Design Entry Pages Not Home Pages

by Barry Welford May 18th, 2010 

If you have followed the train of thought in our two previous posts on Home Pages Suck and Home Pages Suck On Google, then this post will be no surprise to you.  Again we are presenting some unconventional thinking.  It's a different way of looking at things.  Sometimes you may see things a certain way because you have never questioned what implicit assumptions you are making.  Here we will question some of those assumptions.

Sacher by rishon-lezion

Home Pages Are Getting Less Popular

We should add immediately that this is not breaking news.  The signs have been there for some time if you had ever thought to consider them.  Others have already started out on this path.  Back in January of this year, Rick Stratton was writing about The Death Of The Home Page.

Your Home Page's importance is dying.  Google started this trend.  A search in Google "deep linked" to the specific story on your site.  Visitors never saw that Home Page you spent so much time on.  Then RSS feed readers helped further reduce the Home Page's power.  Your best readers suddenly bypassed the Home Page and visited the full story directly.

Later in the same month, Joanna Pineda took up the same theme in Home Pages Dead? Where Are Your Visitors Going?

I started checking our usage reports.  Sure enough, the home page of this blog gets between 7-10% % of the total traffic in any given month and 6-9% of total entry pages.  It makes sense given that most of the traffic comes from the blogs RSS feed, e-mail updates, social media pages and search engines, all of which direct visitors to specific pages,  NOT the home page.

Have you noticed the same effect?  Have you changed what you are doing as a result?  Here we will examine some of the reasons why you should.  Of course it depends what you want your online properties to do for you.  However I imagine most of us want more visitors to our websites and we want them to be so impressed by what they see that they explore, take some appropriate action and hopefully wish to return in the future.  A short-hand way of describing what our websites should be is that they should be 'engaging'.  In other words,  visitors interact with them in a positive way.

Rules of engagement

Your toughest challenge in building your website traffic is the new visitors, those who are coming for the first time.  The page they see when they arrive will determine whether they stay or go.  Hopefully they will be so 'engaged' that they will want to revisit, perhaps by making the website one of their favorites.  We can summarize these ideas in the following Rules of Engagement in website design.

  1. Design for new visitors
  2. Design what they see first
  3. Make it so engaging that they will wish to revisit

Engagement Through Instant Eye-Appeal – Packaging

Myst by x-av

The Internet has been around about ten years or so.  Many of us have been involved in products that rely on eye appeal for much longer than that.  That longer experience may color how we think about creating eye appeal.

One classic example is the design of that soup can so that it will stand out on the supermarket shelf.  It is not meant to catch the eye of repeat buyers, since they already know what they like.  Instead you are trying to appeal to others who may never have tried the soup.  The package design is critical here.  As potential buyers scan the shelves, your soup can must attract their eyes.

Engagement Through Instant Eye-Appeal – Print Newspapers

MystAtrusNote by alkaera

Soup cans are only one example of products where the initial impression must engage the potential buyer.  Print newspapers are set out on the rack in the store and your front page must be the one that attracts attention.  Unless it does, prospects may never skim the newspaper to see whether they might like to purchase it.

Designing Websites – Instant Eye-Appeal

Myst telescope by Brapke

Given this experience over the years with the physical products, it is not surprising that when it comes to designing a website we instinctively think along the same lines.  Surely the Home Page is a little like that front page of the newspaper.  Is it not the most important web page on the website?  Most web designers would see it that way.

There are many examples I could quote to support that statement but perhaps I will give kudos to someone, who really has some great ideas on website design.  That is Patrick Sexton and here is one article I particularly liked: An In Depth Guide to Creating Small Websites That Rank Well.

However within that, you will find one of his key tips is the following:

I need to make a good Home Page.

I have a domain, I have a header, now I need to figure out what the site should include and how it will be presented. The Home Page is important, and should illustrate quickly to someone what the site is about.  I wanted a visual Home Page that clearly showed what information you could find at this site.

This is a very typical reaction.  Many business owners contemplating their first website often ask for some overwhelming Home Page in Flash that will really impress visitors.  This is wrong in any number of ways.

The Self-Centered Home Page

Perhaps we should not read too much into the words, but it is interesting that this web page is called the Home Page.  This clearly is the home of the business who owns the website.  It is their space.  This could be seen as a very self-centered approach.

Many now suggest that if you wish to sell to people, then you should be customer centric.  You should not be merely extolling your own virtues.  Rather you should be pointing out what you can do to meet the needs of that prospect.  Indeed these prospects rarely enter the website via the Home Page, so the Home Page is almost irrelevant.  What you should be considering are the entry pages.  These are the pages by which visitors first arrive on the website.  Your traffic statistics will show which these are.  They are the most important web pages on the website and you should start designing them first.

Entry pages are landing pages

Atrus-Map

Once you focus on entry pages first, then immediately you will see that they are equivalent to landing pages.  They are the first page on the website the visitor sees.  Fortunately if you use the term landing page, then you can tap in to a great fund of information about how to design more effective landing pages.  This is precisely the theme that Michael Bloch covered in his article, Creating effective landing pages – optimization tips.

It's my experience that every single page on your site should also be considered a "home" page.

On Taming the Beast.net, the number of people who enter the site via search engine listings to sections other than the Home Page; or links from other sites to specific articles, far outweighs the number of people who hit the Home Page first. Over 90% of people who visit Taming the Beast start their visit on pages other than the Home Page.

