Sometimes a single topic comes up repeatedly in a short space of time, suggesting that the universe wants a blog post on the subject. That happened yesterday with the question of the homepage. First, as I was visiting with Tom’s class, he suggested that “homepage” no longer really makes sense. We tend to use search engines as our starting point on the web, and we may enter a website anywhere. What’s so homey about the homepage?
I returned to my office to find an email from a client concerned about his new website. Wouldn’t early blog posts get lost? Shouldn’t there be an archive or something directing people to those posts from the homepage? Shortly after that I had a phone call with a client who sort of wanted to put everything important on the homepage, for fear that people would be unable to find information that wasn’t there.
So what is a home page? It used to be thought of as the cover of a magazine or the table of contents of a book, or perhaps the shop window. People would come to the website, site owners figured, just as they would come to a store or an office building. Once there, they’d browse through the pages on the website, clicking back to the homepage once they’d seen a page, and making the decision about where to go next.
That might have been how it worked in 1999, but no longer. We would feel irritated if we had to click back and forth to the homepage, and we also feel irritated when we have to pore over a site map to find the page we want, or to search through lots of stuff on one page.
Yet the homepage is the top page for traffic at most websites. People may enter through many different pages — hundreds, at a large website — but the homepage will typically be the most frequent. It may account for fewer than half the visits, but it will be the top page.
As the examples below show, people landing at a different page will typically head for the homepage next. The homepage in both these examples (and nearly all the examples we see) is the top starting page among many starting pages, and the people who start elsewhere most often go to the homepage next. This is not the only pattern we see, but it is by far the most common. (/ is the sign for the homepage.)
So what does this mean for homepage design?
First, it continues to be very important. Your homepage should be a good representation of your company, practice, or organization. It should provide a welcome for visitors who arrive there first. It should offer a clear path to your conversion points and make it easy for people to conduct the business they expect to conduct at your website.
But you shouldn’t assume that your visitors will all go there — or that they will all go there first. It shouldn’t be the only place where you put important information.
- Keep navigation consistent across all the pages, except sales landing pages. People should never have to go to the homepage to find their way around.
- Make sure that you are identified on all pages. Just as a news site has its masthead on all the pages you should have your header — complete with logo, contact info, and social media icons — on all your pages.
- Make your homepage clear and appealing so that it can do its job: representing your company well and welcoming visitors. Don’t festoon it with all sorts of extra stuff.
It would be great if real life had a search function. Rejoice that your website does and don’t build your homepage as though it didn’t.