The case against splash pages

From time to time, clients ask me if I’d include a “splash page” for their web site. In every situation, I try very hard to convince them not to do this.

I just had a client ask me about having a “start page link to the home page” (in other words, a splash page), and here’s my response…

Start page link to home page: bad idea. “Splash pages” as they are called are a big usability no-no. Sure, they give executives that warm fuzzy feeling, and design firms think they are cool because they show off some eye candy design skills… but in reality they are wastes of money that bring no benefit to the people you are supposed to target your web site for: your customers and prospective customers.

Don’t believe me? From http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990530_comments.html

Splash Screens

Mike Garrison (mikegarrison@alum.mit.edu) writes:

I think that splash pages may not be one of the top-10 web mistakes, but they are probably the top useless web fashion of the past year or two.Why?

  1. No one wants to have to access it every time, so getting to it really annoys anyone who is not a first time user.
  2. But for the first time user, it adds a useless step between them and whatever brought them to the site in the first place. So it really annoys them too.
  3. Most new users will come via a search engine anyway, so they’ll probably miss the splash page.
  4. If you make it the default highest page in the server (eg. http://www.useit.com/ ) then when people try to find your home page by chopping off a URL, they get the useless splash page instead.
  5. They ruin the back button. (Your #1 new mistake.)

I especially hate it when a page I have bookmarked (say: //blah.com/ ) gets moved to some URL like //blah.com/content and my bookmark suddenly starts taking me to a splash page. Then I have to edit my bookmark so that it will take me to the real home page.

Jakob’s reply: I agree: splash pages are useless and annoying. In general, every time you see a splash page, the reaction is “oh no, here comes a site that will be slow and difficult to use and that doesn’t respect my time.”

Splash pages are a sure sign of bad Web design.

or from http://www.usabilityfirst.com/glossary/term_79.txl:

Usability Guide: splash page

or splash screen; a website homepage that is used for emotional impact and has very little navigation or information. Instead, it typically just displays a large and stunning graphic or a simple typographic message to intrigue the viewer and lure them into the website.

In practice, it’s rarely a good idea, since it wastes precious download time for the user, it obscures by not including critical information about the website, and it delays the time that a person actually enters and starts using the website, increasing the probability that you’ve exceeded the user’s patience or attention span and they’ve left for another site before they even figured out what yours was. Splash pages open up numerous opportunities for poor design such that users can’t find their way into a website.

Frequent problems include:

  • not including clear navigation or a clear means of entering into the website – many users will not discover that they can click on the image to enter if the image doesn’t clearly say so.
  • providing no clear options to users who do not load images.
  • requiring the use of plug-ins or browser features that are not backward-compatible, so that many users are excluded because of the capabilities of their machines or the type of browser they’ve chosen to use.

Still not convinced? Do a we search for splash page usability.

3 thoughts on “The case against splash pages”

  • I agree completely; it’s a waste of time and generates ill-will towards the website. I recently visited a local restaurant’s website; the first page I came across had a black background with two pictures and asked me to click on either the restaurant information or the nightclub information. Both links led to the same page! They didn’t have separate pages for the nightclub and restaurant; I ended up feeling angry at the restaurant for misleading me.

  • Here in Canada – given the bilingual nature of our country – a splash page is often used for the purpose of
    asking the user (usually on their first visit only) which language they wish to browse the site in.

    While I agree wholeheartedly that having a splash page for the purposes of showing off Flash eye-candy is a
    big waste of time, I would be interested to know what the usabililty experts would propose as an alternative
    to the language-selection feature?

    See http://www.rogers.com for example.

    Regards,

    Chris.

  • Chris,

    I have seen companies do this, not just for language, but also for geographical concerns (see ups.com or fedex.com). In this case, the “splash” page is functional and does serve a distinct purpose for the user.

    An alternative to such pages is to look at the default language/culture settings in the web browser. Browsers typically send accepted languages in the HTTP request header. You can “default” to the first language/culture available in the list, and provide controls on the web page to change languages.

    Looking at rogers.com, your approach does work fine. Most people will quickly identify the side of the page in their language and enter the site. The only issue may come up if a third language (say, Spanish) is desired.

    You may want to conduct your own informal mini-usability test by getting ten people (some who speak English and little or no French, some who speak French and little English, and some who speak both fluently) and watch them use the site — give them a few small tasks such as “purchase a wireless plan with at least 1000 minutes and bla bla bla features”. For the bilingual users, give them a task that is to “change the language for which you are viewing the web page”. Obviously, your main focus is to see how they interact with the language-related features of the site.

    One small usability tip for you that I found when navigating the site. While poking around, I got this message:

    “We are sorry, Rogers Home Phone is currently not available in your area.

    However, you can take advantage of Rogers Long Distance service.”

    You should add an indication as to (1) what area I chose, and (2) allow me to change the area.

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