Sunday, November 05, 2006

Homepage – How critical is it?

Recently I came across a customer, who wanted to make a cool looking homepage and putting all their promotions and one of the main lead generation links only on the homepage.

Since the beginning of the internet the homepage of the site has been considered the most important page of the site. Till recently, that truly was the case. Visitors entered the site mainly through the homepage; it was the main entry to the site. Cool looking homepage was considered the key to the success of the site.

Visitor’s behavior has changed; homepage is no longer the only entry page into the site. Visitors enter from all sort of different pages and not just the homepage. Homepage is still an important page but not as critical as you might think. Look into the data provided by your web analytics tool before you start changing the homepage in a hope that once the page looks cool everything will be fine. Pretty simple process but a lot of marketers ignore it.

This customer's decision to redesign their site was made without looking into the data their web analytics tool was providing. A simple analysis showed them that only 14% of the visitors were entering the site from home page, and only 24% of the visitors actually saw the home during their visit. They were going to loose an opportunity to convert 76% of the visitors by putting the promotions and the main lead generation link just on the home page.

These days users don't have time to look around. Days of web surfing are long over. Users are generally looking for some specific information/product and once they find it (via one of the factors listed below), they come to the site, get the content/product etc from the site and are gone from the site without checking the homepage.

Below are some of the factors that cause users to bypass the home page.

1. Search Engines – Visitors, now more than ever, rely on the search engines to find the sites or pages which are relevant to what they are looking for. Search engines link into internal pages not just home page, at least that’s the case for well search engine optimized sites.

2. Viral Marketing – Friends referring friends to internal page (pages other than homepage) of the site.

3. Bookmarks – Visitors are book marking the internal pages which have content/products which interest them and then use these bookmarks to visit the site.

4. Deep linking on the other sites – Other sites, blogs etc. are linking to the internal pages with content/products relevant to their content.

5. Online Advertising – Online Advertising (and offline too) drive users to landing pages which are generally internal pages.

I am not saying that you should not have a nice homepage (people do judge the book by the cover, if the see the cover) all I am saying is your redesign should be based on facts and not just gut feel. Focusing just on the homepage is not a smart idea. Your critical promotions and conversion processes should be easily accessible from the top traffic and entry pages, if not all the pages.

As always, I would like to hear your point of view and the stories that you might be willing to share.