We've noticed a disturbing trend in home page design: information overload.

Web designers and developers seem to have resolved the " to click or toscroll?" controversy in favor of loading everything onto the home page.

" More and more and more is better," they seem to be saying.

But to our mind, home page overload creates more problems than it solves.

When there's too much information on the home page, users can't process it.It's similar to driving down the highway -- the real one, not the informationone -- and being inundated by so many billboards that you miss the one signyou're looking for.

Are Your Visitors Clicked Off?

We understand how home page overload happens. An e-commerce developer wantsto use the home page to announce every product the company sells. Or duelingdepartments within a company fight for home page real estate. Andadvertisements need space, because they produce revenue.

It's often easier to put everything on the home page than to make tougheditorial choices.

Overloading the home page might quiet your colleagues, but it's a disserviceto your site visitors. They have the frustrating task of sorting through andprocessing the information. And, as we all know, frustrated site visitors don'tstick around to figure things out; they simply click off overloaded home pages.

To make your home page do what you intended it to do -- earn money, buildcommunity and disseminate information -- be sure it answers these five,essential questions.

Who Are You?

First, tell visitors who you are. If you're a household name, such asCoca-Cola, your logo might be all you need. If not, you need a headline or astatement that says what you're about.

As you write this important identifying statement, keep your visitors inmind. Don't post your mission statement: " Our goal is to optimize ourrelationships with customers ... "

Instead, write a concise, user-focused phrase. Here are a couple of goodexamples. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)identifies itself with this statement: " Improving the Health of the Peopleof the Americas." And CRUISE.COMtells visitors it's " The Internet's Largest Cruise Seller!"

How Is Information Organized?

The home page should indicate how you've organized or structured your site.And the site structure should be obvious and logical.

Is the site ordered by product or by service? By department or by region?Users must be able to use the home page to predict where to find answers totheir questions. If their first attempt doesn't yield pay dirt, they might nottry again.

Think of a home page as the table of contents in a magazine -- organized,annotated and enticing. Magazine content is organized by departments: featurearticles, short tidbits, columns and letters. A short blurb describes each itemand provides a hook, a reason for the reader to turn pages.

A home page has a similar function. Its purpose is to provide a logicalstructure for the information the site contains, preview the information, andgive the user a reason to click or scroll for more.

What's New, Hot or Timely?

The site for the Alzheimer's Associationprovides an easy and logical structure. Its uncluttered home page structuresinformation by user groups, for example, people with Alzheimer's, caregivers,physicians, researchers.

The home page is the right place to tell users about sales, new products orWeb site updates. Time-sensitive information -- contests or product offers andbreaking news -- deserve space on the home page. You want visitors to come backfrequently, so the home page should tell them what's changed since their lastvisit.

What Can Visitors Do at Your Site?

Remember that Web sites promote interaction.

Your home page should give users a way to interact: signing up for anewsletter, entering a contest, or participating in a poll, quiz or chat.

Even better, some home pages allow users to personalize the interaction. Areturn visitor to Amazon.com can click on a personalized list of recommendedbooks. At the CNN site, you can personalize your home page so local weatherreports, movie listings and stock quotes for your portfolio are available eachtime you sign on.

How Can Visitors Get Help?

Don't make users go on a scavenger hunt to find out how to contact you.

Place contact information or a button that leads to complete contactinformation on the home page. Complete information includes e-mail, telephone,fax, street address and the name of a person who will answer questions.

The Web is about customer service. If you don't want to hear from users oranswer their questions fully and promptly, don't put up a Web site.

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