CHAPTER 4: ROLE OF THE HOMEPAGE
- The homepage is arguably the most important page on the Transport Scotland website.
- Stakeholders strongly believed that it was important for the homepage to retain a concise explanation of the remit of the organisation.
- At present, few people read all of the information provided on the homepage and skim read through it at best.
- Stakeholders also feel the website needs to provide a clear route into the main website content and also welcome the provision of latest news headlines.
- The Transport Scotland website currently contains links to a small number of external websites aimed at re-directing those who have arrived in error. Stakeholders agreed these should be retained, or even expanded in any re-design.
- The design of the homepage was in line with expectations, although a small number of stakeholders felt that it was not particularly engaging or welcoming.
Importance of the homepage
4.1 The homepage (Figure 4.1) is arguably the most important page on the Transport Scotland website, as this is the most common entry point for visitors, the most frequently accessed page and the main route into the website content. In the month of August 2008, for example, there were 20,230 unique visitors12 to the Transport Scotland website and 18,816 of them visited the homepage. Of these, 9,634 visitors entered the website at the homepage13. The homepage is also particularly important for first-time visitors who access the website at this point because it is where they form their first impression of the Transport Scotland website.
Figure 4.1: Transport Scotland homepage
4.2 The homepage should be used to inform visitors about the organisation and guide visitors to the most important content on the website. The principles of good homepage design are straightforward: make the website’s purpose clear by explaining what the organisation does and then help users to find the information that they need, through clearly labelled links to the key content.
Users’ views on the homepage
4.3 Stakeholders strongly agreed that the Transport Scotland website should continue to provide a concise explanation of the remit of the organisation. Many stakeholders believed that there is a lack of understanding, particularly among the general public, about who is responsible for what areas of transport in Scotland. Indeed, both stakeholders from Local Authorities interviewed, for instance, described how they spent time handling enquiries that were actually in the remit of Transport Scotland.
"There is still some room for educating people about what Transport Scotland does as we often receive enquiries that are more for them and the same happens the other way around."
Local Authority employee
4.4 It was apparent from the usability interviews that few people read the current text on the homepage in any detail. Most of those who participated in the usability sessions scanned the page very quickly, without taking in details. It is important to keep the description of the role of Transport Scotland brief and consider using bulleted lists rather than paragraphs of text to highlight the agency’s responsibilities.
"There is a lot going on. Lots of different information which is competing with each other."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
4.5 Stakeholders also agreed that the website needed to provide a clear route into the main website content. Visitors to websites rarely read large amounts of text, but want to click links to explore a website. The navigation needs to recognise and facilitate this, by providing clear links to the content that most visitors will be looking for. Chapter Six will identify the parts of the website that are most commonly accessed by visitors and the information that they looked for. The provision of ‘Quick links’ to commonly accessed content would be welcomed.
4.6 The homepage design generally met people’s expectations, although a small number of stakeholders commented that the website was not particularly engaging or compelling. Indeed, when compared to the Highways Agency website, some felt that the Highways Agency had a homepage that was much more welcoming and engaging, primarily due to the brighter colour scheme used.
"It looks a bit dull. It doesn’t make me want to get into it. It is not very enticing at all."
Member of the general public, non-user of the website
4.7 The Transport Scotland homepage currently has some highly visible links to external websites, aimed at re-directing those who have landed on the website in error. Stakeholders agreed that these links should be retained in any new design, because there was an assumption that some people do visit the Transport Scotland website in error, when looking for traffic information or for help in planning a journey. Some stakeholders wondered whether additional links might be useful, such as information on ferries and airports, which are transport-related but fall outside the remit of Transport Scotland. These stakeholders felt that because the agency name sounded all-encompassing, then those searching for information on other modes of transport might visit the site but have no clear direction of where to try instead.
"The term Transport Scotland suggests they manage ferries, they do not. It needs to be very clear about what it does and doesn’t cover and provide links to those it doesn’t."
Transport / Engineering Consultant
4.8 Stakeholders agreed that the website homepage should feature latest news. This is one of the key reasons why stakeholders visit the website and it should be easy for them to find. In addition, providing some content on the homepage that is current and frequently updated ensures that visitors think that the site is up-to-date, which is important in generating trust for the content on the website. As will be reported in Chapter Seven, out-dated content causes visitors to question the validity of all of the information made available on the website, while fresh material provides reassurance.