to their personal content. Goal 3 is also met right on the home page, as the "who are we" phrases share space with "NEW! Rosetta Stone's Personal Version 3: Language Learning Just Got a Whole Lot Better!". Finally -- my favorite part of the website -- its crystal clear navigation. Right below the top line animation and photographs are three links "Personal, Organizations, Schools" that direct the user immediately to the content that's relevant to them.

Merci, Rosetta Stone!


Unfrozen Cave Girl Marketer said...

You're right that some home pages do too much - but I wonder how much choice they have? Companies like Sara Lee are in a tough bind because they sell SO many different products and their family brand name is the same as their corporate parent name. People come to their web site for many, many reasons I'm sure.
It does seem easier for Rosetta Stone to be able to describe what it does in just one simple statement?

Anne said...

Cave girl --

I agree. But then I think websites like Sara Lee and Heinz need to take a page from Rosetta Stone and segment their audiences right on the home page. Sara Lee needs to have navigation links right up front that say "for investors" "for consumers" "the media" etc. that takes you to what I would describe as almost a "secondary" home page that's designed for you depending on how you use the page. Trying to lump it all together on one homepage fails everyone.