Traditionally, a website’s homepage has been treated like a book’s cover. When designing a website, marketers imagine that most of a website’s visitors will pass through the homepage en route to their destination. This is bedrock conventional wisdom in the web design world.
New research indicates that it is (increasingly) incorrect.
A major shift is occurring in user behavior — and people are now bypassing the website’s front door at a striking rate. The new data are compelling — and have major implications for the design of all websites, including those of law firms.
Studies of content-heavy news sites are showing that homepage traffic is dramatically declining. For example, in 2012, fewer than half (48.8%) of the visits to NYTimes.com started on the homepage. The Wall St. Journal reported, less than 40%. Meanwhile, Yahoo.com saw a 24% drop in homepage traffic. Fascinating.
Law Firm Websites
Naturally, we were curious about the trends occurring on our law firm client websites. So, we conducted our own study. What we found was remarkable.
- On average, only 39% of the traffic enters through the homepage.
- That’s a 17% decrease just within the last year. Nearly every law firm website we manage has experienced a significant decrease in traffic entering through its homepage.
- The greater the number of visitors to a website, the smaller the percentage that came through its homepage. For example, a client with over 25,000 unique visitors a month had only 24.5% of its traffic entering the website through its homepage.
So, what’s driving this decline? “Sideways surfing.” People are entering content-heavy websites sideways. They’re clicking on links in social media posts, emails, and Google searches, to be taken directly to content deep within a website (like a bio, or an article, or a case-study). The confluence of two major trends — content marketing and social media — are the driving forces behind sideways surfing.
Website Design Implications
So, does sideways surfing mean that the homepage is dead? Definitely not. The homepage is still, by far, the most trafficked page on your website and thus deserves special attention. However, we still need to rethink the website’s content and features, to account for diminished homepage traffic. Here are two recommendations:
- Let your content brand you.
Traditionally, websites have relied on graphics (and key messaging) on their homepage to brand the firm as sought-after experts or world-class specialists. Given that users are bypassing these homepages and heading straight to content pages, firms need to focus more on producing great content that will help brand the firm: richer bio content, more (and better) case studies, better articles and blog posts. Content pages are where people are landing, and we need to put our best foot forward.
- Eliminate the dead ends.
If someone clicks a link and reads a great article posted on your website, you would like for the person to then click around, read more articles, and learn more about your firm. If a visitor reads an article and then immediately leaves your website, it means that the marketing value of this piece is minimal. Unfortunately, most law firm website content pages are lonely dead ends that encourage visitors to leave.
So, how do we solve this? Many lessons can be learned by observing content websites like NYTimes.com — which is packed with compelling teasers and pop-outs that offer related content in order to keep you surfing there.
Time to rethink the homepage?
If fewer people enter the website through the homepage, does that mean that it’s time to rethink it? Perhaps someday we’ll recommend this. However, right now it’s not clear how it should change. So, we would argue that before firms radically change their homepages, they should focus on how to make every other page into a better landing page. Sideways surfing is here to stay. Just think about it — what was the path that brought you to this blog post?
Thanks for the insight. I think a lot of sites – not just for law firms – are starting to rethink their homepages and make them more focused on branding rather than keywords. There are still a lot of sites that have ridiculous homepage titles stuffed with keywords and locations that go on forever, but I think more sites will figure out that b/c a lot of visitor entrances come through specific/long-tail content, it will be more important to brand the homepage as a ‘hub’ rather than the main source of content. Which means company/brand/etc. and quality interlinking on the homepage is more important than trying to make the homepage a catch-all.
Thanks for this information. Great help for me and my law firm
This definitely represents our experience also – content hubs are the way forward, together with go to person on each page and on page contact forms.
Robert, thanks for writing this. I agree the first thing firms should NOT do is to radically change their homepage in a knee-jerk reaction to this trend. As is suggested, I see this as a very positive trend because that means firms are out there sharing their content, and people are finding it. Your comment about the percentage of this occurring is rising with the increase in traffic, which bears out the former point about firms getting “out there” to share what they have. I can’t sign off without reminding everyone that all of this broadcasting of messages and links they are doing must be combined with interaction and the sharing of other content they did not originate. Thanks for another good post, Robert!
Very interesting article and great information to follow. Thank you.
It would be interesting to know if your results exclude internal traffic? I am sure lawyers view their own websites in the ‘old school’ navigational way.. Great article that backs up what we’ve been seeing.
Is is the thing of the past that websites are flooding keywords almost in every pages. Search engines now are very clever in classifying web results with the most relevant to the users query. Also quality links from relevant websites can help push up your website in the SERPs. Always think of user friendly web pages, understand the behavior of your userts and pattern your website design into it.
To be truly effective, the website needs to be viewed as one element of an integrated (online/offline) marketing journey designed to seamlessly lead the prospect through the various stages of the sales experience.
The journey starts with awareness, travels through engagement and conversion and concludes with advocacy and promotion. A well designed website can, and should, support each of these stages.