Carrousels don’t matter, because the homepage is unimportant

Everybody knows carrousels are silly. Instead of showing everything we want to show, they actually hide most of it. That’s it. End of discussion. It’s not even a discussion, because everybody knows this. And everyone who’s ever wasted their time to research this found out that, yes, people never click on items that are not shown to them. But, I don’t care about carrousels, because we usually only put them on the homepage. And to be honest, the homepage is uninteresting: it is the least interesting page of a website. And since it is the least interesting page of the site, we shouldn’t really worry about the cruft we put on it. We should focus on the pages that do make sense instead.

Who cares?

The only people who care about the homepage are stakeholders, marketers and designers. The rest of the world (the people who actually use our creation) uses a search engine, or a direct link from a friend, to get to the relevant content, which is usually somewhere deeper in the site. If you look at the stats of any decent website, you’ll see that most people never even see the homepage.

The homepage is mildly interesting, at most, for people who actually visit our sites. The only time I visit a homepage is either when a web worker proudly tweets about their new creation, or when I do research about the competition. Now, I don’t say the homepage doesn’t need any attention. Of course it does, just like any other page on a website. But it definitely doesn’t need the disproportional amount of attention it gets right now.

Exception

Even if you don’t agree with me that the homepage is unimportant (you will in time), you probably do understand that the homepage, in fact, is an exceptional page. There’s no focus, the grid is usually a mess. It looks different that the rest of the site. What I never understood, is that if we do a complete redesign of a site, we always start with the homepage. If you think about it, it makes much more sense to start with the pages that most people will visit, for instance the content pages of your site. When you’re done with those, you will better understand the content and the visual style of the site. This makes it easier to design an exceptional page like the homepage.

Like with every bold statement, there are exceptions. Of course there are. People actually do visit the homepage of news site (even if an RSS feed, or following a Twitter account makes more sense for keeping up to date). But I do believe these are exceptions. For the majority of sites, it is a simple fact that the majority of the visitors never get to see the homepage. And if your stats show you a different pattern, there’s either something wrong with your site, or you’re working on a single page site.

Comments

  1. I wish you were correct.

    I guess you are in some cases, but certainly not if your website traffic is driven heavily by TV advertising. For example.

    I think as web designers and marketeers we’ve made the homepage less important for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, but I think it’s up us to change this and fight to make them remotely relevant to our visitors needs.

  2. This is new: a post of yours I disagree with! ;)

    I realize you’ve written it with at leas a little tongue-in-cheek and that its purpose is probably to start a conversation, so here goes:

    Carousels are silly in 90% of the cases, sure.

    In designing a website the homepage is given way too much attention (for all the wrong reasons), agreed.

    But: “the least interesting” and “most people do not even see the homepage”? Really?!

    As with all things ‘it depends’ (boooring!) but in the analytics of many of the sites I can see stats for _most_ people still land on the homepage. Even a lot of search traffic lands on the homepage.

    I believe you might be biased because you probably deal with really large corporate websites(?)

    There are many examples of websites for with the homepage is still the most(?) important entry point to other content: news-, weather-, banking-, some e-commerce sites, etc.

    Because the homepage is such a complex beast it can be argued that it’s the _most_ interesting page that should be given a lot of thought :)

    • Vasilis
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    Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. Some serious attempts are being made to make the homepage more relevant to visitors’ needs. Ideas like Top Tasks are meant to structure the homepage in a more meaningful way for the majority of your visitors. The fact remains though, that most people should be landing on other pages than the homepage.

    • Vasilis
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    Hi David, thanks for a good comment, again! You are right that this post is partly written with tongue in cheek, but I do mean the things I say. Maybe the title is a bit exaggerated, so yes, maybe the home page is not the least interesting page, but it is less interesting than this article page you’re reading now, for instance. I took a look at the stats of this site, and only one in ten visitors ever sees the homepage of this site. Everybody else sees at least one article page, but many read two or more pages. So yes, more people visit the homepage than any other individual page, but most people by far come to my site via Google or Twitter to read an article.

    The stats of some other healthy blogs, blogs that are maintained, show exactly the same pattern. The stats of other, dead, blogs I have show a different pattern: here most people do arrive on the homepage by following some link, somewhere inside a signature or something. That’s what I meant by decent website: If your site is well maintained, it’s probably not all about the homepage.

    I think all the examples you mention are especially site where other pages than the homepage are more important, with the exeption of weather site: For news sites, the function of the homepage is to get people to read the articles — not the other way around, right? So here, clearly, the articles are what it’s all about. The homepage is just one of the many other ways to get there, like social media, search engines and RSS.

    And banking sites, really? I never visit the home page of my bank, I only visit the closed environment. And e-commerce sites wouldn’t exist without a good article-page and without a decent pay flow. But a homepage on the other hand, is not essential for a shop.

    That’s what I mean. The title is probably wrong. The homepage is probably not the least important page — that would be a page explaining Dutch cookie legislation — but it is by far not as important as we think it is now. And yes, I do agree that a homepage is a complex beast, and that it needs a lot of thought, but I would start thinking about it after you’re done with the rest.

  3. When designing I don’t start with the homepage but the most important content page (for news sites this is an article design – for ecommerce this is a product page – etc.)

    Your opinion seems you are very much influenced by the kind of sites you make.

    I mostly have to agree with David Hund.

    Yes, carousels are bad and yes, the homepage is less important than the attention it usually gets. But it has its role and for some kinds of sites it is really important.

