Villing & Company

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Your Subpage Design

"Don't judge a book by its cover." I'm sure you've heard that phrase a million times. It's certainly a useful analogy, but the truth is that most marketing relies on the reality that people do, in fact, "judge the book by its cover." Companies spend fistfuls of cash to add better "covers" to their "books." This is because the customer's first impression is important. Whether it's unique product packaging or attractive store signage, all of us (even the most rational-minded) make judgments about the quality of the product based on our first impression.

When the Internet revolution hit in the 90s, marketing departments were scrambling to figure out how to use this new "information superhighway" to better sell products. Because they came from a world of brochures, magazines and print advertising, they began thinking of everything in terms of print. So when it came to designing a Web site, they treated it like a product brochure. A lot of attention was given to the home page design, since by analogy that was the "cover" of your brochure. Since that's the first thing people see, it's important that they get the right impression. By contrast, subpages (if they were designed at all) were typically regarded as subservient to the all-powerful home page.

Hit the fast-forward button for fifteen years and guess what?

Nothing has changed.

Recently, I've become more and more uncomfortable with the way Web sites are designed: home page first, subpages later. Maybe the print analogy is broken. Maybe it's time to rethink the process.

The primary factor that has changed the way people access Web sites is search. Search engines send people to the pages of your site that are the most relevant to them. This is often NOT the home page. In fact, when I reviewed 20 of our web sites, I found an average of 40% of visitors do NOT enter the site through the home page. This varies quite a bit from site-to-site, but even more profound is the fact that on average nearly 80% of the pageviews of these sites were on subpages.

Let's take VILLING.COM for example. Over 65% of our visitors don't enter through our home page; they're landing directly in our portfolio or visiting one of our articles. For those visitors, their first impression of our company is NOT the home page, it's one of our subpages. Furthermore, less than 3% of our total pageviews are on our home page. That means that a full 97% of our site activity occurs within our subpages. If they were designed as an afterthought, what kind of impression would we be making?

It's not that the home page isn't important; it most certainly is. The problem is that when you start designing a site with its home page, you are really starting with the "exception."

Here's an idea: what if the design of a Web site began with the subpages, instead of the home page? Sure, the home page seems more fun, and it still can be, but I believe that the Web site will be more effective if the home page is based off of a strong subpage design, rather than the other way around. With so many people entering your site directly on a subpage, it's critical that your subpage design provides a good first impression. This technique pays off even more when you consider that on a typical visit, someone is going to spend much more time browsing subpages than they will on your home page.

Despite the best advice, the reality is that people will "judge the book by its cover." And when it comes to Web sites, you have to think of every subpage as a potential "cover."

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Villing & Company

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South Bend IN 46601

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