Contented recently touched on a subject that I often find myself struggling with — what to do with those pesky overview pages that start off a section of a web site.
You click on a menu item such as Products and land on the top page of several (or hundreds) of more specific pages. It’s those top pages that produce more than their fair share of utter garbage on web sites and intranets.
No kidding. How many times have you simply skipped over the marketing fluff on these pages in order to get to where you want to go?
For our sites, we tend to take the ‘index page’ approach whereby the overview page lists all the pages in the section and typically provides a brief summary about each sub-page.
In our usability testing we’ve found that users prefer to have a list of links to sub-pages right there in the body of the page rather than only in the sub-navigation. It’s never been a problem to have these links in both places.
The first time they look over the links they’ll just scan the links themselves. Then, if they haven’t found exactly what they’re looking for, they’ll review the summary for each link.
The combination of link plus summary works quite well in guiding users to where they want to go without the need for them to resort to pogosticking.
We’ve also found that users respond well to a more directory-like approach where you outline and link up all the content in your sub-pages so that it is immediately accessible from the overview page.
As far as marketing/introductory content is concerned, over time we’ve managed to pare down the fluff so that any additional overview content is (fairly) useful and, at the very least, provides some context to the section.
I’m not in favor of eliminating these pages altogether, however. We’ve found that users expect this page to be some sort of index and use it as a jumping off point to access the information they’re after.
As long as they feel they are following a strong scent of information they don’t mind (or even notice) the extra click that an index page involves.
Used correctly, these overview pages are a useful tool in ensuring your site has a robust structure and that users can be confident they are going in the right direction.
Indeed, Jared Spool calls these ‘gallery’ pages the hardest working pages on your site and I think I agree with him.