Across all types of usability studies we do - whether it's B2B or B2C - the most common point of failure and user frustration is getting back to the homepage when there's no text link to "Home" in the primary navigation. As is customary, users expect to find a homepage link on the left side of the main navigation bar.
Example 1: People magazine's "Home" link located as the first text link on the primary navigation, just to the right of the logo. Notice how it's actually called out with a highlight color, so it's easy to find.
When there is no expected "Home," we find that users exhibit one of several behaviors:
- Re-type in the homepage url, or
- Hit their browser's "back" button until they get to the homepage (which can sometimes take quite awhile), or
- Return to Google to look for the website again (often clicking on ads in the process), or
- Give up entirely.
Using the Logo as the Link to Home
It's standard industry practice to make the logo link to the homepage. About half of users know about this practice and expect the logo to take them back home, and we find that most websites conform to this standard.
Where we find problems, however, is when the logo is the only method of returning home. Although, about half of users expect the logo to take them home; the other half don't know that they can click on the logo.
Example 2: In our November 2011 usability study on campaign website usability, we found numerous critical errors related to navigation throughout Mitt Romney's website. Among the biggest problems was that users could not navigate back home because there was no "home" link where they expected to see it in the primary navigation.
In B2B and internal applications, we also frequently find cases where website teams assume that the vast majority of users are technology professionals know the logo returns to the homepage. This is simply not true: there are frequently other stakeholders outside of technology, and even a limited set of professionals in technology (especially QA), who aren't aware of the convention.
Example 3: Popular email newsletters software Mailchimp doesn't feature a link to the homepage on it's marketing site. While the site is primarily targeted at relatively web-savvy professionals, we often find folks in this demographic who are unaware of the logo link to homepage convention.
Icons as the "Clutter-Free" Link to Home
To avoid adding "Home" text to the primary navigation - for various reasons including de-cluttering the header and to offer more "real" navigation options - some designers choose to include a "home icon" instead. This is again problematic as we often find users don't see the home icon - they're looking for the word "Home" - or, in cases where they see it, don't recognize the house icon as the equivalent of "Home."
Example 4: Since our November 2011 usability study that included the Romney campaign website, the site has been redesigned including the whole navigation scheme. Among the changes, the designers added a link to the homepage but did so in the form of a house icon. We often find in studies that users are literal, so they're looking for the words "Home" instead of an icon.
Example 5: During our usability study on weight loss websites, we found users routinely wanted to go back to the homepage, but were unable to accomplish this task using the site's navigation. They often retyped the homepage URL (if they knew it) or, in cases where they were unsure of the company name's spelling, returned to Google search. When asked if they thought Nutrisystem provided a link to the homepage in their navigation, participants said they didn't believe one was provided. When asked about the gray element on the left in the navigation bar, participants indicated they didn't know what it was. One participant thought it was a decorative element without any functionality associated with it.
All websites, regardless of target audience, should have a text link that says "Home" as the first element on the left in the primary navigation.