Most Valuable Real Estate
For years conventional wisdom deemed the homepage “the most valuable real estate in the world” (Jakob Nielsen). Why? People make a flash decision whether to stay and explore the site or hit the back button. If this is true, the whole site’s value depends on a strong homepage. Nielsen continues, “if the homepage doesn’t communicate what users can do and why they should care about the website, you might as well not have a website at all.”
The Evolving Web
The homepage mantra has evolved. UX Myth #17 argues the homepage is no longer paramount because the decision to explore a site is often made before the homepage even loads. In 1996 many users surfed the web without third-party guidance, reviewing many homepages before diving into a site. Today, a combination of likes, hashtags, and pins summon unending waves of tailor-made passive content. In effect, every website passes a gauntlet of preliminary tests before it hits our screen, so the homepage no longer shoulders the entire burden.
“As Web usage matures, it becomes more specific. Years ago people might have thought about getting to the homepage and then figuring out where to go on the site. Now they will use search or external links to get closer to the place they really want to get to.” (The Decline of the Homepage)
The Contemporary Homepage
I’m not calling a time of death for the homepage quite yet. The value of the modern homepage stands strong when an introduction is needed. It’s the equivalent of a digital pickup line. If you are Channing Tatum, you ARE the pickup line. For the rest of us, we have to start with a strong impression to keep the potential relationship in play.
The Introduction Page
Does anyone hang out on Facebook’s homepage longer than it takes to log in? Probably not. But what about @60″? I did. I easily learned about what the site offers.
The difference is familiarity with the site. For dozens of websites, I decide to care about the page long before I launch my browser. When a site has this traction with most users, the homepage’s inherent value declines.
For my bank, the homepage is NOT the most valuable real estate. As long as I can log in, I am happy. My primary concern is checking activity and making transactions.
The general rule is: the less familiar the site, the more valuable the homepage.
Some sites ditch the traditional functionality of the homepage, and make it a stand-alone content pedestal. This is an effective tool with changes in how people land on a site. An attractive welcome page brings the target audience through the door. It invites them to stay and play.