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Our New Home Page, Search-dominance, and NYPL's Goals

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I'm truly pleased to announce the launch of NYPL's new home page! It has more and better feature items for us to share great NYPL activities and materials with you, and a new book recommender tool that we're really excited about.

This new design—which we will continue to improve—builds off of a history of Web research, as well as a lot of recent work at NYPL suggesting we should do a better job of exposing our patrons to the full breadth of great NYPL services, programs, and other offerings. If you're here just to share thoughts about the new home page, feel free to skip down to the comments section and tell us what you think! Otherwise, read on for more detail on how we came to this design, our goals for it, and how we'll try to figure out whether or not we've succeeded.

One of the questions asked in early Web usability studies was “do some Web users prefer search to link-based navigation?” In other words, are some users “search-dominant?” In 1997, the answer was yes: Jakob Nielsen determined that over half of users prefer site search to links. More targeted studies conducted by Jared Spool by 2001, however, came up with a different result: it’s not specific users that are search-dominant, but specific websites. This result acknowledges that on some sites (think of amazon.com and ebay.com) search is usually the best way to find what you’re looking for, but on others (think of newspaper sites, bank sites) you’re more likely to try the site’s main navigation links before you search.

Twelve years later, I'll argue that many Web users now have an expectation of which method will work better, depending on what they’re looking for. That is, it’s not so much the site you’re on; it’s the information you’re looking for that determines whether you search or navigate. You expect search will work better than navigation when:

  • you’re looking for one specific result, but you don’t know what category it might fall into (Lunar Asparagus at moma.org);
  • you’re looking for a category of things, and you expect that the number of items in the category is too many to narrow down via navigation (e.g., portable radios at amazon.com).

Otherwise, you navigate first—then try search if the navigation fails you.

Home page illustrationThis is where NYPL’s recent work comes in. We have a mix of content, some of it better served by navigation, and some better served by search. Our visitors seem to understand this. For example, about 80% of home page visits go straight to search, with the goal of finding books—for which search is clearly the best method. And with frequent user testing we’ve demonstrated, for example, that visitors almost exclusively use the “Locations” navigation item when looking for a branch or research library. Similarly, other visitors use the navigation to go to the Digital Gallery, read a blog post, or find an event listing. More than 10% of traffic on the home page results in a click on the navigation bar.

One way to look at these data is entirely positive: we’ve succeeded in providing user-friendly paths to a lot of our most important content—books, locations, events, collections, and our staff’s writing. The book search and the site’s navigation, while both can be improved (more to come on these topics in future posts), work reasonably well, most of the time. But here’s the critical point: the home page appears to be doing a satisfactory job of helping you find what you came for, when you came with something in mind. What about exploration and discovery? How well do we inform you of all those things you didn't already know about?

The Library has put a lot of recent thought and work into developing online strategies, and we’ve determined that the website can serve a critical institutional goal—to promote the great breadth of Library services. We’d like, for example, for book readers to make more use of our classes and programs. Or for event registrants to investigate collections items relevant to their subjects of interest. And we want non-users—people who could take advantage of Library services, but don’t—to be  amazed by what the Library can offer to them. In general, we want to promote awareness and use of our fantastic and wide-ranging services.

Essentially, we need to pleasantly distract our visitors! We absolutely want it to be as easy as possible for you to find what you're looking for (whether with search or links), but we also want you to find things you didn't even know you'd be interested in. This kind of impact comes from encouraging exploration, and the data doesn’t show we’re doing that right now, with less than one-tenth of visits to the home page following an exploratory path. And the home page, of all the pages on the site, is possibly our best opportunity to promote discovery beyond what visitors initially sought.

To that end, we designed a few different possible home pages and tested them, and their individual elements, with a wide range of participants. By testing a variety of approaches, we hoped to determine

  • which design approach best conveys the great variety of programs, services, and tools the Library provides every day;
  • which particular services are most likely to stimulate broader use of those offerings—either in existing or new patrons.

