Tag Archives: google

What should a homepage look like?

Homepages are funny things…

The BBC homepage
Oh, I do like the BBC homepage

Over the years I have seen some odd behaviour when it comes to the company homepage. In a number of organisations now, some people (colleagues) have held the view that the home page as a promo opportunity (which it is, I suppose) – sometimes vying quite fervently for space as the life of their activity or campaign depended on it (it doesn’t…often).

And I get why:

  • It often acts as a shop front for the organisation
  • Items featured on it seem – by implication – important
  • It does (often) win the crown for most visited page on the site

However – what people often forget – and I actively remind people – is:

1. Not everyone will see your home page.

For us its about 20% of all visitors. Most visitors (4 out of every 5) will have followed a link in an email, or made a search on Google or clicked on a social post and have ended up directly at the piece of content (and page) they require. Which brings me onto my next point…

2. Visitors have a reason that they’ve arrived at your site.

The (1 in 5) visitors who arrive at your homepage haven’t – for the most part – just stumbled upon it to see what’s going on. I realise that’s a broad, sweeping statement and there are definite and obvious exceptions (BBC news, Facebook, etc) – but for most of us this is true. Visitors come with a purpose and – even if they’re one of the few that land on the homepage – they’re going to be making their way to their desired destination.

So what is a homepage for?

The pebble homepage
The pebble website has a single purpose and the homepage reflects this

Well for some it will be obvious… if you are – for instance – Pebble then you’re going to use it as your shop front for Pebbles.

But if you’re an organisation like – say WWF – then there are likely one of over a hundred reasons that someone might have come to the site – so you have two options:

  1. Make your homepage the first level of your navigation structure
  2. Use your homepage as promotional space for activities / campaigns / products that visitors might not have known about but might be interested in (but obviously don’t forget the nav)

I’m going to focus on the second option for now as… well – I think its where most time is worth spending.

In my day job I’ve spent a lot of time reticently multivariate  testing elements of our homepage to get the best results and I thought I’d share some of the results.

NB: Each site’s audiences are different and it’s important not to take my word as gospel – but please feel free to take my findings and test them yourself. I tend to use either Google Experiments or Visual Website Optimizer for my testing.

A single – well formed hero space – works better than a carousel.

I spent a lot of time testing different versions of the hero space on homepages. It seems that having one reduces bounce rate (my theory is that if the imagery is right it acts as confirmation for visitors that they’ve landed at the right place) – but carousels traditionally get very little click through.

The tool being used to countdown to Earth Hour on the WWF website
The tool being used to countdown to Earth Hour on the WWF website

Carousels muddy the water. They don’t give a persuasive argument for one action over another. Think of it as a salesman… (good) sales people don’t go out with 50 items and list them off to potential punters – they have one product and they use all their effort to sell it.

So with that in mind put in the effort to “sell” that ask. Movement works well (unsurprisingly) as it draws the visitors attention. Recently I applied a countdown and that did EXTREMELY well. It turns out (I assume) people panic when exposed to a number slowly creeping to zero.

Big images and less text.

I’ve worked at a number of organisations that have used the first paragraph of a news article or blog post to “persuade the visitor to read more.” This is a nice thought but it relies on the user reading that first paragraph in the first place… and (not to over simplify things) but if we can avoid it people try not to read.

After much testing it turns out a large image with a small bit of copy works best. Make sure the copy changes colour on hover… oh and make sure the whole area is the anchor… buttons work well – but not as well as if the user can click anywhere within the space.

In some instances I’ve even found just a heading and image performs well – especially if the heading is a clear call to action: “Take this quiz” or “Sign this petition” for instance.

Men click icons, women click copy.

A couple at a computer.
A couple at a computer. Poss. looking at my website?! Image by Ed Yourdon

This is more of a general thing but something I found whilst doing demographically segmented heatmapping is that men tended to click icons and images. Women on the other-hand tended to click on text links more.

How is this useful? Well – if the audience you’re trying to hit is of a specific gender then its important to use a link type they’re statistically likely to click. Also it can be important to remember that one way isn’t always best. Armed with this knowledge I tend to ensure important links include both copy and iconography.

Don’t forget the navigation.

Remember that your visitor has come to your site for a reason – and your aim shouldn’t be to corner them into a position where their only choice is to click one of the few options you’ve put in front of them. They won’t. They’ll leave (and increase your bounce rate).

A good nav is important… but don’t forget to monitor your analytics and check to see if you might be getting any spikes as a result of outside influences (you want to be looking at the organic search keywords). I’ve found conv. rates increase for asks when external activity is happening.

Add a link direct to that ask on the homepage and you’re removing clicks, barriers and drop-off points between the user landing and finding something relevant.

The last thing I want to mention is not to forget the 80% (“we are the 80%” I hear them cry) of those who don’t visit the homepage. Finding other locations to cross link within your site – especially where it’s relevant – is crucial. I’ve tested some wording and found “People who read this also visited:” works well as a way of promoting your cross-links.

Selling our integrity

The world is changing and the way it makes money is evolving.

