I found an article in the New York Times about how Google is not improving their Google News service. You can think of Google News is a giant link list of news topics. Google News harvests news from sites around the world and lists them. But the one aspect of the article that caught my attention was how Google News is affecting “real” news web sites. The thing is when you click on a link it takes you to the source site, it doesn’t keep you in Google. So in that way Google News actually benefits these news sites because it may get them visitors that would otherwise not even know about their site.
If I was running a news site I would want my news to show up on Google News for just that fact. But then someone says something like this:
“Instead of entering a preferred news site through its front page, users are being routed to a single article, perhaps deep inside the site, and when they are done reading it, they move on.”
Now I know the home page is always the top page for almost every web site. Most of the time people hit the home page of a site and then leave right away without doing or reading anything. Companies spend piles of money at trying to design a better home page that will get people to act and click on something. But that statement just proves that companies are only spending money on the home page and not worrying about other pages (sub-pages).
In a Google world and in a time when there are countless statistics and analytics available to everyone (also thanks to Google), sites have the information that tells them where and how to improve their design to get people to click on more items. With search results not always dropping people off at your home page means you can’t neglect your sub-pages. But this just isn’t because of search results. Let’s say someone comes to my home page, clicks an article and reads it and then leaves. OK, so they read one thing…guess what, I want them to read more! So even if they come to your home page and click something, how do you get them to click again…and again..and again…
It all comes down to caring about the design of every page. Even if you are a template-based site like most news sites are, you can’t just cut a hole in your design and drop in words and then get pissed when people don’t hit your home page. If people come through back door to read and then leave right away, that’s your fault too! It’s not Google’s fault. The challenge in web design is to keep people engaged with your content, whether it be news, photos, video, games, or just trite blog entries like this one.
Fact is web sites are not linear. You can’t control how people get there, where they enter, or when they leave…so you have to treat almost every page like your home page. And as time passes you need to refine your site (and templates) to take advantage of what is happening naturally.
I use Google Analytics and Woopra on the main web sites I manage, both personally and professionally. Every month or two, I look at the data from both sources to find out how people behave and act on my site. It’s not gospel and it’s not 100% accurate, but since I can’t observe people directly it’s the best tool I have. And I can tell you that the data from both have directly effected how I designed future web pages. For example, on one site I found that people were entering through a page that was relatively buried and I was really surprised that it was such a hot landing page. But since I can’t really change that behaviour, I adapted my site to fit that behaviour. The result was putting more high brow content on that page and you know what? It got people to click on more links and take them deeper into the web site.
I learned that people weren’t coming in through the home page 100% of the time so I accounted for that and embraced it. I didn’t bitch about it. Having worked in the media business and on a (local) TV news web site, I can say for a fact that they pay very little attention to web design. I worked at a very deep pocketed station and the person designing their web site was the same person that 99% of the time designs for television. He has no usability training or really has no idea what will work on a web site. He designs it until it meets his happiness level and then hands it off to someone that chops it up and makes it “work” on-line. In short, branding and marketing took precedence over delivery the news to visitors. And maybe that’s ignorant of me and “I should know better,” but hey, that’s how it should be. If you focus on what you do and work at making that content accessible to people then everything will fall into place by itself. You’ll get more search results, more traffic, and best of all, more happy people – and that all leads to more dollars.
Home pages are important and need to grab visitors’ attention right away, but don’t short change every other page on the site. One-hundred people might knock on your front door and chat for a few minutes, but I’d rather have one or two come in through the back door and hang out for hours.