About two years ago, I was working on a very large corporate website and elbow deep in Analytics. Several things perplexed me. One in particular has changed the way I think about websites.
The numbers told a strange tale.
The home page was way down on the list of popular pages. As much work as we put into the home page — putting up announcements, promotions and all sorts of goodies — thousands of visitors were completely oblivious without even a hint of what they were missing.
The other revelation was our extremely high bounce rate. At first, I was really troubled by this. Why were people leaving after only visiting 1 page? Was something wrong with our web site? We had lots of great feedback, so why the hasty retreat?
When I looked at the pages with the highest bounce rates, I also noticed they also had correspondingly high “Time on Page” averages.
Eureka! The bounce rate wasn’t a bad sign. It was a great sign. It meant that visitors were:
- coming to our website through search engines
- finding what they were looking for the first time
- staying a while
- finding everything they needed on one page
(Kudos to the webmaster.)
Unfortunately, they were missing out on things we wanted them to see.
It really is obvious when you think about it: We tend to build websites like store fronts. We imagine the visitor hears about us somewhere and types in the web address and finds our homepage. Just like walking into the big looming facade of Best Buy. Once they’re in the door, we make sure they see all the sales and promotions we have going on. The home page also sets the mood. It tells a narrative: Who we are. Why you’re here. Why we’re the best buy. …Right?
That might happen some of time. Maybe even most of the time. But it doesn’t happen all of the time. And it doesn’t happen all of the time in significantly high numbers. Imagine: If out of all the Best Buy customers throughout a day, 20% of them suddenly teleported directly to the “Printers and Ink” section. Would they know what store they’re in?
Probably. Because Best Buy has branding everywhere in their store.
But all those customers are walking right past the displays at the front of the store. Missing out on all sorts of great deals.
So, what about your website? Would your customer know where they are? Would they know why they are there? Would they know what you want them to know?
These days a lot of companies are spending a lot of money and effort on SEO (Search Engine Optimization). But have they thought of the implications?
The goal of SEO is to drive traffic deep into a website, right where the customer wants to be. But as nice as that is, companies may still not get the sales and leads that they expect. Their customers may find what they’re looking for, but the customer is nowhere near the messaging, and missing out.
Search technology is getting better all the time, and the SEO game is only going to get more complex while competition gets tougher. It’s time to rethink the anatomy of a website.
Your home page might as well not even exist. Because to a lot of people, it doesn’t.