Article: Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages

Jared Spool

June 15th, 2006

UIEtips 6/15/06: Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages

There are few things more frustrating in life than trying to get a drinking glass in someone else’s kitchen. You have to open every cabinet door to figure out where they put the empty glasses. For a few moments, we feel like we’re invading a very private space, searching for something innocuous by opening every nook and cranny.

It’s an interesting phenomena, since, in our own house, we have a cabinet with glasses. Chances are the glasses are in a cabinet near the kitchen sink. Yet, when we’re in unfamiliar territory, we’re on a search and rescue mission of immense proportions.

In the 21st century, innovation has finally arrived. Cabinet manufacturers have come up with an amazing invention: windows. Yes, they now put windows in the cabinets so you see the glasses without opening every door. Simply brilliant. I wish I’d thought of it.

Searching for something on a web site isn’t too far distant from the glass-in-the-kitchen hunt. Except, instead of opening cabinet doors, users click on links and pogostick their way through the site. Yet, it’s just as frustrating as the kitchen experience.

In this UIEtips issue, I talk about the web site equivalent to putting windows in the cabinet doors: creating link-rich home pages. This emerging approach to home page design lets users see more of what is inside the site without having to click on every link. It’s changing the way we think about successful home pages.

Is your organization moving towards link-rich designs? What have your experiences been? We’d love to hear from you. Post your thoughts below.

[Link-rich home pages are just one of the topics I'm covering in June 29th's UIE Virtual Seminar: Initial Scent - The Latest Thinking on Home Page Design. This 90-minute session is packed with UIE's latest research on designing quality home pages. Registrations are coming in much faster than we expected, so you'll want to sign up soon. Details here.]

Read the article here.

18 Responses to “Article: Lifestyles of the Link-Rich Home Pages”

  1. Joely Gardner Says:

    Excellent article! I really appreciated the visuals that accompanied the article. They made all the difference in my being able to appreciate your comments. Well done!

  2. Bill Sams Says:

    There’s an idea that link-rich pages are penalized by some search engines. Do you have data on if that is changing?

    Certainly if the penalty is not being applied a link-rich home page could also be a way to help get a site’s links indexed by search engines.

    What are some UI solutions that are helping users quickly scan these pages?

  3. Dyeworks Says:

    While the points of the article are valid, using a site map that is one big graphic, with teeny type (unreadable) might not have been the best choice!

  4. Chris McEvoy Says:

    This is exactly what I have been trying to achieve with my 100 link “Simply Google” page.

    I need to experiment more with the clustering and ordering, but I think that RLP’s (Rich Link Pages) are here to stay.

  5. Donna Maurer Says:

    I designed a link-rich homepage for my last client and am going to do it for my current one as well. They suit the type of site I work on – big, diverse, content-rich sites.

    The authors love them as they get a spot on the home page, the bosses love them as they get to show everything they do, and the users can find stuff.

    Can’t lose!

  6. elizabeth Says:

    I am currently re-designing an application with over 1500 selection/text fields that are in a mismash of a psuedo categorization at the moment. Is great to see your article this week as I have been playing with a new categoriezed link concept rather than traditional navigation.

  7. Barbara Coll Says:

    About search engine guidelines and link-rich sites.

    Search engines are getting smart about some of the spamming techniques out there that include massive numbers of links on one page. These are called link farms if they link out to other sites and those sites link back to them. This is not what is in question here. That’s good!

    Link-rich pages that support internal navigation are great ‘food’ for the search engine spiders. They WANT your content and thus attempt to follow links on your site to visit all the pages. If you have graphics, flash, subjective links, and other means of un-simple HTML text links then the search engines might not find all the pages on your site. If you have session ids, track ids (of some types), multiple parameters – they may not visit all the pages on your site. It would certainly make my job as a Search Engine Marketer easier if everyone listened to Jared and put clean links on their home pages.

    Recommendation: ~100 links as the search spiders can get bored easily and stop following links. Remember to include key converting or branding words in the link text. And put up a sitemap anyway. Like Jared told me many, many years ago – if people use your sitemap or your search box it means they are pissed off they couldn’t find the information the easy way. Make sure you provide them with all quick links on the sitemap, especially if you can’t do it on the home page.

  8. Louise Hewitt Says:

    Love the article and couldn’t agree more. Bah though, as I’ve only just started to get clients to accept *not* putting everything they can think of on their home page (mostly the Chairman’s face).

    I work with smaller clients on lower budget sites and, although the theory is still true, the issue of doing it well is key.

    I just pray that your wisdom and this emerging trend don’t spark a rash of poorly presented, jumbly links across homepages from clients who still spend on design and software and ignore IA and user testing.

    So I’ll rewrite the script for the record:
    “User Experience Guru Jared Spool says: spending money on research and testing is good; letting webmonkeys throw your price list index onto your homepage is bad.”

    But you already said that, right?

    (For all the people who skim the comments first.)

  9. Sue Morgan Says:

    I definitely agree with Jared’s thoughts, particularly when it comes to intranets. One advantage I’ve found in working on our intranet is that we don’t have to worry as much about branding and the latest, greatest promotion. Thus, we don’t have to fight with anybody about putting marketing copy on the intranet home.

