Your Homepage Is Not As Important As You Think


By

Dan Blank

Today’s guest post is from Dan Blank of We Grow Media.


Author platform is about more than your homepage. Perhaps you hope your homepage embodies the essence of your writing, that it is the gateway into the world you are creating.

But oftentimes, it isn’t.

A website homepage is not like the cover of a book. Especially if you are an author who blogs, or who frequently updates various parts of your site, the homepage is often completely unseen by those who stop by.

For many sites I have worked with, fewer than 20% of visitors even see the homepage. Instead, they spend their time on blog pages, the About page, events pages, or other “interior pages” of the website.

Why? Because most people find your site via search engines, social media, links from other websites, or newsletter. This is an example of the ways people may find your website:

How people find your website

Let’s explore this:

  • Search Engines: It’s common for search engines to comprise of 25-40% of your website traffic. That someone typed something into Google, your website came up, and that’s how they found their way to you.
  • Newsletters or E-mail: When you have a direct connection to your audience via an e-mail list, it can become a primary way to drive traffic.
  • Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and a wide range of other search engines focus on finding great content and sharing it across these networks. Much of it is filled with links that points back to websites such as yours.
  • Referring Links: Perhaps other websites or blogs have mentioned you or your website. These links are often active for a long period of time, and help refer people to you.
  • Direct Traffic: Some of your traffic is people typing your website address into a web browser. But not many.

What all of these elements have in common is CONTEXT. People are likely coming not directly to your homepage, but to individual blog pages, your About page, or other interior pages on your site. They simply have more context. People don’t search for “fiction author” and find your site. They search for very specific things.

This is why search engine optimization, social media, and related topics are so powerful and commonly discussed when trying to develop your audience. They provide context by which to engage people.

A homepage should not be the kitchen sink of everything you are about. It should help to brand what you are about, and provide some key direction. Many homepages I see have dozens of links, which often serve to confuse instead of direct people. You have just a few seconds to engage someone—use that time wisely.

Jane has shared wonderful advice on key elements you should include on your website.

With sites I’ve worked with, I have seen 80% of the incoming traffic landing on pages other than the homepage. And of the 20% that did land on the homepage, only a small percentage of those people actually clicked anything to dig further into the website.

A website is not like a book or magazine, where there is a cover and a linear process through it. People jump into your website—into your story—at random places. This is partially why every page needs to tell your story, why you need to reiterate who you are, and provide context at every opportunity.

I always look at this data when I am in a web analytics package such as Google Analytics. I will see things such as this:

Google Analytics page visits

During this time period, the website had 56,079 page views, but only 4,610 were on the homepage. Was the homepage important? Yes, critically so. You can see that it is the most popular individual page on that website. But the sum of the other pages added up to so much more in terms of attention.

My overall point is this:

Before you waste your time obsessing about your homepage design for six months, or spend hundreds or thousands of dollars paying a designer to get your homepage just the right “feel,” take time to experiment. See what works, and what doesn’t. Measure. Determine where it makes sense to put your resources of both time and money.

When I work with authors, we focus on the issues above, but also on the idea of how to build and engage their audience via sharing content. That you are engaging people with your VOICE and with STORY, not just with design.

I went through this process myself recently as well, and shared the process of redesigning my website in three blog posts:

So much of this is about understanding your goals as a writer, and understanding the needs and behaviors of the audience you hope to engage. Then, it is about thinking strategically about how to connect the two, and measuring and iterating to constantly get the most out of your limited resources.

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  • http://thebloggingofanaspiringwriter.blogspot.com.au/ Bonnee

    Wow, that’s a bit eye-opening. The tab for my blog was automatically titled ‘home’ after I added other tabs, but I don’t know how to check separate page statistics on blogger. Either way, my website/blog/author platform isn’t all that popular yet. I spent a few minutes tonight trying to make it look a bit more appealing instead of tacky; give it a bit of personality and whatnot, but I think that was more because I was bored than thought it would make me more popular. Thank you for this post, very insightful :) 

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  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Thanks. It’s definitely good practice to check your web analytics at least once a month to see your most popular pages. Usually the homepage is one of the most popular, but dwarfed by the aggregate of all other pages combined. 
    -Dan

  • http://twitter.com/moonbridgebooks Linda Austin

    Very interesting! My home page is a blog so that it changes often and attracts the spider (I hope), with tabs for my book’s info, services, about. So now we know that every page is important as it might be the one stop shop.