Two quite broad and rather obvious statements I know, however in terms of marketing or (to be more specific) digital marketing or (to even more specific) third sector digital marketing there are trends that may need to be taken notice of.

What I’m referring to is advertising… or more accurately the placement of third party advertising.

This isn’t a new thing in any way. Google has been making billions for years simply through the placement of adverts on its search engine and third party sites… and those site have, obviously, been displaying ads.

A couple of other interesting developments have also occurred recently in the world of advertising:

1 – Product placement within TV programmes.

2 – Ads at the beginning of YouTube videos.

This has, in general, been accepted by the masses as a great way to increase revenue.

Want some examples? I’ve got two very recent one’s for you:

James Bond

Daniel Craig gave an interview in the Metro a few days ago talking about production team choosing to switch the international man of mystery’s drink of choice from Martinis to a certain brand of larger. His argument: the sponsorship helps pay for the film – “There’s a big furore but it’s not what the movie’s about – we haven’t sold out completely.”

Similarly movies trailers on YouTube are (ironically) often preluded with a short 15/30 second ad from someone else.

Simon Cowell

In the Evening Standard yesterday Simon Cowell spoke out about the sale of EMI. During the interview he spoke out about the need for music companies to diversify to survive citing that his own label – Syco – “[isn’t]  a music company… Ten years ago, we realised we couldn’t stay as a record company and we created a TV company. Now the TV business is creating an ancillary business. That’s what all of the music companies have got to do with their artists or they are not going to survive.”

The beauty of Cowell’s business is that it provides three functions: 1 – it helps find “talent”, 2 – it markets said “talent” and 3 – it presents opportunities to bring in marketing revenue.

So with most of the rest of the world leaping on every opportunity to bring in cash why have NFP sites been, on the whole, reluctant to include advertising on their sites, YouTube accounts and marketing materials?

I think the answer is in the title of this post – a concern for integrity. Are we selling out by associating with another company / organisation / product?

This is a valid concern – I’m not going to suggest otherwise. Most NFP organisations are very careful about their corporate relationships and have teams dedicated to managing them.

However – I’m not sure that the concern need be all that great. I think the majority of people out there realise that by providing advertising outlets on your digital portals you’re not endorsing that product (not to mention that you can have some very strict control over who advertises).

The jist of what I think I’m asking is ‘What is the value of this “integrity”?’

And this is probably quite a personal thing…

For me – well – I’m definitely not going to suggest that we start placing advertising banners all over our site at work. However I think I would feel ok allowing ads to feature at the beginning of our YouTube videos.

As always please – feel free to leave comments below (that’s what it’s there for!)


A dark day for the web

As if there were any more reason for us all to love Google and Wikipedia today they both announced that they would be actively showing their support of the anti-SOPA campaign.

Tomorrow will be a dark day for the web.

That’s right – whilst wikipedia switches off the lights and goes black for a full 24 hours, Google will be providing a link declaring its opposition to the SOPA and PIPA legislation in the US.

The legislation, which would give the US government the right to switch off any website that they suspect to include pirated material… a worrying concept considering the number of sites that are compromised of user generated content.

This has, as you might expect, got the tech world sweating… however outside of those of us who spend our lives reading blogs such as this. That’s why stunts such as these by Google and Wikipedia are so important to the cause.

Mashable has been encouraging Wikipedia, Google and Facebook to “switch-off” in support of the campaign to try and rally support from the general public.

Hopefully after tomorrow we will see a more people talking about this possibly web-changing legislation.

Thank You Google

Google – the “don’t be evil” company (that everyone’s finding quite fashionable to hate at the moment) just made live our Google Grant.

A Google Grant (for those who don’t know) is a grant (suprisingly) supplied by Google (shock-horror) for charities to put out free advertising on the Google AdWords platform. Whilst our application was ok’d about 2 months ago the account was made live this week.

This represents over £73k of free advertising to the organisation… about £202 a day!

So… thank you Google! We love you… a lot!

If you are a charity in need of some free advertising you can apply for a Google Grant here.

Google+ – A Party With No People

So, thanks to a friend of mine (@Creatingle) I finally received an AAA pass onto Google+ yesterday.

Having already been released for a number of days I felt like I was turning up a little late to the party (a cripplingly horrible concept for an early adopter such as myself). However it seems like Google forgot to invite anyone.

I get Google’s beta-test-until-everyone-feels-like-they’re-missing-out-on-something-amazing thing… but with a social network it seems a little… well… idiotic! When we’re used to having 750 million people (theoretically) at our Facebook finger-tips, a social network where I can only communicate with a fraction of my friends is more than a little unsatisfying. A bit like the offer an all you can eat buffet without any food.

That being said – do I think this is another Google failure? Probably not!

Google has the never-to-be-underestimated advantage of a huge market share, brand presence and its fair-share of incredibly loyal customers. That (google)plus the fact that Google+ is actually pretty good (I’m not going to critique it myself but nichewp have one that might be worth a read) and they might actually have found a winner.

I don’t think it’s likely to be taking Facebook’s crown any time soon but could see it creating its own niche for itself in the way Twitter and LinkedIn have. If one things for certain its definitely better than MySpace… but then again, was that ever an option?