Web Design: Your Front Page Sucks

This scenario happens to me at least once a week if not more often. I see a name of a product, project, movie, video game or just an unfamiliar brand name of some sort and I proceed to google it to find out more information. I find the link to the official page, click on it, spend a full minute trying to figure out WTF is this thing. Then I back out, and click on the second link in Google which is usually Wikipedia or IMDB entry for whatever I was looking up.

You have probably noticed that whenever I review movies here I tend to link to their IMDB pages and when I review video games I link to their Wikipedia entries. That’s why their home pages are completely useless. They start with some sort of crazy flash intro which sometimes can be skipped. Then they forward you to some difficult to navigate contraption that puts style and visual flair above content. Not only that, but they are very low on actual useful information. Most of them will have some sort of news feed, screenshots, blurbs from reviewers and information about release dates. That’s about it. You know that they are missing though? A fucking about page!

All I’m asking for is one paragraph description that will answer one simple question:

WTF is [xyz]?

In place of [xyz] you put whatever comes before the “.com” part in your domain name. That’s it – that’s all I really want to know when I visit your web page. One paragraph, which you can squeeze between the news feed and the rotating Flash gallery or whatever else crappy animated component of your page.

Most commercial products are pretty good about this – especially if they sell their wares online. They have a succinct description right there on the landing page and informative screenshots that show what their product does. Very large number of Open Source projects however, totally neglects their about page. When you visit them you will usually see a news feed. Great! I’m really happy your server migration went well, and that you finally released version 2.7.6 and that nightly builds now include the vertical vector span discombobulation feature that users were asking for all this time. It’s all very interesting, but it does not help a random visitor to figure out what is your project all about. What is worse, all these projects do have a very informative about page. Only it is buried in some navigation menu and not easily accessible.

Here is a PROTIP: switch your about page with your news page, and you are good! Or better yet, put the news feed below your about blurb. There are many ways to do it really. But you do want to inform new visitors what you are all about.

Oh, and while we are at it, can we please, please stop with the flash intros? Unless your intro is absolutely riveting, clever or so funny people will actually link to your page for the intro alone, no one cares about it. Most people will skip it. I know that you are doing this to give the visitor an interesting experience, but trust me – when they see a flash intro, their first impression with your site is annoyance. People have no attention spans these days. I know, because as soon as I see flash intro loading up, I immediately hit the back button because I assume the website is all style and no content.

Using a flash intro, a splash screen or a spiffy flashy entry page of some sort is like putting a wall between you and new visitors. It is a big, nasty looking brick wall and it has ugly signs posted all over: DO NOT ENTER: NO CONTENT HERE! No matter how awesome that entry page is – it still fails to convey any useful information to me. I don’t have time to click through your intros and splash pages. I want to know what you are all about at a glance. If I can’t get that information immediately after I click your link in Google you have failed.

PROTIP #2: if your product/project has a Wikipedia entry, look it up. Then make sure that your entry page new visitors see is MORE INFORMATIVE than the FIRST PARAGRAPH of your wikipedia entry. While this does not guarantee an increase in traffic, you will probably see a decrease in your bounce ratio (ie. the number of users who hit your front page and then leave).

That is all. In the comments please post your website design pet peeves.

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8 Responses to Web Design: Your Front Page Sucks

  1. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I totally agree.

    The only remarkable exception I can think of right now is the Blizzard web site. Their design is neat, navigation is smooth and their intros are typically a blast. But everything is in their right places, not intrusive. The intro, for example, I only watch if I want to.

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  2. mcai8sh4 UNITED KINGDOM Opera Linux Terminalist says:

    I have to agree, any site with an intro page, tends to get closed quicker than it can load. I also HATE flash sites. Don’t get me wrong, flash certainly has it’s uses, but an entire page/site…. it’s just obscene!

    Another little annoyance, web pages should not play music or sounds unless I want them to (ie. youtube), even then, I should have to click ‘play’ before I hear anything.

    ‘About’ pages are a must, if it’s a page about some software or other, I want a few clear screenshots.

    From a buisness point of view, I would also like pictures of products to be thumbnails, that actually enlarge when clicked, so I can see the product clearly.

    I believe that the first (few) pages of any site should be simple and succinct. Once I’ve got a general overview of what it’s all about, I can then choose to delve deeper, and learn more about it.

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  3. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    So much agreement it almost hurts.