    We recently redesigned our intranet, stressing the proposition that the home page is really the jumping off point to go deeper into the site. The new home page has about twice the number of links as the old home page, with minimal text. We’ve also grouped links into categories, some based on an employee’s role (nurses, physicians, non-clinical staff) and some based on the type of information you’re looking for (policies and procedures, forms, clinical resources, etc.)

  10. UIE Brain Sparks » Blog Archive » Glasses in the Kitchen Cabinet: A good analogy? Says:

    [...] In the letter for yesterday’s UIEtips, I wrote the following analogy: “There are few things more frustrating in life than trying to get a drinking glass in someone else’s kitchen. You have to open every cabinet door to figure out where they put the empty glasses. For a few moments, we feel like we’re invading a very private space, searching for something innocuous by opening every nook and cranny. [...]

  11. John Says:

    Not to rain on the parade and the accolades being bestowed on the rich link design movement, but I feel like a “Simon Cowell” type of response is needed. I’m not yet sold on this approach – and here is why:

    First, I recently read an article by Gerry McGovern (Web Navigation is About Moving Forward) in which he says, “Good web navigation design is not about giving people lots and lots of choices.” The rich link principle may conflict with this view. As with many other beliefs, opinions, and research in our industry, it seems like there is always a competing side.

    Secondly, I have personal experience with rich link designs because our intranet has been using them for years. We are currently considering changing our rich link designs to a “less rich link” approach. We recently changed our home page based on the postulate that we should lead the user to the content they need by reducing the number of choices they had to review and analyze which also reduced the probability of them making a error in selection. Obviously, we also incorporated all the principles of information scent in the design. So for our homepage we went from a rich link design to a “reduced link” design and our user satisfaction skyrocketed. The other reason we are moving in the other direction is that we have found that one of the limitations of the rich link approach is the ability to focus on major content and the user perception of just too much to decipher. The rich link design, or as we like to call it “the site map design,” makes it difficult to apply focus except for placing the most important content in the upper left corner. After that, most of the content and links can be considered equal in terms of relevance or importance. We wanted, through the design, to expose the most relevant content, not necessary expose all the content.

    So, I will be following this concept closely to see how it plays out.

  12. Ben Byrd Says:

    Great article Jared. Here’s my two cents. All designs can in one way or another be more transparent. However, converting over to site maps isn’t neccessarily the right answer.

    The BLS site is a perfect example. The first design doesn’t come close to giving out enough information about what’s behind those links. Yes I’m sure users loved the new design because the first one was so bad with it’s navigation and structure. The next one is better, but by the third one, I’m pretty sure I am going to feel the same way I feel about most government sites. They are hard to navigate.

    Instead of doing what you have said to do, which is to lead by scent, they just throw everything out there. It’s like touring the Jelly Belly jelly bean factory and getting hit with every scent of all their flavors at once, there’s no leading the user.

    Surely these companies have the capacity to come up with more sensible categories the would lead their different audiences along paths that would give them a sense of accomplishment.

    These designs all became better to the user because the first ones weren’t designed properly. Thanks.

  13. Scott Boggs Says:

    The link-rich model reminds me of Bauhaus design and of modern architecture (buildings, not information) which “shows what it is made of.” All have the possibility of offering elegant, efficient solutions that don’t rely on facades or fantasies.

    Thanks for the article.

  14. Daniel Szuc Says:

    This is one we are looking to research further in China.

    There is a school of thought that Chinese users like busy pages and animations.

    See:
    http://www.sohu.com
    http://www.163.com
    http://www.now.com.hk

    But testing has indicated the opposite. Users crave simplicity …

    On the other hand, users have also commmented that an over simplified Home Page does not look information rich and perhaps cannot be trusted or respected.

    *sigh*: This is one we are looking to research further in China :)

  15. Ilene Says:

    I am very confused.

    I have always been taught to keep homepages simple and uncluttered. I was actually hired as a consultant for an Intranet site to “organize” a departmental page that had 612 links and create a proper departmental site, complete with taxonomy.

    I have re-read this article a few times and cannot understand the conclusion of the article….is this good design/usability or is this bad?

  16. Jared Spool Says:

    Ilene,

    It’s good design/usability if it works for your users. The point of the article was how sites like the New York Times, McMaster-Carr, and Staples have found ways to make it work for their users by using more links, thereby breaking the myth that “simple and uncluttered” is always better.

    Hope that helps.

  17. Japhy.at - Usability, Web 2.0 und das Leben in Wien Says:

    Homepage-Usability: Wieviele Links sind noch OK?

    Jared Spool (ein bekannter Usability-Forscher, das Wort “Guru” verkneif’ ich mir lieber ) beschreibt in einem aktuellen Posting das Phänomen “Link Rich Home Pages”, also Homepages mit überdurchschnittlich vielen Links…

  18. Nancy Prater Says:

    This is such an interesting article to read as we are at the beginning phases of a redesign and are planning to greatly reduce the number of links we currently have on our university Web site. What strikes me though is that there could not possibly be one answer to whether you should have a rich link site or a lean number of links. It really depends on what kind of site you have, your audiences needs/wants, and your organization’s goals. The hard part is figuring these things out. It may seem obvious that a news Web site could have loads of links, especially since they can be neatly organized by category (national news, sports, entertainment, business, etc . . . ) but what about something that is inherently more complicated? It falls back on each of us to explore and test these questions on our own sites.

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