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JUSTIN JEWETT: How important is the homepage?

Welcome users with the information they need to start their journey. But, just not too much.

CRAFTED BY Justin Jewett, VP, director of technology at Bukwild

Do you remember? That house – maybe it was yours – where nobody used the front door and instead always entered through the garage? Nobody spent any time in the ‘front room’ and instead hung out at the kitchen table or a den buried deep down a hallway?

Yeah, you remember. Well as it turns out, websites are a lot like that. People only use the front door – in this case your homepage – when they have to.
That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and of course, that doesn’t need to spell the end for front doors – er, homepages. It just means that we can be smart about where we put other doors, and how we can make sure that folks don’t get stuck in one particular area, especially for lack of knowing that there even is a living room in the first place.

The truth is that ‘most users’ aren’t really ready to ‘read’ anything when they first happen upon your website and are in a ‘browse’ mentality

Here are a few truths for this house analogy. Never judge a book by its cover. Homepages are big and beautiful set pieces. They’re where you (a brand) plant your stake in the ground and create an imagination for what you’re about and who you are. A common mistake is to try and say too much too soon in a situation like this, however, but the truth is that ‘most users’ aren’t really ready to ‘read’ anything when they first happen upon your website and are in a ‘browse’ mentality. They just arrived, so maybe wait to tell them who, what, why and when the house was built until they actually take their jacket off. So make the homepage welcoming, palatable and absorbable, giving the visitor the vital information that they require at the start of their journey as well as a snapshot of what they can expect and will experience as they dive into the deeper grooves and troves of the website.

Ask a sailor: water gets in wherever it can. There is a direct correlation between sites with a lot of content or pages – about literally whatever – and the trend of users coming to the site via pages other than the homepage. This trend becomes more and more aggressive as the site is better optimised for SEO and is indexed more fully. The more convenient the garage door, side window or skylight prove themselves to be for entry, the less the dependency on the front door will be. Expect visitors to your site to arrive from any number of places and land in any number of potential destinations within your site. Ensure that deeper pages are just as welcoming, useful and informative. Make it easy for the user to navigate and direct them towards the journey you would ideally like them to take when they walk through the door, no matter what door that may be.

An average length of visit to a site is around two minutes. Something like the first quarter of that time is spent deciding whether or not to stay

Go with the flow (it’s actually pretty great). We know – from looking at aggregate data across dozens (of dozens) of sites we’ve built – that an average length of visit to a site is around two minutes. Something like the first quarter of that time is spent deciding whether or not to stay, and the following minute is spent deciding whether or not you’re telling them what they asked to know. As much as we all want to believe our site is special and will command more attention from visitors than the statistics suggest, stay realistic and grounded and give the visitor what they want. Some folks wanna know what’s in the fridge. Some wanna know where the Xbox is. Answering their question(s) is the polite thing to do and can certainly only help to increase the amount of time a visitor is willing to spend and is interested in spending on your site.

Give ‘em an inch before you give ‘em a mile. Once you’ve directed their attention to the information that they identified would be most helpful or convenient to them, they are inclined to stay and consume that information. Now is your opportunity to start telling them about the things that you are interested in. This can manifest itself through any number of ways on each page or within each section, but remember that you are first keeping them engaged and then sprinkling in a bit of your value-add. Most of the time they’ll nod at you between bites or during cut scenes but every once in a while… they’ll ask for more info. Ensure your site has the flexibility to walk the delicate balance between feeding visitors with the information they want and came to your site to seek, along with the information you want them to have and take away as they go.

One industry’s ‘whatever’ is another’s ‘wow neat’. Similar to how programmatic ad campaigns or really any physical retail experience ever, you now have an opportunity to increase the quality of your recommendations to them and tell them more about what they asked about, more about things they didn’t ask about but you know to be related and additional test/pilot items that could also interest them. Incorporating relevant suggestions throughout the whole of the site will help a visitor see your site as a valuable resource and encourage repeat visits.