Are You Focusing Too Much on Your Home Page?

I’ve been talking with a client who wants some changes made to her home page. She has a lot of ideas and pointed me to several other competitor sites for examples of the sorts of things she wanted.

However, while her home page can likely be improved by some redesigning, the question nagging at me is “should it be redesigned?”

Her home page has an overall bounce rate of around 30-35%. The bounce rate from Google is about 12%, and the average time on page is around a minute (there’s quite a lot of content) so clearly it is doing something right.

Sure, I could refresh the colors and move some content around. But is this a good use of my time and her money when the home page represents 20-25% of page views?

Yes, that’s a lot for a single page. However, when the other pages on her site represent over 75% of pageviews, it makes sense to spend most of my time on their maintenance and improvement rather than on the home page.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. It’s a small site, so almost all of those pages play an important in driving business.

However, I don’t remember when some of these other pages haven’t had their content updated. And, visually very little has been done from a design standpoint.

This is why I tried to explain that her home page is actually far less important than she thinks.

Your Home Page is Like a Hotel Lobby

Jared Spool argues that it is the least important page on your site, and while I’m not sure that I could go that far, I feel that its importance is certainly overstated in the minds of most people.

I explained to her that she should think of her home page like the lobby of a hotel (an idea coined, I believe, also by Jared Spool).

When visitors arrive at your hotel, certainly they should find that the lobby represents the hotel favorably. It should be attractive, spacious, with elegant lighting, welcoming colors, and the odd feature here and there.

The lobby should make it easy for the visitor to orient themselves — to see where the front desk is and where the lifts are.

It should make it easy for the guest to find out any important information at a glance — upcoming events or where the conference is being held.

However, hotels are ultimately judged by the quality of their rooms. The last hotel I stayed in was the W in Seattle. While it has a nice lobby, it’s the rooms that really make a stay there memorable.

And so it is on the web. A web site will live or die on the quality of its ‘rooms’ — the content and design of its interior pages, be they news articles, product pages, or social networking tools.

The home page, like a hotel lobby, is something that visitors pass through to get to where they want to go. It is not a destination in and of itself.

Consequently, it should be treated as such and the time spent updating and enhancing it (or even designing it in the first place) should reflect its importance to the organization compared with the rest of the web site.

Clients and stakeholders love to focus on the home page, forcing designers to endlessly tweak this and move that (particularly the colors, for some reason).

In fact, designers tend to overly focus on the home page too, often giving the page design for rest of the site short shrift.

I actually prefer to design web sites from the ‘ground up,’ starting with the interior template(s). Since most of a web site is going to use this template doesn’t it make sense for it to be the main focus of your design efforts?

For a recent redesign project, I asked the designer to start with a key interior page template and not worry about the home page design. It was hard for them to do, but now we have an excellent design for our core product information pages.

The home page design has come fairly naturally and organically out of the design of these interior pages. It just made sense to:

  1. Lay it out in a certain way which highlights the key information we want to call out.
  2. Use a particular design style to make it fit with the rest of the site.

As a result, the home page design went through far fewer revisions than I expected, which left us with more time to focus on the design of the rest of the site.