In the olden days most every company web site was basically an online brochure. You'd hit the home page, click on a relevant navigation item, and hopefully find your way to something and somehow the company would make money out of that. Often the home page was a more-or-less static space for branding and maybe some products for sale. Sometimes, like an unwelcome dinnertime telemarketer, splash pages would get thrown in front of the site.
Web design best practices have progressed quite a bit, but many popular artist and label sites are still generally a news feed, a feature box or two, and if they get super fancy a twitter feed or Facebook like button. Generally they'll still annoy you with the occasional (or not-so-occasional) splash page. Our last site had all of these features.
While there's nothing particularly wrong with a brochure site, there's the possibility for so much more. In fact, when your home page gets hundreds of thousands of views a month, there's so much better marketing you can do to make the site more relevant to new visitors and get them to look more deeply into your content. With that in mind Jon Satterley wanted a home page that followed the same philosophy as the Huffington Post. Their home page adjusts its design based upon the importance of the news being presented. If it’s huge news you can be assured it gets a huge headline and a huge image.
Now, I’ve always assumed these pages were coded by hand. When Jon brought this up I wanted to take it a step further and create built-in templates the editor could choose from. The site was delivered with four and we can always add in more later if we think them up.
The standard headline is the basic one you’ll see every day. We can give a boost to one story and highlight another six. Pictured below is the preview wireframe we use to remind us what the layout looks like.
The super headline gives us a larger image area at the top of the page to highlight an important story. Ideally we only use this layout a couple of times a month. Our special headline layout is intended to replace a traditional splash page by dropping all content in favour of one huge image for major events.
On that note, we hate splash pages with a passion. This is a difficult position to be in since so many folks are convinced they are extremely important and useful. Because so many people feel this way and continue to deploy them, that opinion is reinforced. Amusingly even to the point that no matter how much data we can muster to show they aren’t all that useful and very often are harmful, we still get “But Band X did it!” as a response.
Web usability expert Jakob Nielsen presents a good, brief case study of how they are bad in the “Splash Screens” part of this article. You can find many more reasons why they stink dating back over a decade at his site. Essentially, though, it boils down to the fact that most visitors to a site probably aren’t there for whatever’s on a splash page and, while they might find it of interest, it’s more likely to turn them off. Years of everyone using horrible splash pages have trained users of sites to just skip past them or leave entirely, even if the splash page is relevant! If they’re doing that, how is the message actually getting across to them? Usually it’s not. And that’s just a small slice of the reasons not to use them.
We wanted to build a home page that could really meet the marketing goals many people think splash pages accommodate while presenting the user with an experience they’ll actually appreciate and enjoy. I think we’ve accomplished this!
As you can see we now have a malleable home page that can suit the day’s news needs extremely well. We can highlight specific news items, keep others on the page for more time if we want, and no longer need to resort to splash pages to hype important stories.
Jeremy Rosen is the Director, Digital Platforms & Emerging Technology for Roadrunner Records.