Years ago, I was involved in a very big web design project. I won’t tell the name or organization, but it was a huge profit-generating site with tens of thousands of visitors a day. I was part of a team that was doing a complete rethink: content, information architecture, user experience, design – the whole thing was getting scrapped and redesigned from the ground up. There was a very long argument about the design of the home page, and I, despite being a total know-it-all loudmouth (back then anyway), never said a word. When someone asked why I wasn’t invested in the home page design discussion, I simply said, “Only a small fraction of our visitors see the home page. You can win every home page fight you want so long as I get to win the internal page fights.”
Needless to say, I didn’t win every internal page fight, but I won a lot more because I didn’t care about the home page. The analytics showed that only 18% of all visits started at the home page and that less than 50% ever saw it at all. But because the home page is what gets screen-capped and posted on newsletters and ego boards, most people care more about the home page than any other part of the site.
Now, when I first made that argument, it was a new concept. Google had only just become the top search engine (long before self-driving cars and wearables), and people had assumed the world started every visit at the home page. If you had to remember the URL, it was easiest to just start at the home page and navigate to the content you wanted. But as Google began to get good at indexing every page it could find, more and more people began to start at Google with a search. That search would drive them deep into the site, directly where the content they wanted lived.
That shift, which started 12 years ago, has only increased as social media has driven more and more traffic past the home page and straight to the content page. When your friend sends you a link, is it to a home page or to the content they found so interesting or fascinating? Whether it’s a cute animal meme or an amazing article-slash-blog post, it bypasses the home page.
Not to mention that traffic from an ad is 30% more likely to convert when it lands on a targeted landing page rather than a home page (where the user is expected to figure out what they wanted to see and navigate or search to it).
Even the old gray lady herself is feeling the effects. Venerable NYTimes.com is seeing traffic to the home page dwindle. You’d expect a newspaper of all sites to maintain its traffic to a home page. A news home page is like a front page, where people start their visit. But because of Google and social media, people are going directly to the article.
So no matter who is driving traffic to your site, they all have an incentive to push someone beyond the home page. So why are you spending so much time thinking about it in your redesign?
Maybe your argument is that the home page is the place where you can tell your brand story, where your “hero images” can live (a hero image is the large image on your home page, usually in the context of work) and where you can define the look and feel of your brand. But if only a handful of visits ever make it to the home page, how much story are people ever seeing?
I believe that your brand story is what people say about you, not about the content you display. The best way to influence what people say about you is to put useful content in places where people already are. And more and more, that page is not the home page. It’s the job description.
The job description is the place where you embed brand content, where you connect the job you are offering with the content that tells the complete picture of your company. When you connect the job to content and the content to the job, not only do you draw more traffic to the job description, you take control of the message at the point of impact. This is a powerful combination.
For example, let’s say that your company is renowned for their benefits package. All other aspects of your company are considered “middle of the road” for your industry, but you have gone the extra mile to make sure that you offer your employees benefits few others consider, let alone offer. So, you put your benefits package, filled with pictures and awards you’ve won, on a page linked from the home page. But if 80-90% of your traffic skips the home page, all those visitors trying to decide if your company is worth applying to never know the most crucial part of your employer value proposition.
So stop arguing about what the home page looks like. Instead, spend all that time thinking about how to connect your branded content to your jobs.