Helping website visitors zero in on what they’re seeking
I just finished a redesign on the homepage for my RSS parser, CaRP. While I liked the general aesthetics of the old design just fine, the page suffered from having too much information crammed into it without sufficient organization. The new design contains almost all of the same information, but is organized in a way that makes it very easy to zero in on exactly what you're looking for.
Two of the great challenges of web design are deciding how much information to put on one page, and clearly organizing pages that contain lots of information. The task isn't so difficult for the "inside" pages of a site, since they tend to be relatively narrowly focused. But pages that are intended to act as landing pages--such as a home page or the main page for a product--can be more difficult to design because they need to play a variety of roles.
For people not familiar with a company or product, they need to provide basic information. For people considering a product purchase, they need to point to information that will help with the decision. For those who've decided to download or buy, they need to point visitors toward an order form or download link. For those who already have the product, they need to point to documentation and answers to potential questions.
Given the short attention span of the typical web surfer, all of this information must be easy to find. If the visitor can't find any of these pieces of information, the chain breaks. If you're lucky, the chain breaks after you've made the sale. But even in that case, the problem is serious, because it reduces the likelihood of a customer returning for a future purchase or recommending your product to potential customers.
The other day, it occurred to me to partition the CaRP homepage horizontally into three parts: links and information of interest to those who hadn't yet bought CaRP, information for those who want to buy, and information for those who've already bought. For quick identification, the sections are prominently labeled "Choose", "Buy" and "Use". These labels enable visitors to immediately reduce the amount of page content that they need to scan by two thirds, speeding them directly toward the information they're interested in, and essentially reducing the level of page clutter.
Two of the main sections contain two tabs, with the most important information on the tab that's visible by default. The other tab can be displayed without loading another page since it's content is in an initially hidden DIV on the same page. Having some of the information hidden initially helps to minimize clutter without significantly increasing the distance between the visitor and the information.
The new design also has the virtue of suggesting a sequence of actions to the visitor--choose which version you want, buy it, and then use it. Without the little extra nudge toward the purchase, some visitors might read the information on the page but not proceed to the next desired step. In a future entry, I'll expand on this idea of guiding website visitors through a sequence of desired actions. For now, it will be interesting to see what impact the new design has on sales. I'm hopeful!