You don’t have to be crazy to be a web designer but I’m sure it helps. A website front page has to do two things that are at odds with each other:
- Inform the web surfer in less than two and one half seconds he has found what he wants, and
- Be interesting enough the surfer will want to spend some time on the site.
Front Pages Need To Be “Scanable”
When people see a large block of text on a front page their eyes glass over and they start looking for the back button to get them back to their Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It’s just human nature and therefore web designers must resist the urge to fill up a front page with large blocks of text. The bigger the block of text the less likely it’s going to get read. Conversely, the smaller the block of text the more likely it’s going to get read.
This is why we use a lot of bullet points, paragraph headings, and links to other pages. They make it easier for today’s busy web surfers to quickly scan a page to see if this website is giving them what they are looking for. Inexperienced web designers and do-it-yourself web creators quite often make the mistake of putting a large block of text on their front page and sometimes make their readers read all the way to the bottom of the page before informing them of what the website is actually about. That’s a sure way to lose a potential customer.
Search Engines Will Reward You For Providing A Quality User Experience
A search engine such as Google actually keeps track of how much time people spend on your website, or better put, how much time they spend before leaving your site. If you have Google Analytics installed on your site you can see for yourself what page of your site people start with (usually the front or home page), how they got there (search engine, link from another site, just typing in your URL, etc.), how much time they spend on each page, what page they go to from that page, and so on. I know, kind of creepy how much they know about your surfing activities. All this information is used by search engines to gauge the elusive metric of “User Experience” or UX for short. Search engines want to reward your website with better rankings so more people will find it if it provides a “quality” website user experience. One metric they use is time spent on site. If you have a bad site that people get off of within seconds of getting on the search engines know that and take that into consideration when ranking your site. The Googlebots are going to be looking for other websites to rank well other than yours.
There are three things that cause people to get off your site in a hurry:
- Your site isn’t what they are looking for
- Poorly written content
- Large blocks of text (no matter how well written)
This is one reason they say “Content is King”. Good content keeps people on your site longer which gives Google another reason to rank your site higher so more people will see your site. But a huge block of text, no matter how well written, just isn’t going to get read by someone surfing the net.
What About This Blog Post Kirby? Talk About Large Blocks Of Text!
Yes, I know, it seems rather hypocritical of me to say not to put large blocks of text on you website. This page is full of them, though I do make use of bullet points and paragraph headings, so give me a break will ya. You’ve stuck with me thus far, and I applaud you for that.
OK, here’s the difference. Remember the competing goals of a web designer: scanability (or should I call it “surfability”?), and reader retention? Your front page is for surfers, your other pages are for customer retention. Your home page (and landing pages) provide the “hooks” to keep them on your site. If you don’t grab them with a hook in two and one half seconds that fish moves on to another website. The more hooks you provide, the more chances they will find something interesting to read about and stick around.
That’s what the other pages of your site are about, such as your blog page: providing informative, relevant, and (hopefully) interesting reading material. But here’s the thing, you don’t know what any given web surfer will be interested in reading about. Chances are it’s not the same thing you are interested in. Unbelievable, I know, but that’s why you don’t put much content on your home page other than a few words in a post title, excerpt, or topic category, and then link that to a page or a post that comes complete with all that quality content you have on a subject they are interested in reading about.
Conflict Resolved – Insanity Not Required
Once you have reached a page like the one you are reading now with all of these big blocks of text you have transitioned from being a web surfer to being a web researcher. You have an interest in this topic or you wouldn’t have gotten this far in this post, right? Either that or my writing skills are so amazing you couldn’t put this article down for the life of you even though you have absolutely no interest in it at all.
Oh sure, nice try Kirby.
Anyway, the point is, no matter how great I might think this article is, I wouldn’t want to fill up my home page with it. This article is like a laser-guided missile with a well-defined point of impact, while a home page is more of a shot-gun approach, hoping, and praying, one of those shots lands on a target.
This is how we keep from having to be crazy or going crazy trying to build a website with conflicting goals. We use the home page and landing pages for one of those goals, informing the surfer this is a site they want to spend some time on, without boring them off the page, and the other pages for the other goal, providing interesting and informative content for those who are informed and interesting people, people like you.