The homepage of a website. No other piece of web real estate is as much a battle ground where content wars are won and lost. The perception from senior decision-makers in any enterprise organization is that this highly visible piece of communications property is prime land for any and all content that relates to the business or its key messaging. Without proper governance, it can quickly become a showcase of corporate trophies for all to admire and none to find useful.
I have been to too many meetings where executive directors, communications directors and program directors transpose the fight directly from the homepage to the boardroom table in an epic battle of power and wits that typically leads to further tensions in the organization and compromised content on the page itself. There are no winners in this war – only losers who arrive at the homepage and click the back button.
“This is no Jedi mind trick – the homepage should simply be another reflection of your overall communications strategy.” ~ Georgy Cohen, Planning For Homepage Content
Like it or not, the homepage content turf war has become the token crusade of communications and marketing and the only way to help negotiate a truce is through content strategy.
The thing about this battle, though, that communicators and marketers don’t know, is that the home page is made redundant by Google.
“For most big enterprise level websites these days, it’s rare for the traffic on the home page to go beyond 15%.” ~ Kelley McDonald, User Experience Design in the Google Era
Consider the following:
“In 2003, 39% of page views for a large research website were for the homepage. By 2009, it was down to 19%. In one month in 2008, of the 70,000 page views a technology site received, 22,000 were for the homepage. For the same month in 2010, of the 120,000 page views the site received, only 2,500 were for the homepage… One of the largest websites in the world had 25% of visitors come to the homepage in 2005, but in 2010 only has 10%.” ~ Gerry McGovern, The Decline of the Homepage
With this in mind, it actually becomes easier to negotiate a path forward by brokering the perceived value of the homepage and using it to your advantage when determining a content strategy for the rest of the site.
You see, if the homepage isn’t as integral to the website as others in the organization make it out to be, content negotiations aren’t really do or die scenarios. By giving a little, you can gain a lot when it comes to all other content areas of the website by leveraging the lure of the homepage as your high-priced bargaining chip.
Enter Guerrilla Content Strategy
Now we’re getting into what I call Guerrilla Content Strategy – where best practices are kept in mind but also kept in check by using a more realistic approach than what “theory” might suggest.
On one hand, best practices in content strategy suggest examining analytics for homepage statistics, and looking to personas to inform the content prioritization of the homepage. On the other, the organization is simply interested in using this “billboard” to present the information and messaging they feel to be the most important. Incidentally, this usually aligns with the direction of other offline marketing initiatives.
The only way to reconcile these differences is to leverage what we know about content along with what we know about user experience.
What We Know About Content
The most effective web strategies include 4 different kinds of content.
This Content Consumption Funnel at the page level incentivizes readers to convert from casual keyword-enticed searchers to bookmarkers to customers.
What We Know About User Experience
Eye tracking analysis reveals that most website visitors scan content from left to right in the form of an F-Pattern.
Leveraging both of these principles — the Content Consumption Funnel and the F-Pattern — early on in conversations with communications and marketing will go a long way towards getting buy-in for content decisions for the homepage.
How To Get Crafty With Homepage Content
This wouldn’t be guerrilla style content strategy if a few unconventional tools weren’t brought into the mix. While the same can be accomplished using Photoshop for executive reports, the following content prioritization tool is quite effective in facilitating understanding and conversations with key homepage content stakeholders during offline meetings.
I made mine using lighting gels that I purchased from a professional sound and lighting store. The colors are inspired by those of a traffic light with green meaning go, yellow signifying caution and red showing stop. These may run contrary to heat map colorization with red usually depicting the area of highest concentration, however most executives are more apt to understand something that is common and familiar.
Once the individual squares are cut, the pieces can be taped together to create an overlay that identifies the content priority areas of the homepage. This overlay can either be used on printouts of the homepage or wireframes. Its purpose is to help discuss content only and not to focus on design – although the design may need to be tweaked to align with the content once it has been finalized.
Now that you can clearly see the content through the overlay, you can help communicators and marketers make more informed decisions about what content goes where. As with all content strategy, this is a balancing act between what the organization wants/needs to communicate and what information target audiences want to know.
Using the overlay you can create a content strategy around what content needs to go where on the homepage. I recommend using small colored circle stickers that correspond to the colors used in the Content Consumption Funnel.
You can then identify the content assets on the page and re-arrange them to align with the content prioritization overlay. Below is an example of one I did recently for the University of Ottawa (note the colors are reversed in this example):
As you can see above, the kinds of content published don’t align with the content priority areas. As such any communications and marketing messaging that was cited as a priority by the organization is getting lost just by the user experience alone.
With the content prioritization overlay you can now work alongside communications and marketing to come up with the best content strategy for the homepage. This includes resolving internal political issues where content *must* be on the homepage as deemed by someone in the C-suite. This kind of highly-charged content can now be relegated to lower-priority areas of the web page in order to satisfy the request …but no longer at the expense of the user.