The decline of the homepage

More and more customers are going straight to specific pages on your website, rather than the homepage.

In 2003, 39 percent of the page views for a large research website were for the homepage. By 2009, it was down to 19 percent. In one month in 2008, of the 70,000 page views a technology site received, 22,000 were for the homepage. For the same month in 2010, of the 120,000 page views the site received, only 2,500 were for the homepage.

Another technology website had roughly 10 percent of page views for the homepage in 2008, and by 2010 it was down to 5 percent. One of the largest websites in the world had 25 percent of visitors come to the homepage in 2005, but in 2010 only has 10 percent.

People don’t vaguely browse on the Web. When was the last time you arrived at Google and said to yourself: “I just don’t know what to search for. Someone give me a word.” As Web usage matures, it becomes more specific.

Years ago people might have thought about getting to the homepage and then figuring out where to go on the site. Now they will use search or external links to get closer to the place they really want to get to. So, for example, people are becoming less likely to simply type “Toyota” into a search and more likely to type “Toyota recall”.

Many marketers and communicators think their homepage is a giant billboard or megaphone. They become obsessed with its redesign and with placing lots of happy talk and smiling faces on it. That’s part of the reason customers are avoiding the homepage. They don’t see it as useful.

Have you ever bought a book from Amazon because of an ad you saw on its homepage? Have you ever bought a book from Amazon because of the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature? Both are marketing techniques. The first is megaphone old school print and TV marketing. The second is web marketing.

Marketers and communicators have got to let go of the idea that they control the message or the customer. Not on the Web you don’t. What customers love most about the Web is the fact that it puts them in control. That’s why the Web is so popular. Search is not a passive activity; it is an active, directed activity. Clicking on a link is like following a sign post. You have a destination in mind. And people are looking for the shortest way to get to that destination.

Your customers don’t want to get to your homepage. At best, the homepage is merely a series of signposts that will help them head in the right direction. Unfortunately, too many marketers and communicators are destroying whatever credibility their homepages have left with customers by filling them with useless graphics and meaningless words.

Too often marketing and communication behave like needy children. Or like the tailors telling the CEO Emperor about how beautiful his new clothes look. On the Web, content may be king but remember that the customer is dictator.

 

20 responses


  1. Thanks for a great post! Can you please post the link to the statistics about the home page views.


  2. Hello Pawan. I can’t give out the source because the websites have me the data based on the fact that I would not use their names.


  3. I always like to think of a website as a building. In that respect, the homepage is the lobby/foyer. No-one wants to spend any time there, it’s just a way of getting to the rooms that people actually want.

    Of course, increasingly people are climbing through windows to get into rooms directly.


  4. Thanks for reigniting this issue. It is something that is still underappreciated in both design and testing of websites - especially large sites with repeat visits (big online stores, fan or community sites, intranets etc.).

    Evidence of users saving pages to their desktops, bookmarking sub-pages, using google to search for direct links to sub-pages is extensive. Yet we are still asked to focus attention on designing homepages, evaluating home pages and starting assessments from the home page.

    3 cures?:

    - Usability test from a non-specific location (e.g. a blank desktop) and ask the user to complete the task.

    - present sub-page wireframes first and then ‘collect together’ with a home page at the end of the design presentation.

    - include non-page based designs for user journeys that start before the site is accessed and end after it.

    Lou.


  5. Lou, you’re “3 cures” are really excellent ideas. We need a lot more thinking like this.


  6. Louise’s second point touches on exactly what every site should do.

    You don’t write the introduction to a book - or the contents page - until you have finished the book. (You don’t design the cover either.)
    You don’t write the headline for a newspaper story until you have written and laid out the story.
    You don’t prepare a seating plan until you have found out who is turning up.

    Something with the primary function of directing people to what is available should not (in fact, realistically, cannot) by created until the stuff it directs people to is already present and correct. Yet far too many companies and organisations start by deciding what should be on their front page.


  7. That’s an excellent point, Mike. I’d hadn’t actually thought about the book intro analogy, but it’s so true.


  8. Thanks for the great post. We’re embarking on a site redesign and came to similar conclusions about what our home page should be doing, but isn’t. This validates the changes we’re making and reminds us that we need to think like a customer, and not like a marketer, to build a truely useful site.


  9. Thanks for an interesting article, and some good discussion. Completely agree with Louise.

    The stats you quoted prompted me to take a look at the site I work on. While I agree with the points you make, I’m not sure the stats make the strongest argument.

    I found that about 11% of all page views were of our homepage. But given that on average a visitor views about 6 pages, if everyone started at the homepage then its page views would only be 17%.

    Far more interesting is information about the landing page. For the same period as these stats, I found that the homepage represented 53% of all landing pages.

    I blogged your article and my follow up here:
    http://usability-ed.blogspot.com/2010/05/homepage-design-and-purpose-mcgovern-vs.html

    Cheers.


  10. Neil, that’s a very interesting piece of analysis you’ve done. I’d recommend anyone to click on Neil’s link. It’s a very interesting piece, and gives a different angle.

    It would be interesting, Neil, if you had data from say 5 years ago, to see what the pattern was like then.


  11. Pre Google dominance, I feel the home page was the most important page of a site, because most other search engines indexed only the index/default page. Since Google indexes all pages, this changed the relevance of the home page.


  12. Great post, but if you are suggesting that “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” is useless top down marketing, I would disagree.

    ‘Also see’ lists based on aggregated user behaviour (i.e. not invented by marketers) are beneficial for users, as they often:

    a. Spotlight alternative products
    b. Show additional related items to the product you are viewing (e.g. electronics item > adapter)

    Websites that get this right often provide the best user experience and sell more products.


  13. Very much agree with you, James, “Customer who bought ..” is excellent marketing and the way of the future.


  14. I think the homepage becomes a place to find out what the website is. I know that’s what I go to the homepages of websites for is to find out about what the website is about. So in a sense the homepage become more the about page.


  15. Gerry, I think the big misnomer amongst marketers and new web people is the fact the “homepage” or “sub-homepage” is the MOST IMPORTANT page on a website.

    It’s almost backwards thinking. The most important pages are beneath the landing pages - where people are actually doing the tasks and can be convinced to buy more or like products as they checkout or shortly after.

    We spend so much time analyzing and redesigning the homepages, which is good, but in the end they just need to funnel people to the top tasks and then the bottom pages are where we can really make hay.


  16. Totally agree with you, Jason. But the homepage is just one page and it’s ’sexier.’ It’s hard work to focus on all the individual product pages but that’s where the real value is.


  17. Nice stats, yes it’s true especially if those visitors are coming from the big ‘G’


  18. Whilst it might not be THE most important web-page anymore I think we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    It’s true that most content I get get to these days is direct via a deep link (like via search), but I’ll often check-out the home-page to see what else is available or to get a more general view if I like what I saw initially. In such cases the general broad overview / “statement” given by a Home Page is useful and important.


  19. I’m seeing sites link to this article as a source to justify their homepage opinions. Not saying I don’t believe this, but stats without sources are irrelevant.


  20. Max, I think that’s a reasonable comment. All I can say is the data and organizations are real. I might go back to them and see if I can get permission to use their names.

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