Is Your Home Page Just One Big Cliche?

There are literally zillions of articles and resources out there telling us how to create a good home or landing page. And there’s definitely an argument for adopting best (and/or most successful) practices in our work.

But when does successful trend become cliche?

These days it feels like far too many of the sites I visit have the same boring presentation:

  • hero/carousel with CTA
  • thee-column grid/horizontal list
  • three-columns of extra stuff.

Examples? I have them: AirBnB, Rdio, Asana. Three very different offerings using basically the same layout to communicate their key messages.

There are other options: two columns, rather than three, for example. But all of these are pretty standard formats. They’re familiar to most of us now.

Predictability, usability … and communication?

We know that familiar visual patterns are reassuring to web users. When I visit any of the pages above, I have a pretty clear idea of what I can expect where. I can preempt, at least to some degree, what I’ll find. And I can undertake my browsing or research experience accordingly.

This has its pros—it anchors my experience on your site to some degree, and helps me to feel comfortable.

But it also has cons. I could miss important information you’ve included in, say, your hero video, because I never bother to watch hero videos. In fact, since pretty much every site I visit has a massive hero at its top, it feels like I spend my life scrolling past heroes to get to the meat and potatoes—the informational content.

These aren’t insurmountable problems, though. They’re just communications challenges.

The real problems arise when your brand chooses to adhere slavishly to a prescribed layout, and ends up struggling to communicate your point of difference as a result.

Predictability, sameishness … and boredom?

Recently a client who was redeveloping their home page wanted to include a three-step How It Works section, something like the one on GetSidekicker.

Get Sidekickr

Fine. But as we set about working out the messaging for each step, the client looked sheepish.

“Actually,” he said, “our process is pretty simple. It’s really only two steps. But I’m sure we can make it into three to fit this model.”

When we looked at the sites of his few competitors, they all explained their processes in three steps. He wanted the same thing, even though his process was simpler—and that simplicity was key to his service’s unique selling point.

A better way to go

Last week, when we talked about testing your web copy, I suggested developing layout and copy together. This is another reason for that argument.

Why make your messages fit a prescribed, me-too layout when you can shape a unique—and still familiar and usable—format that supports your unique brand message?

The site for OMO laundry detergent positions the brand differently from competitors Tide and Surf, in part because they use layout to communicate different messages.

The layout uses a banner image, rather than a big hero image or carousel—a design choice made, we could speculate, so that users can get straight to the content on the home page, which communicates exactly what the brand is about: letting kids be messy. And the banner image—a child—backs up the messaging communicated through the text.

What about online apps? In the realm of “productivity tools”, compare Postbox with Teambox. The first is an email client, the second is a collaboration tool, but the layouts and presentations are pretty darn similar.

In this sea of sameishness, a service that more clearly focuses on its point of difference, like Basecamp, may well stand out more in your mind, and your memory. While the other services focus on listing features, Basecamp uses its much-loved market position to convince you: real people use it all the time. And it does so with much less text (and very different imagery) than the others.

Do you use a standard layout on your homepage? How clearly does it allow you to communicate your key brand messages, and how much does it restrict you? Tell us in the comments.

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  • ralph.m

    I don’t think it’s so much the design that matters as the message. Heck, I thought I knew what OMO was until I looked at that site just then. O … is it some kind of craft site for kids? Totally confusing, if you ask me. #fail

  • Nick – Editor

    The greatest problem with most websites is the writing style. Everyone wants plain English. Most are poorly written in a business-speak or amateurish style.

    We recommend people put their draft web pages through the StyleWriter – plain English editing software by using the free 14-day trial.

    Nick

  • sweas

    Agree with ralph.m – not sure that OMO was better…

    Different, and not same-ish, but not in an effective way. That being said I do agree that there is, potentially a need for a new design pattern to break away from the repetitiveness of the “hero” images. I feel like with everything trending towards mobile though, that this new pattern will be in that arena, while desktops will always be left for large, beautiful imagery.

  • http://theheatexchange.wordpress.com/ H.E.A.T.

    I understand your point about being unique, but the three sites you chose with “boring presentations”, for me, fail to support your point.

    I went to each site before and after reading your entire article and still saw three distinct sites; distinct in both information and expression. Yes, there are some similarities, but those similarities can be found on any website that uses a set of navigation links at the top of the page and a footer at the bottom.

    These are landing pages. Landing pages are meant to let you know what you can find on the “inside” of the website — where you can find the “unique” meat and potatoes. Again, I understand your point about not appearing to be the same, but I sense a bit of professional bias in your approach to the matter using the examples provided.

    Most people do not really care about the landing page if they know what to expect on the inside of the website. Now that I know Rdio is a music site, I will go back, click past the landing page since I know I’ve reached my desired location, and get to the inside. This is basically what a landing page facilitates.

    With your argument, every blog site is a cliche. The same could be said about every article-based site. When all things are equal, you may have somewhat of a point. The examples you use are for sites offering different services and users will focus more on getting to those services than feigning any interest in a landing page.

