One of the things I love about my job is that I'm constantly learning. Everything internet-related seems to continually, rapidly evolve (consider recent changes in design methods, standards and styles; online marketing techniques; web-based software tools; electronic payment options; social uses of the internet; etc.).
That constant change keeps me on my toes, and makes me job challenging. As if that weren't enough learning to be getting on with, I also have to learn about our clients' businesses. I have to learn about their industry and its recent trends; what their business model is; how their internet strategy fits into that model; what their competitors are doing; etc.
Meanwhile, we're faced with another challenge: getting the client to learn what we need them to know. The more open clients are to this "mutual education", the better chance we have of success.
One lesson we try to teach clients is that the homepage is not (necessarily) the most important page on their website.
It's a mistake to assume that users will always, or even most of the time, access your website via its homepage. Consider this: when you search in Google, does it return a list of homepages? Not necessarily: Google returns a list of pages and other documents on the web that best match your search query. This is list is by no means exclusive to homepages, or even weighted towards homepages.
For example, if you've published an provocative article on your website, and a lot of people link to it, that article may tend to get found more in Google than your homepage does. Hence, more people will access your website via this article page than via your homepage.
Similarly, if you have a page on your website that contains a biography of your CEO, many people will access your website via this page, because they Googled your CEO.
Gillian Carson illustrates this point well in an article in Vitamin magazine, entitled Turning Your Visitors Into Users:
Quoting Ryan Singer of 37Signals, the article explains:
I don’t visit YouTube and click around. But I see blog posts with cool videos all the time. I don’t think of YouTube as a site. What draws me in is a blog post, IM or email. Then, when you end up watching a video on YouTube’s site, you realize there are more cool videos there, and might start clicking around. In this way the root of each visit is a permalink, a particular video, a certain experience - not the home page. The video is the epicenter of the permalink, and the permalink is the epicenter of the whole site. Everything revolves around the videos you love, not the farm that feeds them.
The homepage is not the only door to your website. In fact, when you review your analytics data, you will most likely find that less than 50% (probably fewer) of visitors access your site via the homepage.
So what do you need to do?
- Make sure that the user experience is positive and consistent throughout the website.
- Design the navigation in such a way that it's clear to the user where they are within the structure of the site (e.g. provide contextual cues like a different colour such for menu items that are currently selected; add a "breadcrumb" style navigation trail).
- When setting up your Google Adwords or SEO, direct users to the most appropriate landing page for the phrase you're targetting
- Spread the love: try to make sure you get just as many links to important landing pages as to your homepage. This will help your site's overall Google ranking.
Effective landing pages are crucial if you want to attract significant numbers of visitors to your website. Once you grasp this concept, you'll be well on the way to increasing your traffic.