This post explores the data underlying homepages, landing pages, search and direct traffic — highlighting the key differences between where search and direct visitors land and how their navigation styles differ.
As John shared in his post a few weeks ago, search has fundamentally changed the entry point for most websites. Yesterday’s homepage was one big, wide open door to everything a site has to offer. Today’s homepage is just one of hundreds or thousands of smaller doors bringing people into your site from all sorts of destinations with hundreds of different interests. As I was reading the article, I kept asking myself, what more could the data tell us?
Over the last few weeks I took a “shallow dive” into our Google Analytics account to find out. More specifically, I looked at the top landing pages on our website during the 2Q of 2015, and then segmented them into two audiences — search visitors and direct visitors. What I found did not surprise me. That said, the sharp contrasts both in where each audience landed and how they interacted with the site did.
Here’s the 30-second highlight reel:
- Direct visitors — They’re nearly 2x as likely to land first on the homepage, and are much more likely to arrive on pages less than 6 months old. As a result, they’re getting the wisdom of your current knowledge, but may be missing out on all the learnings that occurred in the past. Most interestingly, almost all direct visitors start their journey into the site through its primary navigation.
- Searchers — By contrasts, visitors who arrive via search are much more likely to arrive on pages over 2 years old — they’re accessing your knowledge as you shaped it over 24 months ago. And, are most likely to start their journey into the site through the contextual links imbedded inside the article they’re viewing; ignoring the site’s primary navigation (at least at first).
Now, for the 2-minute dive:
Searchers Find Yesterday’s Content. Direct Visitors Find Today’s.
Let’s start by simply comparing the two segments (searchers and direct visitors) based on how they arrive to the site (they’re top landing pages):
- Only 12% actually arrive on the homepage.
- 8 of the top 10 landing pages are over 18 months old and 5 of those are over 24 months old.
- 20% arrive on the homepage.
- 6 of the top 10 landing pages are less than 6 months old.
Of the top 10 landing pages, only 4 were shared mutually between the two segments (1 of those 4 being the homepage).
Now, if you’re anything like us, the current version of your site looks very different from the one you had 2-3 years ago — from technology, to content, functionality, and design — just about everything has been modified or improved. That is, everything except for many of the old content pages.
In fact, while the majority of searchers arrive on content pages that are over 18 months old, we probably spend 10x as much time iterating pages within the site’s primary navigation than improving that blog we published 24 months.
To use an analogy — if our site is a retail store, I’d say we spend more time dressing the windows near the main entrance, yet the majority of our shoppers are coming in through hundreds of side doors that only a few actually get looked at on a regular basis. Some of those side doors probably have loose handles, outdated products and bad wayfinding.
Direct Visitors Start With Navigation. Searchers Start With Text Links.
Now, here’s where it got interesting. Essentially, I compared the Behavior Flows between the two segments of site visitors by comparing Direct Traffic that arrived on the Homepage (our top point of entry for direct visitors) with Search Traffic that arrived on two unique blog posts (our two top landing pages for arriving search visitors; both content pages from 2012).
Then, I looked at where visitors go next. I their next destination into four groups — Navigation, Content Offers (elements in the sidebar), Text Link (contextual links within the site page), and Site Search. Again, what I found didn’t surprise me; what did was the extreme differences between each segment. Here’s the data in chart form:
And, here’s the data presented as a rudimentary heat map showing specifically how each type of user interacts with the site’s various navigational options to take their first “next step” into your site:
Applying These Findings to Your Site
As I see it, here are a few ways you can apply these findings to your site:
- Homepage Layout — As John pointed out in his article on Homepage Carousels, use your prime homepage real estate to deliver very straightforward and clear messages about who you are, what you do, who you serve, and why it matters — the data shows us that these types of pages are most often frequented by visitors who arrive directly on your homepage.
- Primary Navigation — Make sure your primary navigation is intuitive and straightforward to ensure that visitors can easily find what interests them.
- Contextual Links — With each new piece of thought leadership you add to your site, take the time to establish relevant contextual hyperlinks (to other content, to projects, to people) and additional content offers to other related articles on your site.
- Landing Pages — Revisit your top 10 website landing pages every 3-6 months and make sure you’re optimizing the experience you’re providing to the site visitor — ensure you have clear paths into other content and you’re driving visitors towards higher forms of engagement (such as signing up for a newsletter, attending a webinar, learning more about your services, etc.).
A Note on the Data
It’s worth keeping in mind that these findings are the result of a rather granular look at the data underlying one site (ours). It’s quite possible that if we were to expand this across multiple client sites we’d find a different story. Nonetheless, some of the data presented very interesting and stark contrasts which I’m willing to surmise will hold for most professional service firms’ websites.