    My response is based on the examples you provided and nothing more (to keep things in their proper context).

  • Chad Garrett

    Cliches aren’t all bad. Recognition plays a key part on sites that match the status quo. Clearly you won’t be recognized as unique or as a game changer, but people feel at home on the site and know where to look for things.

    Just look at the number of web sites that use the “Contact Us” link text on their web site. Everyone knows what to look for, no parsing required.

  • Georgina Laidlaw

    Guys, thanks so much for these interesting comments :)

    H.E.A.T. and ralph.m bring up great points about familiarity, but raise an interesting question: should your home page become superfluous for users who already know your brand? OMO seems to me to speak to people who know what OMO is—they’re trying to create an emotional connection: OMO lets my kids be as messy as they want. Surf and Tide? They’re … bottles of stuff?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic from a different perspective:

    What do you guys do, as design professionals, to make sure the layouts you use best reflect/present the unique messaging of the brands you’re designing for to their specific audiences?

    From what I can see, most designers think a standard layout answers the audience question, and believe visual design/text should do the job of conveying unique messaging. In this piece, I’m suggesting that this is not necessarily the only way to go—that the framework in which you present your messaging can enhance that messaging if you let it. For example, https://square.com/cash communicates a range of brand messages (casual, friendly, effortlessly easy, part of life) quickly and clearly in an uncommon presentation/format. Can you imagine this in one of the “cliched” layouts I mentioned above..?

    • http://theheatexchange.wordpress.com/ H.E.A.T.

      I visited the OMO website. I am using a desktop computer with a 21-inch screen. When I arrived at their landing page, I could not identify what the site was about until I scrolled down to the bottom of the page.

      Only because of your article did I have an idea that OMO was about detergent. I have never heard of OMO, but I have heard of Tide and Surf. OMO’s landing page, for me, fails to identify their particular product or place into context their services.

      Based on your examples of “boring presentations”, OMO appears to fit into that category, while not providing an identity for its principle product or services.

      The landing page is basically like a sign on a door. Have you ever visited your favorite department store and tried to open the front door only to find that the store was closed. Then you stepped back to look at the sign on the door stating that the stored was closed? This is in affect how visitors will treat a landing page.

      OMO’s landing page does not even tell me that I’ve arrived at a site that sells laundry detergent until I scroll to the bottom. I really do not want to visit a kiddy website and I would be turned away immediately by their “above the fold” content.

      People will usually visit an unknown website because of a search result or other reference. They will have an idea of what supposed to be at the link destination. If I was looking for detergent and landed on the OMO’s landing page, I would think (like I did) that I made a mistake and landed on a game and activities site for kids. Sometimes, deviating from the norm can lead to oblivion.

      Again, I understand your point about uniqueness, but the landing page is not the place to dedicate much of that effort. Save that for the “inside”. The inside is where visitors will (hopefully) spend the bulk of their time.

  • ralph.m

    “Should your home page become superfluous for users who already know your brand?”

    Personally, I think a home page can cater for both quite easily: have an intro at the top for those unfamiliar with the product, perhaps with a link to more info, and, lower down, featured tips etc. for those familiar with the product. I come across a lot of sites that have no intro whatever, assuming that I’m familiar with the product, and it really turns me off.

    “What do you guys do, as design professionals, to make sure the layouts you use best reflect/present the unique messaging of the brands you’re designing for to their specific audiences?”

    Typically, clients start out all excited, having seen some cool site and wanting a layout just like that … without any regard for the needs/nature of their own content and message. (This is why so many sites are cliched and hard to follow: content is shoehorned into layouts that are totally inappropriate for that content.) So I always pull the clients back and first get them to think about what they actually need to say to their site visitors—starting from the most essential message, down to other bits of information they might need to present.

    By concentrating on the message like this, you can start to build up a wireframe / site structure of sorts, as you consider how best to present that information. They key is that it’s all focused on the actual message, rather than issues of design. Letting content dictate the layout and organisation of site content makes design easy, as it really then involves just making the layout look a little more pleasing to the eye.

  • ralph.m

    PS. I didn’t like that Square site, as it doesn’t have enough info for me. A few quick messages moved across the screen (too fast for me to read) and then disappeared, leaving almost nothing to go on. If I had taken a moment to get to the page (e.g. opening it in a new tab) I might have missed the message altogether.

    Then there aren’t many options for finding out more. The main feature is an Invite Only link … but an invite to what? What does that mean? I’m not going to click on a link like that unless it’s really clear to me why I’m clicking on it and what the consequences will be.

    So, for me, another fail. There are too many sites like this that are trying to be too cool for their own good, but really just leave the user in no man’s land.

  • http://www.abreakapart.com AUDIOMIND

    From a normal website visitor’s POV they want quick loading, easy navigation, familiarity in design principles and good content. Boring or Cliche is in the eye’s of the beholder.