A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Building Better Websites: Discovery, Pre-Production, and Planning

Friday, November 18th, 2011

It Ain’t About The Home Page

It’s not uncommon when we first meet with new clients to discuss developing a new website to have them focus almost entirely on the home page. Not surprising, I suppose. It’s the home page we all see the most of on any site (right?), and well, it is important.

There are a couple of things wrong with this line of thinking, and a couple of very strong reasons to go about things differently.

Front Door, Side Door, Back

For one, the home is not necessarily going to be the page your audience sees first most frequently. Depending on where your traffic is coming from, people might first see a keyword-optimized landing page that they find via a search engine, or a blog post linked to by someone else, or another internal page you mention in your Twitter stream or your email newsletter.

In other words, there’s no point in spending a lot of money on the front door if a big chunk of your audience is coming in through the side door. So the home page isn’t as important as it once was. Or, more precisely, other pages have grown in importance, closing the gap.

Because I Said So

Second, the home page is a political minefield. We’ve sat in client meetings where people have behaved truly boorishly because someone suggested that their division or pet project wasn’t worthy of the home page. So, in the best case, he or she with the most clout wins and decides what 3-5 things should go on the site, even if they aren’t the best choices. In the worst case, a peacemaker gives everyone what they want, and the home page is 10 or 30 or 100 things that are “too special” to get buried on an interior page. Meaning everything gets buried on the home page.

Hollywood Back Lot

And of course, there’s the ever popular, “once we build the home page, everything else will just fall into place” approach that leaves you with the website equivalent of a Hollywood back lot. Nice facade but nothing to back it up.

A Better Approach

There’s a better way. For us, that better way includes a comprehensive discovery/conceptual design phase. The home page might not be discussed at all during this process. Graphic design might also be pushed off a bit, too. Ideally, we”l be talking about things like

  • Audience profiles
  • Desired outcomes
  • Existing site metrics
  • Content development and content marketing
  • SEO / SEM
  • Social Media
  • Broader marketing goals

From there, we can look at structural elements like

  • Navigation
  • Page layouts
  • Information architecture
  • Data views
  • and yes, even … The Home Page

Work With Pros

This approach means working with folks whose emphasis is on the communication value of your website. Don’t hire a web developer who’s primary focus is design. Don’t work with a web developer who’s primary focus is SEO.  And please don’t work with a web developer who’s primary focus is technology.

All those elements are important, and they’ve all got to be done right for your site to succeed, but none are as important as great content strategy and the planning to put that great content to work across multiple digital channels – including your website.

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