Common Homepage Mistakes

Many Web sites make some or all of the following design mistakes on their home page. Make sure you don't make the following design mistakes.

Large Banner Ads

Advertisers usually insist on displaying their large, 468x60 pixel, banner advertisement on the best real estate on the home page, which is at, or near, the top of the page.

However, there are drawbacks to placing a large banner on the home page:

  • Increase Web Page Download Time: Top-of-page large banners are typically 468x60 pixels and take up on average 10-15 kilobytes. This would increase the file size and download time of a typical 50 kilobyte home page by 20-30%;
  • Pushes Down the Start of the Page: Almost always, a large banner is positioned at the very top of the home page. This effectively pushes down the start of the page, leaving less content above-the-fold of the page; and
  • Competes With Other On-Site Promotions: The number one objective of a home page is to entice the visitor to explore the site further. But a banner promotes your sponsor's Web site, product or service. So it distracts the visitor from all the "come-in" promotions you have on the rest of the page. Advertising banners are prove to be somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand you want your visitors to click on the banner, which means you lose the visitor, maybe forever. On the other hand, you want your visitors to explore your site further. So which result gives you the highest return on investment? The visitor clicking on a sponsor's ad banner, or exploring your site further?

Too Many Ad Buttons

Some sites display an incredible number of ad sponsored or cross-promotion buttons on their home page. It's not unusual to see as many as fourteen small 88x31 pixel animated buttons on a home page!

Don't get me wrong. Ad sponsored and cross-promotion buttons are fine, but fourteen on one page is overkill.

Each additional button:

  • Increases Web Page Download Time: For every animated ad button you add to your home page, you increase the page's file size by 2-10 kilobytes. Let's assume the average file size is 5 kilobytes and there were fourteen ad buttons on one page - like the site mentioned above. That adds 70 kilobytes to the home page. And we haven't even taken into account the text and other graphics on the page! Admittedly, such sites are rare. But sites with half a dozen buttons are quite common;
  • Increases Page Noise: Animated buttons catch the attention of the eye. But when you have multiple brightly colored, quick flashing, animated buttons displayed next to each other, all the movement adds to the page noise. This will tire the user's eyes and annoy the user; and
  • Decreases the Effectiveness of Other Ads: Web users have become accustomed to ignoring ad banners. It would be fair to say that users are even more likely to ignore half a dozen brightly colored, quick flashing, animated ad buttons placed next to each other. As a result, all your advertising click-through rates are likely to suffer.

I recommend that you don't display any animated ad buttons on your home page. But if you have to, I suggest you only display one or two ad buttons at the very most. Also make sure the graphics are optimized and don't add too much noise to the page.

Too Much Content

Some Web designers try to cram in as much content as they can fit into a home page. I recommend that you don't try to promote every single item your Web site has to offer on your home page.

It is much more effective to promote your latest or most popular five or six offers and features, than all one hundred and twenty. The home page shouldn't take up more than two to three visible pages.

Four reasons why you shouldn't cram too much content onto your home page:

  1. Takes Longer to Download: Eight seconds is all the time that most Web users will wait before they give up on a site. The more content you add to your home page, the longer it will take to download;
  2. Decreases Readability: People are put off by huge amounts of text. Lots of text and graphics also requires the user's mind to work hard to filter out the useful content from the junk. People are much more likely to read two paragraphs than twenty;
  3. Too Many Options: Don't make your visitors work by putting too many options on a page. Web surfing should be enjoyable, not hard work! ICQ.com's old home page made that mistake. It had over 300 links and buttons! That's far too many options; and
  4. Requires Too Much Scrolling: Web users typically don't like to scroll too much. Since most Web users select the first reasonable option, or link, the content towards the bottom of a long page is hardly ever going to be viewed. As such, that part of the page is a waste of time downloading.

Go Away Links

The main objective of the home page is to entice the visitor to explore the site further. So links that lead visitors to other Web sites only encourages them to go away! You don't REALLY want your visitors to leave your site, do you?

Try to minimize the following go away links on your home page:

  • Advertising banners, buttons, and text links;
  • Affiliate program banners, buttons, and text links (unless your income depends on them!);
  • Cross-promotion banners, buttons, and text links;
  • Search forms for other sites;
  • News headlines that link to news articles on other Web sites;
  • Links to content on other sites;
  • Links to the company that designed your Web site; and
  • Site counter buttons that link to the site that tracks your traffic.

Can Homepage Navigation be Different?

Some Web sites use different navigation layouts on the home page and the rest of the site. So can home page navigation be different from the rest of the site?

Generally, you should try to use the same navigation bar throughout the entire site. If a user clicked on a link on the navigation bar, they would expect to find the link in the same position on the next page and on other pages of the site.

It could confuse the user, if the link on the top navigation bar on the home page is moved to the left side on sub-pages, or the wording is changed. Even worse is when the link is removed altogether on sub-pages!

Of course, if you must move the main navigational options, make sure that their wording remains the same and they're in the same order. However, if 'shopping cart' suddenly changes its name to 'product basket', your users will have problems!