If you follow the media’s coverage of the media itself, you’ll be aware of plans for some daily newspapers – currently available to read pretty much in their entirety free of charge online – to put their content behind ‘paywalls’. There are complex business reasons at play: newspapers are struggling financially as more of us get our news from the web. Google and other search engines make it easy to browse not just the country’s but the world’s newspapers in an instant. Indeed, people use Google – making Google profitable – to access newspapers online, who make nothing from the transaction. Old business models are being outstripped not just by technology, but by the way we use it.
But listening to James Hewitt, editor of The Times, being interviewed on The Today Programme recently, he raised a point that is hugely relevant to all websites – whether or not they charge for access beyond their first page. That first page – usually your Home Page – is not just a gateway: it’s also a lure to tempt people to explore further, and an advertisement for what they will find inside. Hewitt drew the comparison of a newsstand: customers see only the front page – and usually just the top half of it. That view must tempt them to buy the paper, confident about its content.
James Hewitt’s analogy is useful. Magazine editors know that front covers are vitally important. Whether it’s Heat magazine or Tatler, the same principle applies: a crucial part of any front cover is the indication of what’s inside –key articles, latest news, features, etc. A website front page is not so different: the casual or first time visitor needs both visual ‘wow factor’ and clear teasers/trailers for key items to lure or tempt them further. Yet when we analyse the web traffic patterns of visitors to clients’ websites, we often see a pattern: many visitors view only the first page they see, not clicking any further.
From our own use of the web we know this is partly predictable. Whichever engine we use, our web searches often turn up sites that sound promising but aren’t quite what we were looking for. One glance and we click away. There are other websites that may be highly relevant, but their Home Pages don’t get the message across: so again we move away. (Technically, this is referred to as a bounce rate – the percentage of site visitors who leave a site at a given point. Your bounce rate should ideally be below 30%: if you don’t have access to this level of web traffic analysis, Virtual Viewing can install Google Analytics to help you understand how your web site is being used.)
Your web site – given the percentage of people that find most sites through search engines – has two chances to make that all important first impression:
- The search engine entry
- The Home Page.
Your Search Engine Entry
Leaving aside search engine advertising – we’ll come to that later – there are two parts to each entry in a search engine listing:
- The page title – not the first heading people see on screen, but a separate part of the web page that shows as the main link to your website in search engine listings, and is recorded if visitors save the page as a bookmark or favourite. It’s your equivalent of a newspaper’s main headline.
- The second is the page description: again not visible on screen, this is the text shown below the link in search engine listings (provided, of course, that your web developers have paid attention during development.)
Using the right words – and these are about words, not pictures – is important in making sure that your site is well indexed. (Don’t stuff them with irrelevant keywords; search engine take relevance into account when ranking their results.) But it’s also important in providing an accurate description of your site that will make people interested enough to click the link and visit.
Most sites have an advantage over newspapers with paywalls: they can have many pages included in search engine results. A clothing company, for example, can have pages for men’s clothes, women’s clothes and children’s clothes separately indexed, providing starting points for three different customer groups – as long as those pages are accurate and interesting.
The Home Page
For most web sites, the Home Page will be the page most people first encounter on each site visit. If they’ve come from a link on another site, or arrived directly, it makes your first impression. If they’ve come from a search engine, it’s essentially your second impression – your search engine entry has spiked their interest, but your Home Page now has to deliver on it.
You need to strike a balance between quantity of content and clean design, but the important ‘hooks’ for your market must be there and easy to spot. The most important need to be at the top: like magazines or non-tabloid newspapers, ‘above the fold’ applies. Some web visitors will scroll down to look for other links, but don’t count on it.
Beyond Good Design
Good design is obviously essential, but a web design company that wants to clearly understand your business, market, customers and objectives – all vital parts of the service Virtual Viewing provides – will give your more. The phrase may be a cliché, but truly great design marries form and function. In the case of a website, ‘function’ includes technical aspects (such as ease of navigation), but it also includes business aspects: presenting your business effectively to customers, and driving sales and customer relationships.
As your market place won’t stand still, marrying good design with content management and e-commerce systems (such as our OSCAR and ERIC solutions) helps you to keep your web site – and its tantalising Home Page – up-to-date and relevant at all times, and your latest or most important products or services are always prominent. Go further by integrating an email marketing solution (such as our EMMA solution), and you can make that first impression pro-actively – straight to their inbox.
If your search engine visibility could be enhanced, our ADAM (AdWords Administration and Management) and SUE (Search-engine Upgrade and Enhancement) services can both help you to ‘put your best foot forward’ and make that first impression to more people. Both services include integration of Google Analytics and detailed analysis to measure in detail the effectiveness of your site. At Virtual Viewing, we believe in making websites measurable, so that we can work with our clients to optimise what works – and take action to address what doesn’t.