Managing a Site of 1,000 Homepages

“Can you put this on the homepage?”

Anyone who has spent any time managing a college or university website is sure to have received this question more than once. Perhaps the response should be “Which homepage?”

While your homepage may be the most visible (and most political), often it is not the first page visitors see. The data suggesting  that anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of external traffic lands anywhere but the homepage paints a new reality.:

Every page is your homepage.

If the traditional homepage is the “front door” of a university’s digital presence, half of your site visitors are walking in the back, climbing through a window, or sliding down the chimney to get inside.

Google Analytics data we reviewed from the sites of five separate institutions clearly outlines the most popular alternative points of entry. The top five landing pages for each site are the same across the board. They are, in order:

  1. Admissions
  2. Application
  3. Campus visit
  4. Financial aid
  5. Tuition

Don’t believe the data? Check for yourself. Google Analytics provides an easy-to-find report on landing pages under the Behavior > Site Content tab.

What does the fact that you’re managing thousands of homepages mean? It means we have some work to do to improve the first pages visitors see, regardless of where the live on the site.

If you follow these three principles, you’ll improve the quality of your landing pages dramatically and enhance your visitors’ experience on your site.

  1. Consider how the visitor got there and what they want to do. Is the landing page the target of an email, a Google AdWords campaign, or a general internet search? A visitor coming from any one of these options is going to arrive with different expectations. An email recipient may look to complete a specific task while a searcher may just want to explore. Make sure to anticipate these expectations and provide clear calls to additional action.
  2. Ensure each page contains relevant, useful and original content. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? When you’re managing a site with thousands of pages, quality control becomes an issue. Keeping a content inventory and conducting regular content audits is a step in the right direction.
  3. Make it easy to navigate your site. If a visitor lands on a page and the first two principles are not addressed, there are going to be questions. Where am I? How did I get here? A clear navigation path offers options. A visitor is likely to leave if we fail at the first two principles, and clear navigation offers an alternative route to finding the information they seek.

So while we’re often fighting over the look of the front door, perhaps we need to spend a little more time washing our windows.

This post appeared originally on the mStoner blog. mStoner is a marketing and advertising firm exclusively serving higher education.