One of my clients just sent me this article questioning whether sites even need Home Pages any more.  It got my attention because I’ve been spending a lot of time recently recommending that a Web application I’m working on include a Home Page (it currently has nothing similar). And in  recent memory I have seen many raging creative and business battles over just what should be included on a site or application’s Home Page (every department wants to be represented equally, fights over valuable screen real estate, which images to use, etc., etc.).

But while Home Pages used to be “hot topics,” they are no longer the most heavily trafficked pages on sites, especially content-heavy sites. Nieman Lab reports that much of today’s traffic comes in through “side doors” – whether via marketing emailers or via search engines- and ends up on content-intensive details pages.  Some users never even see a certain site’s Home Page – they do their business with the products or services, maybe put them in a cart, check out, and then are gone.  Or, they find what they’re looking for – on one page – and are gone.

Just how important your Home Page is to your Website depends on several factors, including the nature of your site’s content,  the amount of SEO traffic you are getting, and how established a brand your organization has.

Whether or not your site gets traffic directly from search engines to your deep content, I do advise maintaining a Home Page that orients your users and gives them simple ways to find things on your site. I’ve conducted many usability sessions with people who use the Home Page as a crutch.  That is, once they’ve poked around on some interior pages, if they want to do something else, such as another product search or navigating to other content, they oftentimes navigate back to the Home Page to first – even though they could have done that function directly from  the main navigation. Users like Home Pages, in other words, because they get a sense of context and “beginning” there (if properly executed).

Additionally, if users are unfamiliar with the site’s brand (e.g, Mainstreet Fashions), they will want to check out the company.  They usually start on the Home Page for this.  If the Home Page doesn’t communicate instant credibility, they are apt to click away.

The traffic a Home Page gets is another matter.  Another one of my clients pays very little attention to his site’s Home Page because he knows 90% of the traffic is coming in through other means.  Most users never even see the Home Page – in fact, it is used mostly for external sales purposes (and so is considered a non-essential page). The Home Page therefore has a tendency to languish in development and is rarely updated.

So, in a nutshell: Check out Google Analytics to understand how your site is being used.  If your Home Page isn’t getting a lot of direct traffic compared to the more detailed interior pages on your site, it may not be where you need to put your effort.  But keep in mind that Home Pages provide a context for your users and can communicate your brand better than other pages. Keep your Home Page updated regularly to make sure it helps your users and serves your brand goals.

 

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