Book Review COM585
February 14, 2006

Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed
By Jakob Nielsen & Marie Tahir


In the book, "Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed," Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir take 50 homepages, chosen because of the popularity or prominence of the company, agency or institution they represent, and examine their effectiveness. According to the authors, the homepage is the most important page on any web site. Nielsen and Tahir discuss the role of the homepage, present usability guidelines and design statistics to support their theories. Then, they break down 50 web sites, piece-by-piece, to demonstrate usability positives and negatives.

Overall, this book is incredibly useful. In a very detailed fashion, it examines each item on a web site and points out what it does or does not do correctly usability-wise. Although it could be viewed as a downside, the fact that this book was published in 2001 is also a positive. While reading through each analysis, is interesting to bring up each web site to see what has changed. Interestingly enough, some of the changes suggested by Nielsen and Tahir have been implemented. It is obvious that web designers have responded to the focus on usability in recent years, which is promising.

Although their explanation of usability as it applies to language and organization is extremely strong and noteworthy, the authors do not divulge into visual and spatial design enough. A deeper analysis of spatial aspects of the homepage would be very helpful in the overall examination of homepages. Below are some main points made and some areas that, if included, would make this book even more useful.

Book Structure:

The first 50 or so pages of this book are dedicated to explaining, in detail, the authors' usability guidelines. Bulleted sections with paragraph-long explanations are listed in each section. For example, the section, "Communicating the Site's Purpose" includes a short introduction and 7 bulleted usability items that fall under that category such as the following:

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, as well as how you differ from key competitors.

In the spirit of usability, it would be helpful to include examples with each paragraph of sites that have done this well and ones who have not, which are included later in the book. Analyzing web sites is the primary focus of this book and by referencing web sites explained later in the book, the two sections of the book would be tied together. That tie would better explain and support the best practices presented by providing a visual explanation to go with the written.

Content Writing:

One of the main points made over and over by Nielsen and Tahir in their analysis of web sites is the need for clear, basic language. Nearly every web site presented in this book is criticized for misuse of content. Guidelines for content writing presented in this book are the following:

Use customer-focused language. Label sections and categories according to the value they hold for the customer, not according to what they do for your company.
Avoid redundant content.
Don't use cleaver phrases and marketing lingo that make people work too hard to figure out what you're saying.
Use consistent capitalization and other style standards.
Don't label a clearly defined area of the page if the content is sufficiently self-explanatory.
Avoid single-item categories and single-item bulleted lists.
Use non-breaking spaces between words in phrases that need to go together in order to be scannable and understood.
Only use imperative language such as "Enter a City or Zip Code" for mandatory tasks, or qualify the statement appropriately.
Spell out abbreviations, initialisms, and acronyms, and immediately follow them by the abbreviation, in the first instance.
Avoid exclamation marks.
Use all uppercase letters sparingly or not at all as a formatting style.
Avoid using spaces and punctuation inappropriately, for emphasis.

These are all good guidelines; however, the authors fail to recognize a major factor in writing and presenting content - the audience. If the focus is too strongly on guidelines and standards, the needs of a web site's visitors will not be recognized and in doing so, the purpose of the site is somewhat lost. It is important to recognize that