by Gerry McGovern What makes a great website is focus and clarity of purpose. A great website is unpretentious. It doesn't pretend to be what it is not. It never wastes your time because it always gets to the point. A great website helps you to act. Microsoft has a great homepage. It has a classic three column layout which looks like millions of other website layouts. This is great because web design is primarily navigational. Good navigation seeks to reduce uncertainty and increase familiarity. The content on the Microsoft homepage should be studied carefully by every student of web design. It is so sharp, so lean, so action-oriented. It is a webpage that means business. The center of the homepage is the lead story. It is easier to get the eye to focus on one lead story than multiple stories of equal importance, where the eye tends to skim. The lead story acts to anchor the reader and help 'lead' them deeper into the website. On the day I visited Microsoft, the text of the leads story read: Mydoom virus alert Important information Be cautious about opening files attached to e-mail Actions you can take This story is relevant, important, useful, urgent. It matters. The tone is active. You learn something: don't open email attachments. It ends with a call to action. When you click, there actually are a set of actions you can take. (You'd be surprised how many times links don't deliver on their promises.) Many homepages are a mess, a political compromise between competing interests. Some managers think that their organizations are so big and complex that it is impossible to create a lead story and reader segmentation on the homepage. Such managers are often avoiding making difficult decisions. Microsoft has made some difficult decisions. It has segmented its marketplace into three distinct segments: Home and entertainment Technical resources Business agility It makes three offers to each of these segments. Not thirty three; just three. People have a limit. If you bombard them with too many choices, you overload them and they turn off. On the surface, it looks like more work to put thirty three choices on a page. It is more manual work. However, it requires more intellectual work to choose the top three from the thirty three. All the text is active on the Microsoft homepage. It uses words such as: make, watch, prevent, check, get, how, try, see. There is not a word wasted. The text is not just written in an active voice. Practically all the text is linked. The whole page is alive with calls to action and the ability to immediately act on those calls. There is no redundant text such as "click here," "more" or "download now". The text creates its own momentum. Read the following: Make money management less taxing: Try Money 2004 You don't need to be told "click here for more." It is obvious from the text that this is something you can click on. The text is compelling you to click. This is how Microsoft sells and supports its products; how it builds its brand on the Web. Specific. To the point. Concrete. Selective. Opinionated. Always focused on driving actions. --- Gerry McGovern has spoken, written and consulted extensively on web content management issues since 1994. He has also authored several authoritative books on the subject.