    Many a time I hear “upcoming game X is looking pretty awesome” so I look up game X and find a homepage, it then proceeds to tick the boxes for as many elements of shitty design as possible. I’m sure it’s lovely, for people that already know what the hell the thing is, that they have a press page and a gallery, I’m sure it’s amusing to have detailed pages about individual weapons/locations/characters written from an in-game character type perspective, but the front page of the site should be for everyone – people who already know stuff can find or bookmark a page from a few clicks deep.

    So yes, I then bounce back to the results page and hit up Wikipedia for the information I was looking for. Not that it’s always on there (in which case I might go back to their shitty website and look again, but more often just forget the whole thing until I see another news item about it and repeat the “hey, that sounds kinda cool” process). For a long time Spore.com was a big offender on that front (had a lot of pages of shit all, the navigation was essentially ‘mystery meat’ style and it gave very little info about the game), they’ve cleaned their act up a bit, and launched the game in question (meaning info is widely available from everywhere) so my current example is prototypegame.com

    It needs everything enabled to load the page, every page is behind a long loading screen, background noise is on by default, can’t be turned on while something else is busy loading, and doesn’t even turn it all off then (only disables the music, not the sound effects on all the buttons), and the most part of the navigation is completely mysterious (random symbols on buttons until you hover over them) On the other hand the About page is reasonably informative, so long as you know it’s a video game (it’s a plot summary, not an explanation of what the hell they’re selling).

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  4. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yes, yes, I’m an inveterate Flash hater! I will soon start using it as my bio line, I think.
    Full-flash pages suck but one of the most annoying things ever is some random banner that has a rotating or blinking shape right at the edge of peripheral vision when I’m actually reading the content. I have to stop, block it with ad blocker and only then continue to read.

    And I absolutely second the opinion about music – it usually scares me to death when the site gets opened in the new tab in the background and suddenly the music starts.

    I don’t play video games but I’m hooked on TV shows and I never ever go to the official TV show page – they’re bright, they have video clips (that start playing immediately), lots of downloads (crappy wallpapers) but never comprehensible info on WTF it is about or HQ photos. So I end up using wiki and fan sites (if there are any).

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  5. mcai8sh4 UNITED KINGDOM Opera Linux Terminalist says:

    I’d forgot about those annoying flashing ads, luckily Opera built in ad blocking removes them (once it’s set up right).
    The other one that really winds me up are those ads for emoticons. The ones that speak or make a stupid noise when your pointer accidentally moves across them. Let me browse in peace, please.

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  6. Morghan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Looks like most of it has been covered. Only thing left that’s a deal breaker for me is javascript abuse. Every time I’m shopping, right click on a link to open it up in another tab, and get one of those obnoxious copyright pop-ups I just want to scream. I immediately block javascript, yoink some of their better images and then mail them to the webmaster with a long rant about how it doesn’t work so stop bloody well doing it. I’ve actually got one message back saying I was right and he’d be removing the pop-up, most are either ignored, flamed in reply, or I end up with an open support ticket that is never followed up on. Of course before I buy any piece of tech I boot up every browser I have, which is several dozen, and open the site in all of them. If I can’t at least find what I’m looking to buy in everything from lynx to IE I won’t buy it from them. I don’t really care so much if I can buy it using lynx, but I need to be able to find it. I mean, if you’re selling technology and can’t be bothered to make a well written web site, you don’t deserve the faith I put in people when I make a purchase.

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  7. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Oh yeah… the atrocities committed via javascript can be quite horrible. Using complex scripting to show basic menus. Fail. Links that are actually little scriptlets (and hence open a window with nothing in except for “javascript; some-script-here” in the address bar if I open them in a new tab). Best believe that’s a fail.

    Any site that needs javascript enabled to show it’s content gets a downmark in my eyes. The saving grace would be detecting my block on javascript and putting in a message to ask for it to be enabled, but silent failure is a fail. Total site failure (where all I get loaded is a frame with a NoScript ‘blocked’ icon in the middle), that’s definitely a fail.

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  8. Aquila DENMARK Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The absolute nightmares are often – I am sorry to say – pages from tech companies. It sometimes seems if some sadistic sob does this on purpose. Luke writes about just getting some basic info. In a tech job, I am constantly downloading drivers from the internet, so I visit the producers’ website. Most often, the front page has a link to the drivers download page. So far, so good.

    Then comes the goddamn, bloody, fancy search mechanism. What the hell is wrong with one or two drop-downs with the product type plus operating system? I don’t need an Active-X control to check my machine, or to select the driver through billions of flashy “choose this, and then that, answer our questionaire etc” bullshit. I’m not impressed, just let me download the damn thing already.

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