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The title says it all really.

While I realize the answer to this question is somewhat dependent on the visitors you're targeting, I'm wondering if there are any specific guidelines to follow.

It's somewhat obvious to me that users expect to be able to navigate to the major sections of your website from your homepage. But are sections containing your latest x, y or z part of the expectations? Does your average visitor really want to see it, do they even read it?

For my specific use case frequent visitors will spend most, if not all, of their time in a specific section of the website, while new visitors are likely to be surfing other area's of the website as well. Both types have what they need, they can go to the section they wish to visit with a the click of their mouse. But while their basic needs are taken care off, I'm wondering if any form of actual 'content' should be part of the homepage to please a visitor.

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latest x, y or z - Compare Wikipedia and a blog. How likely is a user to want to view the latest page/update for each? –  Izkata Nov 7 '11 at 21:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Which one is the main point for each website depends on what strategy best suits their particular interest, product(s), and service(s). There is no universal purpose.

Some of the more common purposes for a home page are:

  • A portal entry point to direct you to other content (e.g. youtube)
  • An introduction to your company and what you do (e.g. most consulting company home pages)
  • A marketing push to get people to sign up for your service (e.g. 37signals.com)
  • An information / propaganda push (e.g. most political websites)
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Bullet points 3 and 4 are pretty much the same thing. ;) –  DA01 Nov 1 '11 at 14:38
    
@DA01: not at all. A website that pushes me to protest plans to build a highway is in no way asking me to sign up for a service. Think outside the typical application world. –  JohnGB Nov 1 '11 at 15:01
    
Sure they're the same thing. It's marketing. It's crafting a message to influence your behavior...whether it be as a voter or as a consumer, it's (for better or worse) marketing. –  DA01 Nov 1 '11 at 15:31
    
(and while I respect and like 37signals and all they do, I also posit that they are quite skilled at the propaganda machine [and applaud them for that]) –  DA01 Nov 1 '11 at 15:32
2  
I'd also add to @JohnGB's answer that a homepage is a place to return to. It's something people look for to re-orient themselves should the trail of interest or relevance go cold, where they can feel like they're starting over from a known spot. –  Todd Sieling Nov 2 '11 at 21:35

Your website doesn't exist yet, but your audience already does. If you aren't sure what content they want, you can find out before you ever write a line of html.

Some potentially useful things to consider:

  • What other websites are similar? Which of those are the most popular?

Take notes about what you like / dislike, but also find out what other people like and dislike about them. Use http://search.twitter.com and other tools that search social media to read people's complaints or compliments. Post on twitter / facebook / yourself asking for feedback about it. If the site has a forum, make a post asking them.

http://www.alexa.com and similar sites can give you an idea of how much traffic they're getting and the demographics of the people who are visiting. That can be a function of marketing vs. good design, but it's still worth considering.

  • Why would people use your website? How does it fit into the broader context of their life?
  • How are they currently achieving their goal since your site doesn't exist yet?
  • When and where would they be accessing your site? (phone, work, home, school, etc)
  • What are their lives like? (job, family, interests, education, background, location, etc.)

If you don't already have a clear idea of who your users are and what content they might find interesting, you aren't ready to start designing the site yet.

The amount people want to read depends on their goal. If they're about to make an expensive purchase, they may want to read quite a lot. The same is true of a tutorial site. If their goal is to download software and start using it, they may not want to read much at all.

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Home page functions:

Top navigation disclosure as main content (card sorting may help).

New content: recent posts or new products.

Entry point for user primary tasks (depending on sercice: accomodation search, news search, loan calculator, user registration button, etc)

All pages need it, but is most important in home page to answer user questions: What do you do? What is in it for me?

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