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E-Business Secrets

Book reveals habits of the most successful sites
'ALT' text is in, music and animation are out

By  Brian Livingston July 10, 2002  

This week, I complete my summary of "Homepage Usability," by Internet consultants Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir, which dissects the home pages of 50 of the Web's most popular destinations. The previous installment of this article was presented in the June 26 issue of E-Business Secrets.


1. PICTURES. The writers say, "The days of bloated home page design seem to be over, because the median proportion of the home pages devoted to pictures was no more than 8 percent." The book reveals that the median number of illustrations on the home pages studies was three. The lesson drawn is that some sites work best with no graphics at all, while sites with more than 15 percent graphics are in danger of slow downloads.

2. "ALT" TEXT. Alternative or ALT text benefits visually impaired users, who often have their PCs read these labels aloud through a sound card. The authors found that, of those home pages containing graphics that would benefit from ALT text, only 42 percent included such text. Since it's so easy to include ALT tags, the book describes this as "a disgrace."

3. MUSIC. Thankfully, the study showed that only 4 percent of the home pages studied played music when visited by a user. Perhaps this will be enough to stamp out this stupid practice once and for all. (You can always provide a "play" button for visitors who want music.)

4. ANIMATION. Some form of animation was employed on 30 percent of home pages. But the authors comment, "Things seem to be moving just because the designers had the ability to make them move." Because users report that they tend to ignore things that move (they might be ads), the recommendation of the book is to avoid animation on the home page, as 70 percent of sites did.

5. ADVERTISING. Nearly half, or 46 percent, of the home pages contained ads for other companies and products. The median number of ads on the home page was three, which the authors say "seems to be an absolute upper limit from a usability perspective." Internal advertising (for features of the Web site itself) was carried by 84 percent of home pages. The median number of internal ads was 4.5, but the authors recommend no more than two or three.

6. BODY TEXT AND BACKGROUND COLORS. Black was used as the color of body text by 72 percent of the sites. A white background was used by 84 percent. As far as other colors, 8 percent used blue text (usually on a white background) and another 8 percent used grey text (always on white). The median font size was 12 points. Only 4 percent of sites used a serif typeface, such as Georgia or Times Roman, with the other 96 percent choosing a sans-serif face. The writers say sans-serif faces are more readable on today's computer screens.

7. LINK FORMATTING. The authors recommend using the color blue for links, underlining them, and changing the color once a link has been visited. They found that 60 percent use a blue link color, 80 percent underline link text, and 74 percent change the visited-link color.

The review above barely scratches the surface of the findings in this massive book, illustrated throughout with full-color illustrations of Web site practices on every page. Whether or not you're considering changes in your site's user interface, "Homepage Usability" will give you plenty of examples from the most successful e-commerce examples out there.

"HOMEPAGE USABILITY" RATES THE GOOD AND THE BAD: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?073571102X

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1. eBay buys PayPal for $1.5 billion, ends own system

http://www.news.com http://bri.li/?42a

2. New browsers make a tiny bit of progress against IE

http://www.onestat.com http://bri.li/?812

3. Labels may stop profits on Internet radio sites

http://www.msnbc.com http://bri.li/?bfa

4. Janis Ian makes waves over "Internet music debacle"

http://www.janisian.com http://bri.li/?fe2

5. Congressman wants bill to set copyright's "fair use"

http://www.atnewyork.com http://bri.li/?13ca

6. Supercomputing is suddenly a sexy science

http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/?17b2

7. "Blogchalking" marks Web sites with locale info

http://www.blogchalking.tk http://bri.li/?1b9a

8. How to control an Etch-a-Sketch from a Web page

http://members.bellatlantic.net http://bri.li/?1f82

9. HTML tips: Best way to validate user input, and more

http://www.webmasterbase.com http://bri.li/?236a

10. Hilarious photos on how not to design user controls

http://www.system-concepts.com http://bri.li/?2752

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Having recently experienced another Fourth of July holiday, my eye was caught by a Web site that's definitely explosive.

It's Fireworks.com, which provides both a "Minimum Load" and a "Maximum Load" version, the latter of which contains an extensive Flash-powered pyrotechnics display. (The Flash version is linked to below. Warning for those of you in cubicles: It has an audio sound track of aerial explosions.)

The site is the product of Phantom Fireworks, a business with some 1,000 retail outlets in several U.S. states. It has won numerous awards for design in the past, and it's still worth a look.


http://www.fireworks.com http://bri.li/?c392

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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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