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E-Business Secrets

Your site is the winner with 'Homepage Usability' book
How to avoid mistakes that drive visitors away

By  Brian Livingston June 18, 2002  

With so many e-business owners complaining that visitors abandon their site before completing any purchases, a new book that aims to make your site more usable is not only a welcome tool but can actually make quite a difference in your bottom line.


"Homepage Usability," by Internet consultants Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir, features gorgeous, full-color reproductions of the home pages of 50 of the most popular Web destinations, including CNNfn, eBay, and Victoria's Secret. The authors then issue scathing criticisms of some stupid design features at these sites that they say drive users away.

With withering comments, such as "misleading" (referring to GE.com's Start Shopping button) and "too verbose and dense" (eMagazineShop.com's text), the authors make your Web site a winner just by leaving it out of the book.

But I can safely say that the problems with other e-commerce designs that you'll learn in this tome will give you a big payoff -- even if you find only a single way to improve your site. Although the book uses home pages as examples, almost all Web pages can benefit from the lessons herein.

In this and the following issues of E-Business Secrets, I'll summarize for you some of the most important findings of "Homepage Usability." To their credit, the authors don't issue recommendations based only on their feelings. They say you should follow certain practices because the majority of popular sites do. Here we go:

1. PAGE WIDTH. The authors found that the average site they studied uses 770 pixels as the maximum width of a page. Their recommendation is for you to use this as your design maximum, too. That's because many or most Web surfers can't display a window wider than 800 pixels (and scroll bars take up part of that space).

2. FLEXIBLE OR FROZEN LAYOUT. Only 18 percent of the sites used a "flexible" layout, in which the content expands to fill a browser window of any size. The authors recommend flexibility anyway, saying that many browser windows will cut off parts of "frozen" layouts or, conversely, leave large amounts of wasted white space.

3. PAGE LENGTH. The average home page is 1,018 pixels high, or about two full screens. If your page is longer than that, say the writers, you probably should "move some features to secondary pages."

4. FRAMES. The authors are noted enemies of the use of frames, and their study bears them out by revealing that only 4 percent of the top sites use frames on their home pages. Frames cause problems with navigation, printing, and other user issues, so "it's best to avoid them."

5. LOGO. All the home pages had a logo of some sort, and 84 percent of the sites placed it in the upper-left corner. So that's where the book recommends you put yours.

6. SEARCH. It's unbelievable that 14 percent of the e-commerce home pages didn't have a Search feature, the authors say. At 81 percent of the remaining sites, they found that this essential tool was represented as a box, so they recommend you use that as a standard. They criticized sites that have a link that requires users to jump to a separate search page.

7. SEARCH LABEL. Pointing out that 82 percent of the sites labeled their Search button "Search" or "Go," the writers recommend that you, too, stick with this. Less-common terms, such as "Find" and "Find It," aren't universally understood by users.

8. SEARCH WIDTH. The average site's search box allows the user to see only 18 characters. The authors say this isn't enough for people to see all of what they typed. Better would be 25 characters or even 30, they say. One quarter of the sites in the study provide space for 28 characters or more.

I'll continue my summary of the book's most important conclusions next week. Meanwhile, you can read more about this book at the link below.


http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?073571102X

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1. About.com lawsuit: Do "guides" count as employees?

http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/?428

2. Fishy newsletter gets 10 percent of readers to pay

http://www.contentbiz.com http://bri.li/?810

3. Lawyer says high-tech patents are hurting innovation

http://www.forbes.com http://bri.li/?bf8

4. New Meetup site helps surfers meet in actual cafes

http://www.waxy.org http://bri.li/?fe0

5. How Google comes up with new ideas for its service

http://www.fastcompany.com http://bri.li/?13c8

6. CNET lists the best sites to keep developers current

http://www.builder.com http://bri.li/?17b0

7. How Userland's News Aggregator technically evolved

http://radio.userland.com http://bri.li/?1b98

8. Developers add slick features to shopping carts

http://www.ecommercetimes.com http://bri.li/?1f80

9. SQL tips: Prevent "injection attacks" on your data

http://www.webmasterbase.com http://bri.li/?2368

10. Ain't it romantic? Virus girl snags hacker boy

http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/?2750

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You're watching a short, 13-second video file on your PC. An ordinary Volkswagen Beetle (one of the new models) sits in a parking lot. Pedestrians and other cars stream by on a nearby street. Suddenly, the VW rises up on its rear wheels and reassembles itself into a giant robot that stomps around, its weapons drawn!

You've just witnessed the product of a new Web site that was recently posted by Michael Smith, an employee of the computer animation company Rainbow Studios, in Phoenix. The video is a test for a short animated film that Smith and his colleagues hope to complete.

You'll swear that the car in the video is genuine and "really" changes into a giant robot. So will your friends. Ask them to watch this short clip "of a car I'm thinking of buying." Then surf over to Smith's site, which has other videos and also links to another page that explains exactly how the effect was done. Awesome.

The first link below downloads the video as an MPEG file. Because MPEGs start playing before they're fully downloaded, click the Pause button when you first see the image. Then click Play when the clip is completely loaded. (Warning: the video plays a soundtrack.)


http://members.cox.net http://bri.li/?c390


http://members.cox.net http://bri.li/?d718

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston (http://SecretsPro.com). Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets:

http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets:

http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?0764534130

Win a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send a tip Brian prints. Mail to: Brian@SecretsPro.com.

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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