Where did our visitors go?
Homepages are not anymore what is used to be. We recently run a quick check on visits for the home pages of “Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE)” and “Horizon 2020 (H2020)” Websites. The first one is live from October 2012, the second one was launched in mid December 2013. The % is expression of homepages visits against the overall traffic:
The drop is constant for both sites and more pronounced for the recently launched one, clearly for the “launch effect” that is dissipating over time.
This shows not only that homepages are less and less visited in “mature” sites, but also that only a strong action — like a launch campaign — can boost the traffic to an homepage before it tends to its natural fate of declining.
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We did a deeper analysis on DAE site since its launch in October 2012, and splitting inbound traffic to the homepage from the “pure” external landings. Here are the results:
It is clear that the two peaks are favored only by announce effect: in October 2012 for the launch of the new site, and in January 14 for announcement of launch of new financing for research projects.
- Visits to the homepage is on average generated 50% by inbound traffic.
- Nowadays, traffic to homepage has declined up to a level of 2-5 % . Pure external landings are less than 3%.
Where people went to? why? Is it good news? Let’s see.
What’s an homepage?
There are many definitions for “homepage”, maybe as many as there are web professionals around the world; plus 1.
So let’s try to restrict a bit and start from Wikipedia, first bullet:
- The initial or main web page of a website, sometimes called the “front page” (by analogy with newspapers).
In one line we already have several options: Initial / Main / Front.
All of them express a Judgmental process from the author and all of them will end up in something different for the user.
Initial. — This looks an objective definition as you have to start from something. It illustrates the web experience as a journey, you start from a page, you travel through a site to get something (what we offer you, hopefully) and you close your journey leaving the site. Right? Twice as wrong.
- Wrong 1: What is telling you that your initial/home page, is the initial page of your visitor’s day? You don’t know anything about his own journey, he may already be at the end of a lengthy search and be quite bored to read what you think is a good way to start a journey… This start is likely to be the end his journey. So think about adapting the language. (remember the classic example o windows 98 where to close a session you have to click on “Start” …)
- Wrong 2: What is telling you that they will starting visiting your website exactly on your (arbitrarily decided) initial page? Sometime it may be the case, yes: when people want to buy a Volvo they may try typing directly www.volvo.com as a start. But most of the time people will come to a page from Google or from Social media. This process is usually the result of searches on a topic and hence is likely to end up deep in your website.
So any page in your website can be an Initial page… and if you don’t make it excellent it will also be the final page.
Main. — This one is even more trickier : main according to which criteria? Most of the time it is according to “my” (site owner) priorities. What I want to publish, what I want to push, what I want you to read. Wrong! It’s must be “main” according to user need, they decide what is important to them. So main page is what is most relevant to them, what fulfill their instant needs and if they don’t find it immediately they leave. Sometime even if you have it, and they find it, they may still leave because of many reasons:
- you did so well in hiding their need in your website behind your ego-boasted content that they are tired of searching and jump to the next Google search results;
- they don’t even go to your page because in the Google two lines preview they don’t find anything relevant to their initial search (I will come back on this in future posts). And so forth.
Front. — Front to what? It was a valid concept in physical paper where the front page can induce you to buy it or not. This is the problem of people thinking of the web as if it is just an online reproduction of a magazine.
But as said in the web you don’t know what will be the front page that will appear to the user, so better make sure all of them are welcoming for our visitors. Work out your general layout, your navigation, your mobile user experience; it will pay off more than focusing on a front page that nobody will see (see graph further down).
Introducing: The Landing Page
Therefore, nowadays we prefer talking about “landing pages” rather than homepages because we don’t know where the user will land and where he comes from. Our reflex should be to treat all pages like landing pages, aka all pages becomes our homepage(s). We need to curate them having in mind the basic principle: you never get a second change for a first impression.
So we need to focus on key elements that answer the basic user question in every page:
- What this page/site does for me? Is it answering the question/need I have?
- How should I fulfill my need?
- Where in the page do I do it (without need to think)?
And you have 10 seconds to answer his questions…. ok, let’s be generous and say 30 seconds, as I narrated in The Hindenburg and the Web
We don’t want to be caught pants down just because they didn't ring the doorbell and they pop up from the back window, do we?
Is the Homepage dead?
Few years ago the advent of the app revolution was leading to think so. The mobile experience is driving the content directly to the user without an homepage.
I disagree as even apps have a home page. And for what we see around, the WWW as we know is more than ever alive on mobile. In fact the need of developing the same app on several different platforms make it more viable and economical for a website owner to do a proper responsive website rather than build and maintain several apps.
So the homepage is still alive. However, its role has evolved and is not anymore what we think it is; maybe it never was. It has been often misunderstood with the above mentioned concept, as many web-publishers (and site owners) came from the printed business and thought it was just enough to apply by similitude their savoir faire. While the purpose of the home page should be to be useful, if ever. So it is not about scrapping, it but rather making the best of it analysing user behaviours.
In fact, one of the biggest misconception is the conviction that (nice) home pages drives traffic to the rest of the site. This is wrong as analytic clearly prove that homepages traffic is sinking, except on rare occasion like the launch of a new site. Social Media and good SEO drives traffic.
Homepages are still part of the branding and can offer opportunities in terms of content offering, explanations, driving the user to the right path if he missed the right “turn” and so forth, but let’s not overstate it. I will put some articles at the end for your good reading.
So let’s not get mad about homepages. Let’s be Zen about it and meditate on its best use. What will win our user attention is respecting his needs and presenting him a clean design in every page he will visit, as if that is the most important page of our website, because it’s “his” page.
- The homepage is dead
- Is the homepage dead? (1)
- Is the homepage dead? (2)
- Misconceptions About the Homepage
- The changing role of the homepage and why your website is not a newspaper
- The role of the homepage
- Usability in action — The role of the homepage
- 12 Critical elements every homepage must have (nice infographic)
- Some homepages per sector if you want to have some inspiration/critical analysis: http://www.allmyfaves.com/
- A nice Infographic on Landing Pages
Did you liked this story? I look forward your comments, tips, suggestions, tweets (@fabiozib), linked readings, feedback… any sign of life ;)
I will do my best to reply to everyone.