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If you're not careful, Homepages can get cluttered quickly and that clutter can lead to confusion. In large organizations everyone thinks that their content should have a place on the Homepage. Even smaller companies think it's important to tell people everything they do right from the start. In Chapter 2, we talked about simple design. And your Homepage is one of the most important places to enforce this rule. The Homepage isn't the place to tell users everything they can do on your site; instead, it's the place to set their research in motion. A good rule of thumb is that visitors seeing your Homepage for the first time should be able to say generally what the site is about after seeing it for just five seconds.
Five seconds might not seem like very long, but it's typically as much time as it takes for people to form an impression of a site in their heads, and either decide to keep reading or hit the Back button. How much stuff can people take in during that five second period? Not very much. To demonstrate what I'm saying, let's try a five second test now. I'm going to show you a page for just five seconds, look carefully at it and then decide what the site is about. Are you ready? Let's start now. And we are done.
That was five seconds. Now tell me, what was this site about? What subtopics did it cover? What was the key call to action? What else did you remember about the page? More to the point, did you get a good enough sense to know whether you wanted to carry on working with it? Even if you don't recall that much about the site's contents, you probably managed to form an impression about whether you wanted to keep going or to back out? Because people make these snap decisions, it makes sense to test whether your Homepage gets its primary message across in that short time.
It's easy enough to do; all you need are some people who meet the criteria of your personas and the printout of the part of their Homepage that would appear on the average screen. Now, make a cover sheet that you pull back in place over the page after five seconds. After people have seen the page for five seconds, ask one of these questions. "What do you remember about this page?" This tells you what message has come across most clearly. Or "What is this site about?" This tells you whether your Homepage has a clear overall message. If you want to get fancy, you can use online tools, such as fivesecondtest.com or clueapp.com to automate the process, and then recruit participants online to send to the test page.
When you get the results, you can compare them to your intentions. You know what you want the site to say to people, on what tasks you want to showcase to them. Now, you can tell whether you Homepage design gets those key points across, well enough for people to stay on your site and dive in further or whether they are confused and likely to leave.
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