Doors of DublinImagine discovering that your carefully crafted, well-written homepage wasn’t being visited.

At least not as much as it used to be.

Would it upset you? Be a red flag? A harbinger of business decline?

Hopefully your answer is “no” – or at least “not necessarily” – to all of the above. Because across the (cyber)board, the homepage-as-front-door model is fading fast. For many, particularly retailers, it’s essentially gone.

And that’s a good thing.

Blame (or thank) SEO, which in a few short years has shifted the way we find and interact with a brand’s web presence.

The result: Every page on your site is a potential front door, a possible landing page for new and return visitors searching for something you offer.

It’s a sea change for businesses unenthusiastic about having to (again) rethink strategies, page designs, and navigational structures. But the upside potential is high because it unshackles your homepage from the burden of being everything to everyone (a model that’s never worked).

If you haven’t yet embraced this shift, below are some pointers to help you rethink your landing page strategy and optimize visitor engagement, no matter which “door” they use.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it …

… is to take a look at your website traffic, in particular, comparing last year’s traffic to this year’s.

If you’re like many companies, your homepage-as-landing-page traffic has decreased, even if your visitor rate has increased.

B2Cs have seen this phenomenon for a while, but even behemoth publishers are seeing the change. The New York Times, which typically saw approximately 60% of visits start on the homepage (i.e., the front page), now sees 48% starting there. Buzzfeed’s numbers are similar (46%). At Act-On, 72% of our visitors start on the homepage, down from 78%.

Assuming you accepted the mission, you now have the lay of the land, which is Step 1 in any planning exercise.

So what are landing pages for?

In the olden days — say 2010 – landing pages were mostly associated with campaigns, promotions, and paid search. They were simple pages that served as the first point of contact for prospective customers who typically landed there by clicking on an email, display banner, or paid-search ad.

Some were highly targeted. Some were more general. But the goal was simple:

  • Sell something immediately (e.g., “Buy this socket wrench at 25% off” or “BOGO (buy one, get one [free]) on this curated list of beauty products”), or
  • Collect information from a prospect (e.g., name, email address, company, interest etc.) in exchange for something of value like an eBook or research report.

And they usually contained these components at a minimum:

  • Headline: To entice the visitor, explain the offer or value (typical headline use).
  • Copy: Detailed information on the product(s) or offer, including a call to action.
  • Keywords: Those keywords that make your copy SEO-friendly.
  • Share/link buttons: Social media share buttons to allow visitors to share your landing page or on Facebook, Twitter, or other social platforms.
  • Lead-capture or shopping-cart form: The heart of the landing page, this is the form where visitors will enter their information and submit it to you in exchange for the offer.
  • Images: Usually an image (actual or metaphorical) of the product or service, as well as company logos.

It’s essentially the exact same practice today.

The only difference is that EVERY PAGE OF YOUR SITE has this potential to be the first point of contact between you and a prospect. In fact, many visitors will enter your site at such deeply submerged pages that they may never surface to see your bona fide homepage. Ever.

But that doesn’t mean you should spend enormous time and expense turning every page into a landing page.

In fact, it’s impractical to do so.

What IS practical is to follow a few tips as you (slowly and practically) update your site design and structure.

Here are 6 of them:

1. Make a great impression

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? Ensure it’s brand-defining and memorable by carrying your brand look/feel/voice/value across all pages as you update them (either individually or by category, such as your product-page templates).

Surfers and searchers have itchy “back-button” fingers, so it’s essential to grab and maintain visitor attention, whether they find you at a top level or a deep-dive page.

2. Up the eye candy

Never underestimate the power and importance of imagery. Pretty, provocative, stunning, shocking, or plain ol’ descriptive (ah, that’s a nice shirt), visual elements are the sticky stuff that keeps our attention on the page.

That’s not to say that images should be jammed into every nook and cranny. (They shouldn’t be.) But they absolutely should be included in a balanced design that’s both intuitive and impactful.

Another benefit of imagery is that it can help with search engine optimization via adding keywords to the image “alt text” (alternative text) field.

And don’t forget the option of embedding video content if it makes sense. (Google is a big fan of serving up search results that contain video.)

3. Make all navigation easier

In the old paradigm, navigation menus were designed for the homepage, since that’s where most visitors entered a site.

Not no more.

With every page being a potential entry point, key navigational elements need to be baked into all of your pages/page templates to both enable and encourage engagement. Because the reality is that many visitors will never hit your homepage.

In addition to your business-specific links, consider including the following on all pages to the extent possible and practical:

  • A link to your blog
  • Social links
  • “Contact us” link or phone number or form
  • “For more information” links
  • Sizing charts
  • Opportunities to add comments or reviews
  • Links generated by a recommendation engine (e.g., “People who viewed this also viewed xyz”)

4. Action!

If you don’t tell people what you want them to do … they won’t do it.

Always always always give your visitors clear direction about what the next step is, including a brain-dead-easy way for them to take that step.

You calls-to-action forms and buttons and links are probably the most important part of your page. Make sure all of your pages have action items and options.

5. Design responsively

Responsive design is the new black. It’s also more than a passing fad.

Responsive websites respond to their environment. Meaning they look great whether viewed on a man-cave-worthy flat screen TV or an itty bitty smartphone.

In other words: Create one site, fit every screen.

Here’s an example:

(Above) Target corporate website on smartphone, tablet, and PC

6. Track, test, enhance, iterate

It may go without saying, but let me say it anyway: always check your metrics to gauge what’s what with your website. Tracking and assessing is essential to understanding what works and what doesn’t, to gain insights into how visitors are using your site and, more importantly, converting.

And when it comes to use and conversion, landing pages are a great place to A/B test the content and placement of key elements. Headlines, copy, CTA placement, red buttons, orange buttons, left nav links … you get the point.

Little changes can have a huge impact on conversion. By iteratively tracking, testing, and enhancing your pages and sections, you steadily improve site performance and further optimize visitor engagement across all pages and levels of your website.

“The doors of Dublin” image by tim sackton, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.