Monday, May 11, 2015

Fine-Tune Your Home Page
and Sell More Software

Book review of Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir (published 2001 by New Riders).

Jakob Nielsen is one of the pioneers of evaluating companies' websites. In "Homepage Usability," Nielsen documents all of the criteria that he uses when optimizing a customer's home page, and shows 50 in-depth examples.

"Homepage Usability" is really two books:

In the first 53 pages, Nielsen talks about the purpose of a home page, and discusses the 113 guidelines that he employs when analyzing a home page. He presents good insights about communicating your website's purpose, information about your enterprise, the site's content, links, navigation, search-engine considerations, graphics and design, your user interface, window titles, URLs, news and press releases, popup windows and splash screens, and tools for gathering customer data and fostering a community. Even though the author didn't write this book for software developers, the information applies brilliantly to our industry, and will result in increased software sales.

n the final 250+ pages, Nielsen deconstructs 50 websites from enterprises with high name recognition. In painful detail, Nielsen inspects every inch of the home page and offers constructive criticism. He breaks every homepage screen into its component parts: operating system and browser control (roughly 19 percent of the real estate), welcome and site identity, navigation, content of interest, advertising and sponsorship, self-promotion, filler, and unused portions of the homepage. The percentages allocated to the various categories vary from site to site (and browser to browser) by huge amounts. It's fascinating to see the different approaches that major companies use on their home pages.

Most of the information in this book was developed by watching real users access real web sites. The good news is - when Nielsen recommends that you include a search box on your website, that you place it in the upper-right corner of your home page, and that you label the button "Search" (rather than "Go" or "Find"), you're not reading Nielsen's personal opinions. You're reading about the actual experience of real users.

As a result, Homepage Usability's recommendations carry much more weight than the typical marketing book's ideas that are based on hypothetical theories or personal taste.

From the point of view of small independent software vendors (microISVs), Nielsen didn't select the best companies to study. It would be more useful if Nielsen had selected smaller companies instead of huge enterprises. For example, small independent software vendors rarely have to include stock quotes, news for stockholders, investor relations press releases, links to multi-national legal pages, or other issues that Fortune-100 companies need to address on their websites.

On the other hand, it's really entertaining to browse through the 50 websites, and look for ideas that can be adapted for our own home pages.

"Homepage Usability" is an expensive book, and worth every penny. If software developers only read the first 53 pages, the book will pay for itself many times over. It can strengthen your software marketing.

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