Are Web Sites Becoming Irrelevant?

Jacob Nielsen’s most recent Alertbox – When Search Engines Become Answer Engines – makes for an interesting (if not earth shattering) read.

In it he summarizes a trend that has been apparent for a while, and which I’ve noticed myself – the concept of web sites as individual entities is becoming less relevant as people use search engines as their home page for the whole of the web.

I would argue that this notion still has a long way to go. For example, our hospital web site receives less than 40% of visitors via search engines, and the home page is still by far the most visited page.

However, it is certainly the case that any page in your web site could now be the entry page for someone arriving at your site, and should be treated as such.

Nielsen some helpful recommendations on how to accomodate such visitors. Of these, I think directly interlinking your related content is particularly useful. It’s not enough to expect your visitors to find related content via your global site navigation.

Typically they won’t and if they don’t, will likely assume that this related content simply does not exist.

Providing “see also” or “related” links on the entry page to other related content is an excellent way to avoid this trap and to encourage visitors further into your site with the promise of additional useful information.

As well as Nielsen’s suggestion of offering an email newsletter, I would also recommend providing an RSS feed for any content that gets updated regularly. This provides your visitors with a low risk way of trying out your content.

For them, there’s no risk of getting spammed by having to provide an email address, and it is much easier to delete an RSS feed than it is to unsubscribe from an email newsletter.