Optimizing Homepage Real Estate

The home page contains the most valuable 'real estate' within your entire Web site, mainly because it is usually the most visited page. On the home page itself, the most valuable real-estate is above-the-fold of the page (visible without scrolling).

Since there is such a limited amount of valuable real estate, it makes sense to optimize the value of that space, without overcrowding it.

Below are discussions on the pros and cons of the five most common tricks to optimizing home page real estate.

Rollover Pop-Up Windows

Rollover pop-up windows are links or graphics that open up a pop-up window, when users move their cursor over it. The pop-up window itself can be the contents of another Web page, or just a graphic.

Rollover pop-up windows are generally not recommended as a way of optimizing home page real estate, because of the following drawbacks:

  • Pop-up window is not activated if Javascript is disabled: Pop-up windows use Javascript to work. If the user has disabled Javascript in their browser, then the pop-up window does not work;
  • The messages are hidden until activated: The contents of a rollover pop-up window are hidden until the user activates it by moving the cursor over a link or graphic, so they're useless for essential information;
  • They take more time to download than text: Most rollover pop-up windows are images, which take longer to download than plain text; and
  • Awkward to Use: Rollover pop-up windows generally require more effort to use. Users have to hover their cursor over a link or graphic to activate the pop-up window. There can also be a lot of space between the point where the cursor is and the pop-up window. A bit of a usability nightmare! Therefore, users are required to look back and forth between where they're pointing and reading. The pop-up window disappears when the mouse cursor leaves the link or graphic activation area. This requires good hand to eye co-ordination and can be somewhat cumbersome.

Pull-Down Navigation Menus

Pull-down menus are options that appear when the user selects an item with a mouse. The item selected is usually at the top of the list of options. The rest of the options are listed below it, as if you had pulled them down.

Pull-down navigation menus are generally not recommended as a way of optimizing home page real estate, because of the following drawbacks:

  • Most of the content is hidden: Pull-down menus only display one line of text. The rest of the content is hidden from view, until a user pulls down the menu. This does save space, but doesn't allow the user to view all the options when they scan the page;
  • No control over the appearance of the menu: For now, you have little control over the font size, color, spacing, and formatting of the pull-down menu. Even if you try and use style sheets, this can lead to problems between different Web browsers!; and
  • They require more effort: They are quite small, since they only offer one line of visible text. This makes them somewhat cumbersome to use; and
  • Javascript pull-down menus: Some Web sites use Javascript menus. This is designed to save time by activating the selected option, usually a link to another Web page, without requiring the user to push the activation or "Go" button. However, if the user has disabled Javascript in their browser, the menu will not work.

Effective Pull-Down Menus

Pull-down menus can be used effectively when you have a long list of well-known items.

For example, many registration and order forms use alphabetical lists of countries, states, cities, etc.

The advantages of pull-down menus of well-known items:

  • They can save a lot of space;
  • They can be easy-to-use and effortless for the user to make a selection;
  • Reduces user effort by eliminating the need for the user to spell the form entry correctly;
  • Reduces the possibility of misspelt form entries to zero; and
  • On sites where security is a concern, pull-down boxes are harder than keypresses for hackers to monitor.

Rotate Content

Here are a couple of tips on how to squeeze in more content onto the most valuable real estate of your site; the home page:

  • Rotate Content Areas: Each time your home page is loaded, or refreshed, the user can view a page that is comprised of a number of different pieces of content. Each content area can have content either rotated in sequence, or randomly selected by the server or user's browser. The more pieces of content you rotate the greater the chance that each time a user visits your home page a fresh piece of content will be displayed, thus giving the impression of constantly fresh updated content. There is one disadvantage to rotating content. If a user leaves the home page and returns looking for a specific piece of content, that particular piece of content may have been replaced by a new one; and
  • Rotate Homepages: Instead of rotating content areas each time the home page is loaded, you can either rotate the entire home page content, or redirect the user to a different home page. The rotation can be in sequence, randomized or predetermined by some factor, such as time of day, day of the week, country of visitor, etc. Of course, if your users have come to expect a certain look, sending them to a random home page each time might drive them crazy! In this case, you might simply like to have a random photo or background instead, which would be just as effective.

Split Run Testing

Both rotating content areas and entire Web pages allow you to conduct "split run" or "A/B" testing of different site designs, featured content, or special promotions to find out which one is more effective.

The table below illustrates how split run testing works with two test elements.

Visitor Number 1 2 3 4
Test Element A B A B

The table below illustrates how split run testing works with three test elements.

Visitor Number 1 2 3 4 5 6
Test Element A B C A B C

Here are some ideas on how you can use split run testing on your Web site:

  • Visitor Retention Test: Test two or more home page designs to find out which one retains the most number of visitors;
  • Customer Conversion Test: Find out whether the position of the "Buy" or "Order" on different areas of a Web page can improve the customer conversion rate. I read somewhere that Dell.com's marketing department discovered some surprising results with this test. Unfortunately, I don't have the results of that test. If you do, please let me know!; and
  • Link Test: If visitors are not clicking on a link, use split run testing to see if a change of the wording of the link can improve its click-through rate.