Is It Time to Finally Kill Off the Homepage?

homepage

As with most things in web design, the homepage has been branded dead or dying many times over the years. They’ve been replaced by magazine-style front page designs, bypassed by landing pages and cut out entirely by social media.

Except none of these things killed the homepage. Instead, they joined it as part of a more intricate set of interactions with visitors – each one playing an important role in a more complex web.

Now, the latest person calling for the head of homepages is Optimizely’s Cara Harsham, who wrote for the Moz blog last week, claiming her company has “successfully killed THE homepage”.

Well folks, looks like it’s time to get those funeral suits pressed again.

Personalization killed the homepage

The crux of Cara Harsham’s article is that brands need to show users customised content based on their needs and previous interactions, thereby making the generic homepage irrelevant.

Her article makes a lot of good points, too, but the notion of killing pages is typical of the hyperbole we’re used to seeing from these articles. And, it’s a shame she goes for the click-bait cliche of killing design trends because, otherwise, the article makes a very rational argument – even if it’s coming from a brand trying to promote its own products.

The age of personalized content

The real theme in Cara Harsham’s article is that the age of personalized content is well and truly here. Sure, we’ve been talking about it for some time now but tools like Optimizely and VWO finally make this manageable for businesses if all sizes.

Here’s a little quote from her “story of personalization” article:

In 1998, Jeff Bezos had a vision for the Internet. At that time he was four years into building Amazon. It was taking off as a humongous online emporium of books and music. In an interview with the Washington Post that year, Bezos made a visionary statement about the web. “If we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one store. We should have 4.5 million stores,” he said.

What a statement indeed. These days anyone with an Amazon account is greeted by a personalized “homepage”, filled with product recommendations and account details, as soon as they load up the site. The same goes for just about any site or platform we hold an account with, whether it’s eBay or YouTube.

However, we’re still talking about changing the content on a homepage in these examples. If anything, the homepage family is growing and becoming more important than ever after a few years of decreasing influence.

Ms Harsham says it all herself when she correcting her claim that Optimizely killed the homepage: “or rather the single version of the homepage for everyone”.

Welcome to the new homepage

Rule #1 in paid advertising is always send users to a relevant landing page after they click your link, not your homepage. This is because the typical homepage is far too generic and cluttered with mixed messages, none of which is great for generating valuable leads.

Meanwhile, landing pages have marketing messages tailored to what you already know about users – namely the reason they clicked in the first place.

However, we now have the tools to create homepages that aren’t generic. We can create different homepage designs with specific messages for each of our target audiences and target each of them with a more relevant offer.

Here’s an example from Optimizely, used in Cara Harsham’s article for Moz:

optimizely-website-personalization

In the example above, Optimizely shows different versions of the hero section on its homepage for multiple audience segments – a total of 26 personalizations. So visitors who work for Microsoft get a different message to those working for Target, which tells you how specific you can get with your messaging. By the way, all of this can be done using Optimizely (hence the clickbait headline and angle of the article on Moz).

Designing for personalization

Personalization adds another bridge between design and marketing for modern brands. This starts with defining which audiences you’re going to target and then how their experiences should be different. For example, a first-time visitor might benefit from seeing an explainer video for a tool like Optimizely, while people already signed up to a free trial would be prompted to buy the full product.

In terms of the visual design itself, it’s best to keep things pretty consistent because the aim is to move audiences from one segment to the next – from free trials to purchases, for example. So keeping the core elements like CTA buttons, links and color schemes consistent is probably a good idea.

Above all, it’s the message that needs to shine through; pinpoint each audience’s position along the consumer journey and craft a message that encourages them to take the next desired action.

There is a catch all this personalization stuff, though.

To know for sure your personalizations are having the right impact, you need to test them. Which means you need enough traffic generate a large enough sample audience to make your test data reliable. The problem with website personalization is you’re effectively dividing your traffic into much smaller chunks and if this means you don’t have enough users in any given segment, any tests you run will be meaningless.

Website personalization is getting easier

Marketers have been talking about personalization for years but the end results have been unimpressive to say the least. This is finally changing now thanks to tools like Optimizely that are making it easy to segment audiences and test variations for each of them. Optimizely is your only option either. VWO and Adobe Target also provide similar platforms for testing homepage variations, personalized landing pages and other dynamic content solutions.

vwo-website-personalization

We’re also seeing a new wave of recommendation platforms that aim to match Amazon’s ability to recommend products to its users. With machine learning on board, the standard of these tools has really come on and it’s not only eCommerce brands that are using them now. You can use the same tools to recommend content downloads and other resources to users based on their actions. So users who read two blogs on “website personalization”, for example, can be prompted to download your in-depth guide on the topic. Other users will be prompted with a different offer entirely, based on their interests.

nosto-website-personalization

Noto provides a number of options for website personalization

There’s also the small matter of chatbots to think about. The smarter of these platforms – once again, powered by machine learning – are able to provide a personalized consumer experience and “remember” user preferences for future sessions.

Machine learning is making personalized marketing a reality and the latest tools are making it accessible to businesses of all sizes.

Long live the homepage

So, after years of hollow talk, it seems personalization is finally here but this has nothing to do with the lifespan of homepage design. It does, however, mean taking a new approach to designing homepages – and the emphasis in on plural because no single homepage is enough for every user anymore. Brands today need to take a segmented approach to delivering marketing messages to their target audiences and this means we’ll be designing more homepages than ever before. Long live the homepage!