How to make your landing pages worth landing on

The do’s and don’ts of landing pages—plus a plug for quick-and-dirty usability testing

Have you ever arrived at a website and found yourself completely disoriented by the busy architecture, absence of prominent calls to action and just general lack of direction? If so, you’re not alone. Information architects everywhere are frequently faced with this age-old question: what the heck do I put on my home page?

Well fear not; this article offers some tips on how to think about your application or website’s landing pages so that you can work toward an actionable, meaningful, not-just-one-more-click architecture.

The let’s-provide-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink strategy

We’ve all seen them.

The websites with the bloated UI and fascinating—but ultimately useless—structures that greet their users on arrival. You’ll find that these busy home pages are generally paired with an even more intimidating, multi-tiered mega menu with links on links on links.

The equivalent of this in a non-digital space would be a chatty customer service representative who follows you around the store explaining promotions to you. It’s meant to be helpful, but in reality, it’s annoying, overwhelming and makes you never want to return.

In addition to the obvious offenders, there are also a slew of products that make more subtle missteps with their landing pages. Let’s take Expedia for example. Expedia insists on having duplicative navigational structures on all of its landing pages; users can select different reservation types using both the top-level navigation and the tabular search experience available directly below. It’s not clear to the user why both forms of navigation are present, and what’s worse, the rest of the content that lives on these landing pages is pushed below the fold and likely never discovered at all.

The thing is, Expedia isn’t wrong in thinking it’s valuable to frame their landing page content in terms of search. After all, the primary behavior of users who come to their website is to search for information. The misstep is that they felt obligated to wrap that experience with a more traditional navigational structure.

That said, making a misstep isn’t a crime. We all feel compelled to make certain design choices every now and then, but this is a perfect example of why we need to vet our decisions with real user feedback. You can validate—or invalidate—the content that lives on your landing pages in less than an hour.

Mini usability test of Expedia

I recruited 11 individuals to participate in an unmoderated usability test of the Expedia website. This group of men and women were relatively experienced with making reservations online (88.9% had made online reservations before) and relatively inexperienced with Expedia (72.7% had never used Expedia).

Users were asked to book two types of reservations:

  • Book the cheapest flight to Denver
  • Book a hotel in Denver

The results were a landslide: navigation via search was the primary pathway for users performing these core site tasks. Not a single user used the top-level navigation to find what he or she was looking for — or even contemplated it for that matter.

Ok, so if there’s a right— and wrong — way of designing landing pages, how do we proceed with the safest, smartest, most viable option?

Own what you know, and what you don’t.

When you try to provide everything that might be useful, what you’re doing is devaluing everything that is actually useful. A good general rule of thumb is if you don’t know what content is useful to a user, don’t feel obligated to fill white space; instead, consider a strategy where you can promote a user’s primary behavior and how you can leverage findings from this behavior to inform future design iterations.

Stop thinking in terms of pages

If you’re trying to design a landing page, one of the first things to do is try to shake the concept that there even needs to be a landing page — or any page, for that matter. Ask yourself what purpose this content serves in your application and what user goals it’s trying to support. Ultimately, leading with goal-driven design will help you know what application structures will be the most meaningful to your users.

Keep it simple, stupid

Start by thinking about the most minimal form of content consumption to help you prioritize what really matters, and de-prioritize the other stuff. Ask yourself: who are my users and what are their main goals when using my product?

For example, when users come to Google, they’re looking for information. Whether they’re performing known-item searches or browsing, searching is still the dominant behavior. This allows Google to lead with a very basic landing page that supports its users’ main actions.

If you have a strategy for how your application will help users accomplish their goals, you’ll naturally be able to suss out the content that is really important and decide whether or not it needs to be promoted to a more prominent structural position in your app.

Don’t lose sleep over it

Remember, as UXers, we get to iterate. Take some of the pressure off yourself by knowing that you’ll never be right the first time and instead focus on being less wrong the next time.


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