One of the most successful design strategies we encountered in our testing is the placement of direct links on the homepage to a very small number of high-priority operations. No matter how well you structure your information architecture or how transparently you represent it in your navigation system, users may get lost or impatient if they must navigate through multiple levels. Direct links shortcut and simplify this.
A long list of direct links can defeat other homepage goals. Reserve them for the most important user tasks.
Unfortunately, you can't present direct links to a large number of features on the homepage. Doing so defeats the purpose because users are more likely to click the wrong link. Also, a long list of direct links defeats other homepage goals, such as setting the stage for the site and informing users about the full scope of their options. The details drown the big picture, paradoxically giving users less of an overview.
The week Mozilla launched its Firefox browser, it was a safe to assume that the vast majority of visitors to the homepage came to download the new software. So Mozilla wisely featured a direct link to this task as the most prominent design element on the homepage. Unfortunately, the arrow that looks like a download icon is not clickable. This is only a very small usability problem, however, because most people would click the text link below it. The site also presents direct links to other high-priority tasks through its other three main products.
Another good element of this homepage is the featured quote from Walt Mossberg, a respected software reviewer. It's much more credible when someone outside of your organization praises your productand it's certainly more credible when someone else speaks badly of the competition, as in this case. Finally, it was smart to link to Mossberg's full article on the Wall Street Journal's Web site. It shows others that Mozilla is not afraid to let users read the full review for themselves. This strategy is effective regardless of whether users actually follow the link or not.
Reserve direct links from the homepage for a small number of the most important user tasks. For any individual area of the homepage, you probably need to restrict the number of direct links to three to five. Three or fewer is most appropriate for multiple areas that each feature their own direct links.
For the next major release of Firefox, Mozilla simplified the homepage even more and better highlighted the task of most visitors: to download the new version. Moving the link Other Systems and Languages outside the big button for downloading the main version was another marked improvement on the site. In the previous design, the link for these was inside a big shaded area that clearly was intended primarily for people who wanted the English version for Windows. Anyone who wanted a different version was likely to look elsewhere on the screen.