How important is your homepage?

Ask yourself this question. How important is your homepage? In the age of search engines, smart search, SEO etc, how many people actually land on your homepage and use it as a way to find out the information they are looking for?

Here at SMILE, we understand that a website homepage is usually viewed as the most important page as it is more or less the equivalent of a book cover. However, they become very much a political playground in that all departments, understandably, want representation on there. But if you’re not visible on the homepage, does that stop people from accessing content? We gathered to discuss how our research and experience on past projects have influenced our design decisions as an agency and that maybe your homepage isn’t all that important after all!

Below is a transcription of the full podcast episode:

Elliott Barnicle
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of the SMILE podcast, bringing you insight into the higher education sector. Today we’re going to discuss a little bit of your homepage and how important it is for general marketing on your website and conversions for everything really. So Nath, first of all, you’ve done a lot of work with Google Analytics and Hotjar. Can you tell us some more about how they influence our decisions in terms of the homepage?

Nathan Monk
Yeah, I mean, so Google Analytics and Hotjar are often two popular tools used by universities and colleges. I think both of them are free to get started, which is really nice. Hotjar has quite quite broad feature set. I think it’s got surveys, kind of recordings and stuff like that and analytics has got all the stuff that most people know and love. I think it’s always quite interesting to read through the different reports that we get from those. Nine times out of ten, it always throws up something that I’m just not expecting at all. We’ve been working on a project recently for an actual homepage redesign. So we’ve been really, really digging into those statistics and analytics. I’ve been working really closely with Jon on that. And what I saw was, I think this is a quite common trend at the moment. So really high dwell times on the homepage. But at the same time, people weren’t really clicking on the content of the homepage. It’s really hard to decipher whether that’s the homepage content being completely misjudged, or whether people are genuinely interested in looking at the homepage stuff, but they’ve come there for a specific reason so they don’t need to do anything with it.

But I think it’s fair to say I don’t think I’ve ever come across a website where the homepage is not the most visited page on the website. It’s always the most dominant page still but I do have this massive question mark, particularly in the HE sector about is the content that we’re sticking on homepage actually what users want. Even if they are, they’re the questions that come at things like, why are they on the homepage? You know, are they just bouncing off to another section? It definitely seems that way, you know, they land on the homepage because it’s a springboard to other content. I mean, Jon, on that project that we were working on recently, the homepage one, you do a lot of stuff around the content audit. So you’re looking at the whole bucket of information. So and there was a really interesting about term dates?

Jon Bates
Yeah, that’s right. So I ran a content audit on the project that you’re speaking about there Nath. So I was sort of crunching the numbers of the pure data of what the most visited pages were in the site and listed it sort of from top to bottom. And as you’d expect homepage, always the most visited page. But we did, we did find some anomalies which kind of interested us. One of them being that we found that the term dates for this particular academic year was one of the most visited pages on the site. I think it was even just outside the top 10 which kind of led us to the idea that the flow that comes off someone landing on the homepage isn’t always the primary way that people navigate through the site anyway, and people are often landing onto particular pages in the site, often from either internal emails or links on social media. So something else interesting that we found that kind of pointed to this as well is that a page, for example, I found the sports page was among the most popular pages on the site as well. And that was a subsection of the category facilities, but Sports Centre was actually more highly visited than facilities, which kind of points to the fact that people aren’t following the traditionally expected flow of landing on the homepage, looking at facilities, then going onto the sports page, they went straight into sports page to the point where that was more popular than facilities.

Nathan Monk
Neither of those pages will link to from the homepage either right?

Jon Bates
No, exactly. It wasn’t actually immediately obvious how they got there. We kind of had to come to the conclusion that they had found those pages through another means because it just wasn’t clear how they would have done it from the homepage.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I think broadly speaking, we can say that there’s probably two different types of users. There’s those who are browsing and there’s those that come in with a specific purpose. And those with a specific purpose are perhaps more likely to come in either via a Google search, or they land on the homepage and they jump straight off to find the answers to those specific questions that they’ve got. Whereas those that are browsing, and perhaps, therefore, the homepage is more about brand messaging and brand positioning, and about kind of communicating those early messages. It’s arguable that they’re earlier on in their journey when we’re talking about prospective students, and they’re looking to understand what an institute is about the kind of foundations

Elliott Barnicle
We worked on a project that kind of reflected that a bit haven’t we?

Matt Lees
Yeah, I think there’s quite a few and I think the one that we’re all referring to there is there’s some similarities, but Newman is another interesting one. So Newman’s been live for a few years now. And it was a big scale project for us, including a rebrand. And the purpose of their homepage has changed, which is really quite interesting. It’s changed over time. Initially, it was all about brand positioning, it was all about setting that brand up and establishing it. But over time as that brand, the visual brand, the written brand has become synonymous with who Newman are. So the purpose of their homepage has changed. So there’s been more kind of key messaging and key calls to action and, perhaps slightly different user journeys considered.

Elliott Barnicle
Yeah, I think it also becomes quite a political playground as well in terms of the homepage, because it’s widely received, as the, the most important page on a website, even though opinions may show or research, that’s maybe not the most important. So I think everyone kind of scrambles a little bit to get their information on the homepage, even though as like you say, Jon, people are still finding content on the website, through other means, whether that’s like, search engines or the search on the website. So, every page on your website is important. And just as important as the homepage is.

Nathan Monk
Well, I mean, theoretically more important as well, right? So, if people are, as Jon has identified if people are searching and hitting pages without needing the homepage, the argument against is that an abnormal amount of effort is being put into the homepage so that it ranks well on search engines where that might be detracting from the efforts taking place on lower down pages. And if those efforts were refactored and kind of pushed in another direction, maybe when people are searching ‘sports facilities university name’, rather than getting the homepage because the other page doesn’t rank well. It just gets them straight to the content. And I think that’s the point is the homepage is often just a lazy catch-all solution. Whereas if we really cared about the users, we’d get people to that content directly, without needing to send them to the home page.

Matt Lees
It’s a really interesting point because more often than not when we start on these jobs, flagship website redesigns for colleges and for universities, the primary focus is to recruit more students or to recruit them more effectively. But you don’t land on a homepage of a University website and apply. It’s just a fragment of that journey. It’s part of the process. So surely it should just be about starting that journey and telling the stories. And then once you’ve a repeat visitor, once you coming back for the second or third time, you know those brand messages, you know who the institute is, you’re more interested, you’re more engaged, you’re a warmer lead, and therefore you’re far more likely to jump off to a course page. That’s where we’re kind of more conversion driven at those points.

Jon Bates
I think that leads on nicely. I’m just looking at the points we’ve got here to talk about and I guess, all we’re talking about now kind of leads to the idea of maybe the homepage isn’t what you thought it was for and I’ve got a point here about maybe are constantly evolving homepage and something that doesn’t need to be fixed something that fulfils sort of other needs?

Matt Lees
Yeah. Well, I mean, as institutions, universities, colleges, they are constantly changing. They’re constantly meeting the needs of their students. And their homepage should surely reflect this. It should be a kind of an evolution of everything that they offer.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, I mean, I definitely say for anybody that’s listening to this and has an interest in in the homepage, they should be challenging that homepage decision and, trying to not play politics. Everyone will always want to be on the home page and maybe even let them because it’s not that important. I don’t know, but they should definitely be challenging the importance of that page. Thanks very much for listening. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this week’s chat. We hope that you found it useful. If you think that you need help with your homepage, then do reach out to us. You can comment below or you can contact us at hello@wearesmile.com.

Take a listen to the audio alongside the transcription!

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