Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

The decline of the homepage

April 18, 2010 -- Gerry McGovern

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.