There’s no place like home(pages)
I’ve definitely forgotten more homepages than I remember. I think I hit around 300 webdev projects a few years ago and stopped paying attention. With the exception of software applications, most of these projects involved the strategy and design for a homepage. I’ve spent countless hours on wireframes, content strategy and navigation schemes for homepages. And even more hours consulting with clients about their hopes, dreams and fears about their homepage. It’s the universally accepted place to start for a webdev project.
After all that work and many, many hours of reviewing analytics and heatmaps about website usage and behavior I came to a realization…
Homepages aren’t really that important
Yes, you need to have a place for the .com, .org, or .fun to land. Something has to live at “ / ” right? True, but the purpose of the homepage, at it’s best, is just to get users into a website. And, while it can set the brand standards, navigation scheme and communicate what’s important, shouldn’t the other pages of a website also do those things?
It’s easy to think of a website’s homepage like the front of a house or maybe an old-style retail location on a Mayberry style mainstreet. Thought it’s actually more accurate to think of a website as a large department store or even a whole mall or maybe a university. Remember that users can (and will) enter a website on virtually any page.
One of the current clients I’m working with has a reasonably large user base that accounts for more than 10 million pageviews per year. Of those only 6% of the sessions start on the homepage. And, the homepage only accounts for 3% of the pageviews. Now, this is a publishing oriented site so they have thousands of pages with some really healthy SEO. They’re in the middle of a website redesign right now. For a while they spent a lot of time and mental effort on the homepage. I kept having to remind them of how unimportant their homepage is for their users so we didn’t get too caught up with it and ignore other critical page experiences.
Finish at the start
So, here’s a hot take: Design your homepage last. I’m not kidding. Consider determining the most critical page experience on for your new website. This will probably be a deep page like a sub-category landing, article template, or a product page. You’ll still need to develop the site structure and navigation, brand standards, and general aesthetics for your deep page. That way as you move to the “higher” pages those standards will already be set. Once you get to the homepage neither the client nor the designers and developers will be burdened with having to decide major aspects of the site. They’ll be done. Plus, this will make the homepage a more enjoyable experience to collaborate on.
A homepage will still be an exciting page to design and develop for all parties involved. By keeping it to the end, you get to finish on a more enjoyable experience. And, by designing the deeper pages first (rather than last) everyone involved will have more energy and less project fatigue.
In my next post, I’ll be going over how to best determine which interior page to design first.