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Anatomy of a Home Page

What draws viewers to a home page? It's been my experience that these are the essential components that make or break a web site:

The information below details each of these subjects. I hope you find this information worthwhile and it's presentation not too "preachy".

A Word on Content

Useful information is a must for any successful web site. Finding something useful or at least interesting is, after all, exactly the reason why people surf the Web. If you have nothing interesting to say, why should anyone come to listen?

Now you might say, "But I sell sailboat insurance. How interesting can that be?" What you have to understand is the people who need to purchase sailboat insurance are already inherently interested in what you have to offer. And this is largely the nature of how the Web works.

To make your site more interesting, you can also provide other information loosely related to your main topic. In our insurance example, adding a page pertaining to the World Cup Yacht races would draw in some boating people, especially if the page provided race results as the races were being held.

The main point to remember about content is that useful information beats fancy design everytime!

A Word on Site Design

While your site doesn't need to be fancy to be useful, it does need to be functional. People surfing the Web are typically impatient. Many are also paying for their access by the hour. They want to jump onto a site and determine if it contains information they are interested in as quickly as possible. It's been my experience that the less frustrated a site makes me, the more likely I am to patronize it. So forget the flash, give the surfers what they really want.

The first thing on your home page should always outline what the site has to offer. Unfortunately, many sites never summarize what they are about. Keep the home page uncluttered and focused on the reasons you want people to visit your site - not your company, your site.

Use links to secondary pages to provide the content. For instance, don't use the home page to describe your organization. Rather, create an "About Us" page that describes your company in as great detail as you'd like. Also, use a "What's New" page to give revisitors easier access to changes and improvements. By overemphasizing the new dramatically on your home page, you run the risk of first time viewers never seeing the bulk of your content. Then use other pages to organize and separate your subject matter making sure that reference to the most important information is clearly presented right up front.

Let's go back to our insurance example. Since insurance isn't the most exciting subject in the world, how easy it is for the surfer to find your prices may be the only major difference between your site and your competitors' sites. A "quick quote" form that can be referenced directly from your main page is one solution.

If you have a lot of information at your site, consider a table of contents or index style home page. A table of contents home page looks much like the table of contents in a book, linking directly to every page within the site from an indented list. The index style home page starts with a set of quick reference links (often graphical button images) to the main subject pages followed by a text link index of the subject available with a short general description of each.

Limit the amount of cross linking from one subsection to another. While these links are handy, too many gets viewers quickly confused. A large number of cross links should be a hint to you that there's probably a better overall layout for your site.

A Word on Graphics

The size of your graphics will often determine whether a surfer ever even waits to see your page finish displaying. Personally, when I'm just out hunting for information, if the graphics are loading slowly, I almost never wait around - just hit the back button and go somewhere else. There are plenty of other places with similar material. I have better things to do with my time than wait for a pretty picture when text would do just fine.

Images should always be small, meaningful, and necessary. Your home page is no place for large, time consuming graphics files. If you must display large graphics, I suggest using a small, scaled-down version of the original called a "thumbnail" image and some text saying, "Click the thumbnail to see the full scale image in all it's glory." At least this way, the surfer is choosing to wait and will always be much more patient because they aren't feeling like they are being forced to wait.

A Word on Announcing

Most people will find your page by first accessing a searching/indexing tool such as Google. The process of telling all those tools about your home page's existence is called "announcing". Being listed in the indexes is critical for the success of your site. Obviously, if people can't find you, they can't find out about you.

Presently, there are many search indexes to choose from. Some are much better than others. Most are free and the ones that aren't free aren't typically very good because they only have a limited number of entries. This means your only cost here is the time it takes you (or someone you pay) to contact the indexes you'd like to be listed in. Listing with the most popular 10 or so indexes is usually enough to cover 99% of the surfers, but knowing which indexes are the top 10 is tricky. It keeps changing all the time.

When listing with the indexes, you must describe your site very concisely. Many of the indexes now limit your description to just 25 words or 200 characters!

Other often overlooked announcing avenues are related newsgroups, chat forums, and faq (pronounced "facts") lists. These are Internet resources separate from the World Wide Web that often reach a much more refined niche of individuals. Another possibility is getting listed on your provider's list of what's on their servers. Usually, this is included in the price you pay to rent the web server space, but sometimes you have to ask to be included.

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Dewpoint Web Services - Santa Cruz, CA USA <>

January 20, 2001