Clearly a number of people have realized that very few people enter via the Home Page of a website.  You need to put the welcome mat on another web page, that will be the entry page most often used by visitors.  That should be the first priority in designing that website.

What About The Home Page?

page15

If you buy into the principle of starting your website design with the most frequently visited landing page, what should you do about the Home Page?

Perhaps the best advice is to forget about it.  With a blog you can adopt the LMNHP approach (Look Mom No Home Page) and automatically bring visitors to the domain to the latest blog post.  That approach is also proving to be search-engine friendly and giving improved rankings to blog post web pages.

With a traditional static website, you still have the conundrum of what to show the visitor who merely comes to the domain.  Typically he or she will be shown a web page with the file name index.html or home.html.  Even for this file, you might be well advised to take one of your best other landing pages and use it with slight variations as the front page of the website.  It's the equivalent of having a greeter as the prospect arrives in the store.  Done correctly, it will have a significant effect on whether they will be buying this time or returning to buy on another occasion.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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9 Responses to “Design Entry Pages Not Home Pages”

  1. Paul says:

    Barry – hi!

    About a year ago I went to a seminar where one of the guest speakers was from a company who provided landing pages for websites.

    These landing pages were often "highly optimised", (read into that what you will!), and often just a "buy me" page with some kind of "selling feature" to it – a product from the main website etc.

    Sometimes these pages had had slots bought for them in Google so that even though they may have had a good result in "natural search", they were almost being guaranteed a "top of the page" position in the search results.

    On the downside – because they were just a "Landing/Buy me" page – they often did not look like the rest of the website they were representing. So the NEGATIVE effect of what was supposed to happen occurred, i.e. folks never bought anything off the landing page because it looked awful, and nobody was clicking through to the main website because they thought they would just see more of the same.

    My own experience tells me that home pages are rarely visited because most of the searchable useful content is actually "inside" the website.

    I'm still undecided on solution to this….

    Paul
    .-= Paul recently posted: Shepherd’s Pie Has Lamb Mince =-.

    • Ed says:

      Hi,

      I think you miss-understand what's being said here. I don't believe the suggestion is to go off and build a completely new looking page in the old-school traditional sense of a landing page, but rather that the main entry points on your site have to do a lot of work.

      For example, horizontal navigation across the top of your site, if well implemented, is very effective in giving people an overview of what you do as a company.

      It's this kind of thing that traditionally site owners would rely on their home page doing for them. But if users aren't coming in from your home page then not visiting it at all you can't rely on your home page doing that for you…

  2. Tad Chef says:

    I suggest reading the book Webdesign for ROI. In it the authors rightfully procalim that on any given website not the homepage is the most important part of it but the forms. Of course any page is a landing page.

  3. It's the proliferation of blogs that killed the importance of homepages. Before blogs came to the internet, the homepage is the most important page in a website. But as you said, internet users now go directly to the article post and bypass the homepage.

  4. dan barker says:

    "what should you do about the homepage?"

    I did some work on a series of fairly large sites a few years ago & these were my takeaways:

    1. Visitors land elsewhere, but a surprising number still use the homepage. Less web-savvy users often return to it to reorient themselves.
    2. Because of that, you should include pathfinders to the content that your key visitors are most likely to be interested in.
    3. It's also a great space to use as a 'merchandising' area – where you place the content that *you* would most like visitors to see.
    3. The kind of visitor who uses the homepage often visits it several times in a journey. Therefore adding in dynamic content can work (just as long as you keep the core navigational content the same).

    Here are a couple of posts I wrote about this around the time (on a now long-abandoned blog):

    http://www.omstrategy.com/59/why-you-should-challenge-common-thinking-around-homepages
    http://www.omstrategy.com/62/every-page-is-now-a-homepage

    Hope there's something of interest.

    dan

  5. [...] Design entry pages, not homepages This article nails it. With the way people share links (i.e. twitter),  seek information (i.e. Google) and filter the information they receive (i.e. RSS feeds), there is less and less traffic visiting your homepage in comparison to the individuals sub-pages on your website.  This is a very important shift that is happening and will have many people reconsidering the traditional models of web design and information architecture. [...]

  6. Kristina says:

    Great post – home pages definitely serve a function. They're great for directing people to the right place on your site. However, every other page on the site should be optimized correctly. You're right – following landing page principles on these other pages can work nicely to keep traffic engaged. It really all just comes down to knowing how people are getting into your site, what page is their entry point, and knowing what they expect that page to offer. This is done somewhat more easily through a traditional landing page that matches up to an ad or e-mail; however, you can make great inferences by analyzing and optimizing for search as well.

  7. Wynne says:

    I always have a purpose for my pages. If they don't perform then I scrap then and keep trying new approaches until I get appropriate responses. seems to be an iterative process with me. But I am never happy until that sucker is turning out results.

    Excellent point regarding not settling on tired and boring home page ideas.

  8. There's a big difference between the home page and the other pages of a site in one sense – all the other pages of the site are designed, and optimised, around one particular theme. The home page, on the other hand, is neither SEO'd, nor designed around one theme – if someone arrives there first, then it means that they don't really know what they want from your site. If they did, then they'd arrive at a deeper page, optimised for their long tail search.