Posted by: Laura Phillips Garner | March 23, 2010

Easy Web Site Navigation Keeps Visitors Coming Back

Set and attain four homepage goals to create easily navigable Web sites.

The axiom that it’s important to make a good first impression extends to companies and their Web sites.

Veteran Web Site Designer Derek Powazek says ease of navigation is integral to users all-important first impressions for corporate Web sites as it drives how they perceive the sites’ products, services or ideas and determines if they become repeat visitors.

In “Home Page Goals,” Powazek, who has worked on the Web since 1995 at pioneering sites like HotWired, Blogger, and Technorati, outlines four goals designers of Web site homepages must set and meet to give a good user experience that communicates clearly, sets expectations early and delivers on its promise:

Answer the question, “What is this place?”: To make good first impressions on new visitors to Web sites, design homepages they understand within three seconds, so they don’t “feel dumb, leave, and never come back.” It’s okay to briefly say, “This is who we are, and this is what we are about,” at the top of homepages, Powazek said. However, keep the directions plain and short in exciting, positive language that makes the reader feel important. Then, sites should link to an “About” page or a tour for a more detailed explanation.

Don’t get in the repeat visitor’s way: Though homepage designers must keep new visitors in mind, they also must make sure to stay out-of-the-way of users who already know what they are doing. One way to carry out both is to make one area of the homepage dynamic, so it can explain the purpose of the site to new users. However, once a user logs in, the dynamic area can share information specific to the user. Flikr, with different homepages for logged in and logged out users is an extreme example not getting in the repeat visitor’s way.

Show what’s new: Web sites owe repeat users something once they understand the sites as new users, or they will not come back. Since designers know their sites better than their users do, they should suggest places to visit on the homepage like a tour guide would. A good place is to start is with what’s new. Blogs that have their newest item first are a good example.

Provide consistent, reliable global navigation:
Attention to detail counts. Put links in the global navigation of the homepage in about the same place on every page.

Powazek suggests that designers start by designing the “atomic element” of their sites, which is its smallest, deepest element, the page that the user is most likely trying to find. For example, if the Web site is a search engine, the atomic element is the search results page. Or, if the Web site is a store, the atomic element is the product page.

Designing from the atomic element backwards to their containers, and then, the homepage ensures that each container adequately sets expectations for what it has, according to Powazek. Also, this design process allows for any lingering anxiety about the site design to come to a head when the designer is working on the homepage.

Tweaking the atomic element is important because most traffic on a site—60 to 75 percent of all page views—is accounted for on this particular landing page, Powazek said. The remaining 25-40 percent of the traffic belongs to the homepage.

—Laura Phillips Garner



  1. Hi Laura,

    Good to see you’re keeping this going. I enjoy reading your posts.

    Regards, Mark

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