  4. Vasilis, great article! Of course, I think you left some considerations on the table.
    Here’s my view: I think, the only bit of value a homepage should provide to the visitor is the best way to GTFO.
    In very rare cases folks will get value from the homepage. In most cases however it’s soul function is to lead the sheep to the trough of value, be it content or some sort of service or a shop.
    The sad thing is indeed: some mislead souls think the homepage is a ‘lean back’ page, a place to linger and see all the insignificant blurbs and trophies from the treasure chest of the site owner. It could be lean back by the way! Sadly, I’ve seen no evidence of even a mildly entertaining or otherwise valuable homepage.
    Anyway, back to the use of the homepage: if anything, it should be a way to quickly go to the epicentre of relevancy for the user. A gateway that presents you the most smooth, funny and useful pathway off the homepage, and to the one piece of value the visitor needs.
    I think carrousels can be beautiful, but in all cases hide the majority of both the content (if available) or a way to usefully ‘go away’. So, is the carrousel something we should shun like the plague infested piece of interaction some very astute colleagues claim it is?
    I say no. It might not be a great way to provide value on your homepage. But, if people just like to thumb through your stuff and be amused by your mildly inspired, half ass visual representation of the potential awesome content lingering behind it, they should be able to. Hell, you should make it your soul mission to make the best, most useful visual explorer ever invented! Just don’t use it as a cheap way out that impresses your dumb witted manager. Always provide a quick and usable way for sane visitors to GTFO.

    • Vasilis
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    Hi Johan. I’m always glad if the ideas I write down are just common sense, and your comment confirms that. Thanks!

    I think you, David and me agree on almost all parts here, right? I guess we would all agree with this tweet (if it were one): From a design perspective, a homepage definitely needs attention, but on certain sites, other pages are more important to start with.

    • Maaike
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    When it comes to blogs you’re probably right about the homepage not being that important. However, the stats of many of the sites I get to work on paint a different picture. The homepage matters, it’s often the most populair page on the website and a starting point for many visitors. You may not agree, but that doesn’t change the facts ;-)

    I do agree about not starting the design process with the homepage. Like Johan Ronsse, I start with content pages. However, clients are *always* very keen on seeing it.

    • Vasilis
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    Thanks Peet, for describing the core functionality of most homepages (-:

    • Vasilis
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    Hi Maaike, thanks again for commenting! I start to regret using the word “unimportant” in the title of this post. Of course it matters, and of course it has to look great, and of course the content on it should make sense. But I do hope that the stats for those sites you are talking about are slightly different than you say. If you look at the pageviews for the homepage, and the pageviews for the rest of the site, I think that most healthy sites should have more pageviews on the rest of the site (could be hundreds of different pages, but that doesn’t really matter: this is where most people are, most of the time, so this needs the most attention). But I could be wrong here, or like Johan says, it could have to do with the kind of sites I mostly work on.

  5. Thanks Vasilis et al.

    I believe there might be some miscommunication happening: surely the role and purpose of the homepage should be to provide quick, meaningful access to the content. It is (almost) never a goal in itself. The content, on sub-pages in sub-sections, is the goal, the destination.

    However, I believe many people do not arrive at their destination (the goal) directly but rather indirectly: through search or the homepage.

    You claim the homepage is less important than the destination-content and I agree: it’s obviously all about providing the people with the content/functionality they need.

    But (and this is what I meant): most often the homepage functions to do exactly this: provide clear, friendly and quick access to the content.

    In this last function it is especially important to pay a lot of attention (in content, information architecture and design) to the homepage.

    • Vasilis
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    Well said, David, well said!

    • Vasilis
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    Some interesting stats: of all the people in my stats who visited this page today, nobody arrived here from the homepage. And nobody visited the homepage after they visited this page. Which, I think, somehow supports my claim that the homepage isn’t that important. Which is a pity since I’m actually playing with vertical-alignment on the homepage, and nobody’s seen it (-:

  6. Beginning with the homepage in a design proces does not mean it gets the most attention in the end. Also, deeper pages are often easier to design because their purpose is clearer and more focused. The design proces is not linear and goes back and forth over pages. In good projects we design a system of elements, not pages.

    The homepage should be treated as part of the navigation, but is often used only as a billboard.

    Last: In my experience, I hardly land on homepages when following a link but almost always when typing a URL myself, which is 75% of my internet usage. Could you elaborate on the statistics you mentioned before!

    • Vasilis
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    Hi Wes, thanks for your rebuke. Of course the homepage should be part of the whole design process, and not be treated like a leftover! I almost feel guilty about publishing this post. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have had this wonderful conversation tonight, ghehehe.

    You wanted to know a bit more about the stats I mentioned, I explained them in more detail in this comment to David.

    • Michael
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    Watching my parents use websites makes me have to disagree with you

    • Vasilis
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    Hi Michael. Your comment makes me very curious about how your parents use websites! Please, do give us more details.

    • Michael
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    Watching my parents browsing the web makes me having to disagree with you. They find what that want on a site through the homepage and navigation 95% of the time.
    They only search via Google, which leads them to a homepage most of the time. There to find through trial-and-error, they never use site-search.
    To them a carousel, which shows them a lot of different content, in one view is brilliant. They gladly sit through the entire loop :)
    So, yes carousels are evil (to some) and the homepage is useless (to some) but as David already stated wisely, it always depends :)

  7. Thanks for the reply, and I am glad you wrote this article. Better sorry than safe.

    I have seen you use the word “decent” to describe a website here. This is, of course, not an objective word to judge websites. A busier, more maintained website is not always better ;) I am saying this because your opening post was pretty opinionated, but not very fact-driven. This is probably the cause of the “heavy” responses. I am sure that if we have a conversation over dinner we all agree ;)

  8. @Vasilis

    > The fact remains though, that most people should be landing on other pages than the homepage.

    Again, I don’t agree for all situations. If you’re, say, an ecommerce website with a limited catalogue, then there are many cases in which the homepage can do all the work.

    There are no absolutes :)