Earlier this week I was in a lively conversation about the role of the home page. If search engines are the primary way people find information on the web - what is the purpose of the home page?
The home page plays a vital role in branding - setting a tone through visual landmarks like color, fonts, and navigation themes. Your home page is also the key place for message delivery.
We also know that you have about 10 seconds to make an impact. People don't read on the web, they scan. So it's vitally important that information that resonates with your visitors be front and center of the home page.
(Hmmm - that sounds suspiciously like a Carewords plug.)
This morning I did a random scan of some Statewide Program Web sites and some UCCE Web sites - and here's what I found:
UCCE home pages are still largely organizing programs alphabetically. I know this method is the easiest way to avoid hurting anyone's feelings, but it's not the most effective use of your real estate.
Look at the Carewords data and make some hard decisions about how the programs you offer should be listed on the page. Also think about the words you're using to describe your programs. The words your clients care about may not be the words we use to describe ourselves.
Mission statements are important, but most web communications experts agree that they should not be placed front and center on home pages.
Likewise, lengthy descriptions of who you are and what you do are better served with a navigation link than space on the home page.
Beyond branding - the main role of the home page is to get people off of the home page and on to the information they're looking for.
How clear is your search box?
How clear is your navigation?
Many of these changes don't require a complete overhaul of your site - just some tweaking.
Speaking of Carewords - I've been thinking of offering workshops on how to use the Carewords data to improve the content of your Web site. These workshops will be intensive, hands-on workshops with limited enrollment.
These workshops will cover:
• Carewords results for your geographic area
• Words that resonate with your key audience and cross-over audiences
• We’ll individually analyze your current web content and suggest changes that you can make to create content with impact using the Carewords results
If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, send me an e-mail or post a comment.
In my marketing workshops I spend a good bit of time talking about the importance of color in reinforcing brand awareness.
There are some good corporate examples. Most people associate Coca-Cola with the color red; and UPS has built an entire marketing campaign around their corporate color - brown.
One of the things we know about the ANR brand is that to many, Cooperative Extension is the face of the University of California in their community. Another brand attribute is the role of ANR as the bridge between local issues and research on the UC campuses.
From the Carewords survey, we also know that our clients place a high level of confidence in the reliability of our information because it is based in scientific research. To our clients, the connection to the parent brand - the University of California - is quite strong.
I recommend as a best practice the use one of the blue andgold color schemes available in Site Builder to visually reinforce the connection to the parent brand.
I have heard that some are reluctant to use the blue and gold color scheme because of fears of color fatigue. They think that choosing an alternate color scheme makes their Web site stand out in a sea of blue and gold.
I would assert that the benefit to using blue and gold outweighs any perceived downside. Visitors to your Web site rely on visual landmarks like color as navigational tools, so color plays an important role on many levels on your site.
But in answer to the visual fatigue issue - once again, design comes to the rescue.
We now have 3 blue and gold color schemes available in Site Builder!
The original UC Blue n' Gold
and Hula Ba Blue which features a saucy touch of burgundy
You can change your color scheme with the click of a mouse from your Site Builder dashboard
Hats off to Alex Zangeneh-Azam for the new color schemes!
One of the easiest mistakes to make in designing Web pages, or printed pieces for that matter, is using a lot of fonts thinking that they are design elements. Now don't get me wrong, in the right hands, fonts can be used as design elements, but this is best left to designers. For most of us, the role of fonts is to make your words easily read and understood.
There is a lot of study and debate about fonts (really!)
On the Web, best practices are somewhat different than for printed pieces. This is primarily because good Web writing is in short, concise paragraphs with space (also called leading) between them.
A good rule of thumb is to choose no more than two or three fonts and stick with those throughout your Web site. Choose one font that you will use for headlines, and another that will be used for the body of the text. Save the third font for text you want to draw attention to - sort of like putting on a cocktail dress or a tuxedo - save it for situations where you want to be noticed.
Visitors to your Web site use this consistency of fonts (and color) as a guidepost to let them know they're still on the same Web site. If one of your program pages suddenly shifts fonts and color schemes, visitors think they've left your site and have mysteriously arrived someplace else.
To Serif or Not to Serif?
Serifs are the non-structural lines and curves on the tops and bottoms of letters. A font that sports these features, like Times New Roman, is called a serif font. Fonts like Ariel, without these marks, are called sans-serif fonts.
In print, it is generally thought that large blocks of text are more easily readable in a serif font because the serif helps the eye move from letter to letter. But on the Web, you're not writing in large blocks of text, right? On the Web, the use of serif vs. non-serif fonts is really a matter of taste.
In Web design, a common practice is to use a serif font for headlines, and a sans-serif font for text. Maybe this is the Google effect?
IT IS GENERALLY AGREED THAT ALL CAPS IS DIFFICULT TO READ. And to make matters worse, the use of all caps in e-mails and on the Web is generally thought to be the same thing as shouting.
Likewise, decorative fonts are difficult to read, so use them with caution and only as design elements.
Ragged Right, Ragged Left
"Ragged left" text is generally considered to lower comprehension rates. Use this alignment with extreme caution.
Likewise, centered text should be used with caution.
Centered text is also difficult to read and comprehend. It should be saved for headlines and wedding invitations.
"Ragged right" text is easiest to read. The bulk of this blog is in ragged right text.
I want to talk about color at length in a later posting - but as it relates to text, it's simple: Black on white is easiest to read.
If you must use color, choose a dark shade. The higher the contrast between the text and the background the better. Few things are harder to read than yellow text on white. Red and green are also surprisingly difficult to read. (Sorry 4-H, it's true) If you're choosing to use color - test! test! test!