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Linda: indeed. You should optimize every page so that a first time visitor understands the basics of who you are, your purpose, etc. It should also focus them to take another action. EG: what is the ONE thing you hope a new reader does? Too many templates are filled with hundreds of links – hundreds of POSSIBLE things someone could do, but often doesn’t. The book “The Paradox of Choice” outlined human behavior when confronted with too much choice… often no choice at all is made. 
    Thanks so much!
    -Dan

  • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

    I split up my blog and my homepage from one another, because I wanted them to exist as separate entities from one another. I’ve often wondered if this was the right approach. I wanted the homepage to be more of a quick resume, and my blog to be its own community. Anyone care to comment on this?

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Hi Josh, 
    I suppose it depends on how you use each URL. So JoshHogg.com – who are you sending there and how often? Does this just go out to some hiring managers, or is it a critical link in your marketing funnel for getting new clients? 

    I tend to like connecting the two (homepage and blog) if both are focused on the same topic and audience, because it engages me right away in your expertise, in your conversation and community. The flat homepage challenges me to create my own motivation to dig further.

    Thanks!
    -Dan

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    I second Dan—depends on your audience.
    But I wonder why you need a website to serve as a quick resume? Why not use LinkedIn? You’re far more likely to get views there that would be appropriate to that goal. Save your website/blog for the direct relationship with your community, which can be expanded alongside your career.

  • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

    Hey Dan,

    I don’t intentionally send people to joshhogg.com. I set-up the site more of a funnel for people if they were to Google my name. I write fiction, so my work is not commissioned. I’d like most traffic to first view my blog – unless they Google my name, in which case they’ll get my ‘portfolio’.

    One of my main motivators was to have the URL and website name for my blog to be one in the same for easy branding. Does this make marketing sense?

    Thanks for the reply,
    Josh

  • http://www.creativehogg.com/ Josh Hogg

    Hey Jane,

    I may have misled my intentions a bit in my first comment. As I mentioned to Dan below, my personal website was more for people to come across if they Googled my name. I imagined that my blog could be its own ‘brand’ (I hate to use that word, but I can’t come up with a better way to describe it).

    Thanks for the reply,
    Josh

  • http://profiles.google.com/judithvanpraag Judith van Praag

    In 2005 my main concern was to show a gallery window with my different (pre-) occupations. Not unlike the artwork on display at street level, my hope was to lure people into my “shop”.
    The blog I created alongside —that is, at the same time I launched my Website— didn’t show up in the menu until last year. And I kind of underplayed the importance of my book, because back in 1999 my adviser said I should never say I published that baby myself. My website wasn’t supposed to be as static as it is, but since I can’t upload material myself I get behind. Way behind. What’s moving? My blog, and that’s not part of the Website design. What’s a girl to do?

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Josh,
    “Brand” is not a bad term in this context. I think I understand your reasoning here. I think it is smart to consider the long-term difference between your name online, and a larger brand that you create. But you should consider how the two connect as well. How do these two things align 3 or 5 years down the road. And if you are the main voice behind your brand, wouldn’t you want that site to rank well for your name, since most people will look that up. For years, I blogged at DanBlank.com, then about 2 years ago created my company and began blogging at WeGrowMedia.com. I want people to come to WeGrowMedia.com when the Google my name. It takes a long time to convert the traffic in Google from DanBlank.com to WeGrowMedia. So think of the long-term goals here. Perhaps you are already, and your current strategy is right for you.
    Thanks.
    -Dan

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Judith,
    Lots to consider here. Seems as though you have many threads of your platforms in a couple places, and need to reassess your long-term goals, and re-align everything. Not a simple answer for you, I would want to do some research on the existing SEO value of each domain you have, plus web analytics for each before I recommended a way forward. 
    -Dan

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    See my answer below. Thanks!

  • Linda Woods

    Hi Dan,

    I’m still writing my first work of fiction hoping to get published sometime this year or next. I did start a WordPress website just to get it up and running, but since I don’t have anything published yet, I feel like it’s just “sitting there.” I wanted to start it up though so that when I get closer to finishing my novel and publishing I would already have it established. What do you think is important to put into the website in the meantime? I have the about page, and some other short blogs in there, but nothing on a regular basis. I don’t want to be boring, but want people to know about me. Not sure what content to add. Thanks! Linda

  • Linda Woods

    Hi Dan,

    If you want to take a look, here is my website. lindawoodsrph.wordpress.com. Thanks! Linda

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Hi Linda,
    This is a very common problem that many writers face, a real challenge. Since you write horror, you have to make some key decisions up front about how you want your overall platform to evolve. So, do you want this to be a key way that readers find and engage with you? If so, you have to have a good understanding of who these readers are, where they are online, what engages them, what communities they are a part of etc. Then, you would focus on creating a vision and editorial strategy for the blog based on this and your own goals. So it could swing far to one side – focusing only on horror. This could be a wide range of topics: book reviews, your experience doing research for your books, and the many related topics that engage horror fans. Ideally, this would be socially driven content, you would play off of existing blogs and discussions in online horror communities.

