Nov 26, 2012
Table of contents:
An increasing trend for large content or ecommerce type websites is the optimisation of deep content pages and an overall simplification of the homepage.
Over the last ten years or so, we have become much more accustomed to going directly to a landing page, rather than exploring a website from the homepage onwards. Search engines have become increasingly sophisticated at indexing and surfacing relevant content based on a search query, and the rise of the Social Internet has meant that people are sharing pieces of content or products directly. This has meant an overall better discovery process that leads a user directly to the content they want to see, rather than landing on the homepage and then trying to find what is relevant.
This has meant that the long tail of possible landing pages far outweigh the strength of the homepage.
Of course this is not the case for every type of website, but it is an increasingly important thing to consider when designing and developing a large content based website.
The problem is, there is often far too much time agonising over the homepage, and a complete lack of focus on users landing directly on a content page. This can lead to a lot of wasted time making decisions on your product that will not have a direct correlation with an increase of traction or sales. It is also incredibly hard to create a homepage that completely captures what your website offers once it reaches scale. This can often lead to an over complicated design that actually turns customers away.
In this post I will be looking at 4 company websites that have effectively distilled their homepage down into one clear message. Each of these websites will get far more aggregate traction on their content pages, and so they have reduced their homepage down to be as clear as possible.
The 4 websites include, a content driven websites, a social product, an ecommerce website and a subscription website.
Hopefully you will be able to pick up some inspiration from these examples to improve your website.
Medium is a new online publishing website from the creator of Twitter and Blogger, Ev Williams. It is essentially a group publishing platform that allows people to come together and form collections of content around a given topic.
Medium is the archetype example of the death of the homepage. Medium is, in it’s simplest form, pages of content. When you land on the Medium homepage, there are no routes into that content. It is actually quite hard to get to the content from the homepage.
The Medium example shows that you quite clearly do not need to sign post the homepage into every aspect of your website. Medium has actually taken the complete opposite extreme of this example by only linking to one piece of content, the about page.
I think Medium could, in the future, start surfacing content to their homepage to allow people to explore the site from a standing position. Medium is in private beta, so access is currently limited. As more mainstream users start to access the website, their traction from the homepage will likely increase. However, Medium’s stance on their homepage shows that you can build a product and completely neglect the homepage when you are building a content based website. The Medium homepage will not be getting shared nearly as much as the actual content pages themselves.
Take away: In the early stages of a content based website, you don’t need to waste a lot of time agonising over the homepage. When the majority of the usage of your site will be on content pages, spend the time on those pages to get them right. Your content pages will be what is search indexed and what is shared by your users, not your homepage.
Branch is again a similar content website to Medium in that it is content that is centred around given topics. Branch is much more of a conversational, social platform than Medium, but it follows many of the same principles.
When Branch first launched, their homepage was simply a video of the product (Design Inspiration #46). The current Branch homepage does actually surface new featured conversations and shows what Medium could look like in 6 - 12 months.
Branch is another perfect example of the death of the homepage. Users of branch are likely to come to the homepage to sign in. But in reality they are not going to be spending more than one page view on this page. Once you become immersed into an expansive website like Branch, you are not going to return to where you started.
Branch is also a perfect example of users sharing direct links to branches, rather than to the homepage. If someone shares a link to Branch with you, it is far more likely to be an actual piece of content, rather than dumping you off at the homepage.
Instagram is another social website that has completely neglected their homepage. The Instagram homepage is simply an overview of the product and links to download it. Instagram have recently opened up profile pages that allow it’s users to discover, and browse content on the Internet. Again Instagram clearly understand that the homepage of their website is not what users want to see. By opening up their vast content stores, Instagram has suddenly switched on the potential of the huge surface area they can cover online.
Take away: When your product revolves around deep user generated social content, you don’t need to create an amazing homepage. Branch is a perfect example of a product that is likely to be shared on Twitter and Facebook as a means of entrance. When you land on a branch, you are already immersed into what the product is about because there is nothing but the discussion.
Simplify your homepage and let your product speak for itself.
Fab is essentially a design lead ecommerce website that allows consumers to buy curated products. Whilst Amazon is the undisputed leader in search based commerce, Fab has taken the opposite route and encourages browsing and exploring of products through their online catalogue.
The homepage resembles a wall of inspiration for users who are coming to Fab to be inspired. The product page however, is focused on the product, purchasing and sharing. Fab’s product pages were made to share and so they offer big glossy pictures and the options to quickly share the product with your friends.
Take away: Ecommerce is a perfect opportunity to reduce the complexity of the homepage and instead optimise product pages for sharing and purchasing. It is unlikely that a customer will make a purchase when landing on the homepage cold. Product pages are a much better opportunity to convert traffic to sales when they don’t already have a relationship with your company.
Use your homepage as a simple gateway to your products. Curate and offer a simple and clear path for new customers to your product pages. Often ecommerce homepages are completely overwhelming for new customers because they contain every category, subcategory and featured product from the entire range. You should make your homepage simple, and instead optimise your product pages for search and sharing.
Treehouse is an online education platform for learning design and development. Treehouse offers video courses and quizzes to teach you what you need to know about making websites or iOS applications.
Treehouse is again a good example of a content based website that has significantly reduced the complexity of the homepage. Treehouse is a monthly subscription service where the value is very much in the library of content that they have created. It would be impossible to really show the value of this content on the homepage, and so instead, Treehouse allows users to browse their library and their content.
By making the homepage simple, but also allowing people to browse their content, Treehouse opens two significant opportunities.
1. The simplification of the homepage allows users with a previous understanding or relationship with the company to quickly signup or get more information about the product.
2. The long tail of open content encourages search indexing, social sharing and discovery that creates opportunities to educate new customers on the product.
Take away: Treehouse is a perfect example of a subscription content product that have distilled their homepage, and opened up the doors to the long tail of their content. This strategy works for both customers that already know about the product and the company, but it also works as a strong viral mechanism for generating interest with new customers. By opening up the long tail of content, you significantly increase your surface area as a product. This allows for greater awareness and reach than if you were to keep everything behind closed doors.
There are many more examples of websites that have made the switch from one point of entry, towards a more open long tail strategy that gives precedence to the actual content or product pages of the website.
The idea of a homepage as the only point of entry for a website is an old, out-of-date view of how the Internet works. The Internet is an expansive, open platform that should be explored through discovery. Trying to optimise your visitors through a singular page is never going to work.
It is also a huge waste of time to try and make the perfect homepage. If your product relies on search or social as a means for generating traffic, you are literarily wasting your time.
The homepage is already dead.