The page that’s live today arose as a synthesis out of that testing, and the great, collaborative work of many Library staff members. We believe it will serve institutional goals, and—as we haven’t yet changed the search or the navigation—data that shows an increase in usage of the body of the page will be confirmation of that (or not, if we don’t see an increase). That is, we know it's not any harder to find what you came to see—so if we record more clicks on the bold and bright new feature items, or the book recommender, we'll know we've succeeded in that goal.

I sincerely hope you like the new home page! Do you think it will encourage exploration? Let me know what you think, or ask me any question related to the new home page, in the comments below.

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

New homepage design

The search box is still in the same place I know and love. :) I'm one of the 80% that goes straight to it b/c I know what book I want. While I LOVE the convenience of placing holds online, I do miss the serendipity of browsing library stacks and discovering new material or a poster on the bulletin board about a program catching my eye, so I think this a great experiment "to pleasantly distract" your website visitors and I look forward to hearing about your findings.

Love the New Homepage

I love it! The new page is kind of sleek. Easy on the eyes. I'm more likely to read what's on it instead of skipping through to the electronic catalog like I normally do. Nice improvement.

A great improvement. I come

A great improvement. I come to the site to find events and online exhibitions instead of books. The new homepage is much more engaging and expansive.

Excellent Improvement

New homepage looks fantastic! I agree with the prior comments, and I too generally search for particular items on nypl.org. However, I've recently become interested in what else is happening at the city's libraries and welcome the new homepage as a quick way to navigate to new interests. Looking forward to seeing the changes being made. Thanks very much!

Love it!

I love the new look. Helps to know nothing of the old has been moved around just the landing so i get exposed to more topics/material. Nothing like an old fashioned good librarian that says "Hey! Have you tried this?!" and i think the new look achieves exactly that! Great job!!!

Hell Matt. Thanks for the

Hell Matt. Thanks for the post! You mentioned testing several homepage options, and ending on this one. I'm curious to know what your findings were - what type of content you did or did not include on the homepage. Are you allowed to share more information on that?

Initial success

I just wanted to report this: in the first month after the launch of the new home page, we got twice as many clicks on the feature boxes then we did in the last month of the old home page. Success! Fully one-sixth of the clicks were on book recommendations, so that accounts for a good chunk of the increase, but the special feature boxes did much better as well. @Lotte--we tested all the versions with similar content, in order to minimize that impact on the test (if you want more details, please track me down on LinkedIn). In the end, we don't really have any rules for what kind of content can appear on the home page--only that it be the most important things, regardless of what category they may fall into. Thanks to all of you, for the great comments and questions.

Mobile too?

Since the change, has mobile presence been tracked as well? If so, how has the overall impression of that section of visitors been changed? I unfortunately don't recall the old mobile/responsive site layout for the homepage, but I do notice there seems to be quite a bit of scrolling. Critique: I also like the color coordination with differing borders for small devices, but get confused when I hit blue events which also has blogs, locations, classes, from the president, and exhibits intermixed. Categorization is great for being able to quickly browse, but I find that I personally am unable to very quickly gauge the different categories at a quick glance. (Perhaps the blue are all blogs, and the category is a subcategory?) I find that this style of homepage is a great solution to the desire of library staff all wanting everything on the home page, and if it increases patron interaction with the website, it'd seem like a win/win.

Re: Mobile too?

Thanks for your comment, and for noting the responsive design! We didn't have a responsive design before the switch, so we don't have comparative data. It's probably worth saying that our mobile traffic is high compared to other cultural institutions in NYC, and growing fast. So addressing it was important. There's a lot of scrolling because there's a lot of content; in general we favor more scrolling to more clicking, and I wouldn't, in this case, make the content items smaller in order to reduce scrolling. It's potentially good practice to think about focusing content options on what mobile visitors want most, but we haven't done that kind of analysis yet, so the content items are the same as on the large-screen site. The colors don't actually have any intended meaning. The page overall is meant to be uncategorized, actually; it's been helpful in certain ways that we don't try to say that certain categories of content belong (or don't belong) on the home page. What seems most important goes up, independent of what kind of item/event/feature it may be.

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