    You could swing the other way too, or do a mix, where you include more about your interests outside of just one genre. LOTS of choices here, but the key is to really explore your goals, your purpose, and your audience. This helps ensure the decisions you make are strategic, and that they help lead to outcomes that are meaningful to you.

    I’m sorry if any of this is vague. Again – GREAT question, we dig deep into stuff like this in the courses I teach. Always a fun process. Thanks!
    -Dan

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  • Linda Woods

    Thank you, Dan. I do indeed wish to reach readers across different genres, as the book I am writing may also appeal to those reading outside of the typical horror genre. Also, in the long run, I’d like to hear from (have comments from) those in any genre — just to see what they think about the book(s) I’m writing or will be writing in the future. My own reading interests span a wide range of material, so I don’t want to be “boxed into a category” either. I think your advice is sound for me to explore my own goals, purpose, and identify the audience (although it will be broad). I would like to have more of a “conversation” with other writers in the genre, but also make the website welcoming to those interested in mystery, thriller, or suspense as since the book I’m writing contains all of those elements. I personally dislike having to “pick a genre” because I feel it is so limiting and don’t want to be labeled as a certain kind of writer. I also don’t want to exclude anyone from communicating with me or offering insights/feedback. I appreciate feedback as long as it is constructive. I would definitely love to take your course. Is it through Writer’s Digest? Thanks — Linda

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Linda,
    I can definitely understand why you would want to appeal to a broader range of readers (and writers.) So the key challenge in the beginning will be growing a following when you are a bit wary of getting too specific in terms of the target audience. Not a huge problem by any means, but something to consider carefully as you develop your site. 

    The course I teach that addresses this best is through my site (WeGrowMedia.com) and is called “Build Your Author Platform.” I am holding a free webinar next Thursday on this topic, and it will include an overview of the course. You can sign up for the webinar here:

    http://wegrowmedia.com/webinar-why-you-need-an-author-platform/

    If you want full info on the course, you can read more about it here:

    http://wegrowmedia.com/build-your-author-platform/

    Thanks!
    -Dan

  • http://www.janefriedman.com Jane Friedman

    Hi Linda,

    I’ll add in my two cents: 

    Almost all authors believe their potential audience is very broad AND they hate being pigeon-holed. This belief is so common that I often joke that authors would include alien life forms in their description of potential readership, because they can’t imagine anyone in the universe who wouldn’t be interested in reading their book.

    This isn’t to make light of your wish to be freed of labels or to be open to any type of reader, but mainly to say: this is a common and logical desire, and one that you have to fight against a little bit when it comes to marketing.Paradoxically, a strong and successful marketing strategy—particularly for new authors—is to target as narrowly as possible. You want to talk to the MOST interested people first—your best prospects—to avoid wasting time and energy, at least in the initial stages.So: You gain a large audience by starting with a small core, then branching off from there. I don’t recommend starting broad and then going narrow. It usually works in reverse.

  • Jennifer Fulford

    Thanks for this post. I have seen both my blog and my website evolve, despite the fact I’m unpublished. I’ve worked on them as I’ve revised and queried. I now cross promote each, although both seem to have different audiences. I don’t know if it’s the best way to go about platform building, but it seems to work for now. I would encourage any unpublished writer to jump in and get going. The more time you have to experiment with your online identity, the better. Your direction will get clearer with time. Mine has. 

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  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Jennifer,
    GREAT advice! It takes time to see what works – I am such a big believer in experimentation. Thanks so much, and glad to hear things are working out for you!
    -Dan

  • http://www.kemberlee.com/ Kemberlee Shortland

    I’ve been using a blog for my homepage for years because my homepage never really had great numbers of visitors. But my blog is hit regularly, and from there I have links into the interior of my real site. My blog has been tweeked to look like my regular site so unless someone is looking at the URL bar, no one would know they were different. Plus, since I use Blogger, Google(who owns Blogger) lists their own sites first on rankings!

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Thanks for sharing that Kemberlee – sounds like it is working out well for you!
    -Dan

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