NieHome  03-9-98



50 Websites Deconstructed


Jakob Nielsen & Marie Tahir

New Riders Publishing, 2002, 314 pp. 



Nielson has been called the world’s leading expert on web usability.  This book introduces 113 guidelines but it primarily analyzes web site home pages from 50 top companies.  Each web site is displayed and 20 key components are evaluated. This is the most colorful book I’ve seen.  Every glossy page is full color.  Its 10 x 10 soft cover format is suitable for displaying web pages but makes it awkward to hold and read.


“Homepages are the most valuable real estate in the world.  Millions of dollars are funneled through a space that’s not even a square foot in size.  The homepage’s impact on a company’s bottom line is far greater than simple measures of e-commerce revenues: the homepage is also your company’s face to the world.”   “The homepage is the most important page on any website, getting more page views than any other page.”  (Preface)


“The most critical role of the homepage is to communicate what the company is, the value the site offers…, and the products or services offered.”  (Preface)


“Inexperienced users often feel overwhelmed by homepages that don’t clearly help them understand their options.”  “They will just leave the site and turn to places that feel more welcoming.”  (Preface)


“The challenge is to design a homepage that allows access to all important features without cramming them onto the page itself….  Focus and clarity are key, as is an understanding of users’ goals.” (Preface)




Communicating the Site’s Purpose. (10)

“Imagine how disorienting it would be to walk into a store and not be able to tell immediately what services or goods were available there.”  (10)

·        “Show the company name and/or logo in a reasonable size and noticeable location

·        Include a tag line that explicitly summarizes what the site or company does.

·        Emphasize what your site does that’s valuable from the user’s point of view….

·        Emphasize the highest priority tasks so that users have a clear starting point.”


Content Writing (14)

“Most users scan online content, rather than carefully reading, so you must optimize content for scannability and craft it to convey maximum information in few words.”  (14)

·        Use customer-focused language.  Label sections and categories according to the customers’ values, not yours.

·        Avoid clever phrases and marketing lingo

·        Use only imperative language.


Revealing Content Through Examples (16)

·        Use examples to reveal the site’s content, rather than just describing it.

·        For each example, have a link that goes directly to the detailed page



·        Differentiate links and make them scannable.

·        Don’t use generic instructions, such as ‘Click Here’ as a link name.  Instead underline the text that shows what they will get when they click.


Graphic Design (23)

“Graphic design most often hurts usability when it’s used as a starting point for the homepage design, rather than as a final step to draw appropriate focus to a customer-centered interaction design.”  “Over-designed text can actually detract from the meaning of the words.” 


Window Title

The window title (determined by the TITLE tag of each HTML document, plays a critical role in bookmarking and finding the site with search engines.  The window title becomes the default bookmark name, so the title should begin with the word that users will most likely associate with the site.  (25)



Keep homepage URLs simple and memorable.  (26)


Technical Problems

“If the website is down or important parts not operational, show it clearly on the homepage and give an estimate of when it will be corrected.  (30)


Dates and Times

Users need to see that the information they see on your homepage is current. (33)


Recommended Homepage Design (52-53)

Homepage Issue

Recommended Design

Download time

10 second max

Page width

Optimized for 770 pixels, liquid layout

Page length

One or two full screens. No more than three

Logo placement

Upper left

Logo size

80 x 68 pixels


Provide on home page, upper left or right

Search box

White.  Call it ‘Search’ or ‘Go’


Left-hand rail, tabs, links across top, or categories in middle

About the company

Always provide this feature

Contact information

Provide a link called “Contact Us”


Don’t offer unless complexity makes it unavoidable


5-15% of space


Black, 12 point, sans-serif, on white background



Another good book on web sites: DON’T MAKE ME THINK - A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug, 2000.