Recently a colleague of mine wrote an article about the obsession which website designers and owners have with Introduction Pages. This is an interesting article and I have to say it deals with one of my pet hates, as I cannot fathom as to why anyone would want to put the content of their website an extra click away from their visitors. I think Gill has written all that needs to be said about this, but I would like to explore why people do this and whether there is any time at all when it is appropriate to use one.
Every time I come across a website with a flashy (excuse the pun) landing page that forces me to click ‘Skip Intro’ or ‘Enter’, I have a tiny and of course completely politically correct moment of Internet-rage. As a result, I’m now going to write a most politically incorrect article – so here is a sensitivity warning. If you are a web designer but would rather be a film director, a website owner but would rather be George Lucas, or a marketing consultant but would rather be a film producer – do not read this article, as it will offend you!
I am actually amazed that anyone would need to ask this – but for clarity, and for those who have been lucky to have avoided these all their lives (please tell me how you do it!), here is an explanation.
An Introduction Page, also known as a Welcome Page, is often the first place you arrive at on a website, instead of what is traditionally known as a Home Page. In effect it is a ‘landing page’ with little content other than a photo or, more typically, some Flash animation. Most Introduction Pages also have a ‘Skip Intro’ or ‘Enter’ button for those who really don’t care much about the introduction message or the Flash animation – and just want to get down to the real business.
Before you ask, Flash is a software programme that enables anyone (sadly) to create a moving image. Maybe a series of slides or a video mixed with music, voiceover or text – or even a combination of everything! Just visit YouTube and you will see thousands of them, or search the Internet long enough for any subject you care to mention and you’re bound to come across one.
Flash requires very little bandwidth and demands little storage. For example a one minute video file (WMF) could be as large as 12Mb whilst the same file in Flash, using the same slides and sound, could be as little as 200Kb. So it is quicker to load (hence the name Flash!) and requires less bandwidth for delivery. But this is just a technical reason for using Flash intros, and does not explain the marketing purpose. So . . .
A very good question! Well, actually there is a point. Using Flash animation enables website owners to illustrate complex ideas or communicate complex messages in an entertaining and imaginative way. But let’s face it, the reason you have a website is because you have something to market – so you should always be asking the question, “What is the objective?” – or the very sensible question that my favourite website owner asks – “So, what’s in it for me?”.
From a technical perspective, Flash is to the Internet what PowerPoint is to presentations. Perhaps you get the point now. How many PowerPoint presentations have you sat through whilst thinking, “For God’s sake, get to the point”. And how many presentations actually need PowerPoint?
Most presentations just need a good speaker, with rich content that is well delivered. The only PowerPoint slide they need is the name of the presenter and the title of the presentation! In fact, most people use PowerPoint as a note to themselves – or why else would they just be repeating what is already on the slide?! Speakers use it to organise their thoughts (hence there are always lots of bullet points), to deliver their message in a logical order (hence the numbers on the slides) and to make the presentation memorable (hence lots of graphics flying in and out and making strange noises!).
So there is the point of Flash. It has become the PowerPoint of the Internet. Technically clever, but often misused to the point of pointlessness.
I am going to give you some statistics that may explain why, but once again be warned – you may not like them . . .
“The average time spent on a ‘landing page’ is 15 seconds”
15 seconds I ask you? What can you read in 15 seconds for goodness sake? Well, quite a lot actually! Whether your landing page is an Introduction Page containing Flash animation, or a true Home Page, the visitor is only ever looking for the information they want. And they really can do this in 15 seconds.
The human brain is much more sophisticated than we realise. Once you have instructed your grey matter to search for a particular word or combination (pattern) of words, your eyes and brain become the most amazingly fast search engine. Read Professor De Bono’s book on this matter and you will be amazed at what your brain can do.
In reality, your visitors only look for particular patterns of words on your landing page – and once they find them, they zoom in, click through and (hopefully!) find the information they want. In fact, any kind of movement, flashing images or bright colours can actually be an irritant as they are seen as distractions, so the visitor’s brain filters them out as being irrelevant information.
Going back to our landing page choices then. If your Flash animation takes 10 seconds, well not only has it been an ‘irrelevant irritant’ – it’s also just robbed you of two thirds of your time with each visitor. Well done chaps, great advert for your competitors!
And if you did opt for a proper Home Page with some actual content, well bear in mind that all the energy, time and money that you spent on copywriting – and the hours that you spent ensuring the content was in the best possible Queen’s English, using imaginative and creative language pulled out of the most expensive Thesaurus so you didn’t repeat any adjectives – were all a total waste of time! Which is all the more reason why you should use your vital keywords and key phrases as much as you can. Not to ‘fool’ Google, but to guide your visitors towards the information they came for. More on that in a separate article.
“The average visitor will only click three times to find the information they want.”
“But I have hundreds of pages”, I hear you cry in desperation. Well there you have it. Three clicks is all you are getting, and if you don’t give them what they want, they will ‘click off’ somewhere else. So your ‘Skip Intro’ or ‘Enter’ button has just robbed you of a third of your clicks. Well done again – you now have two clicks remaining. Sounds like Play Station game doesn’t it? But then again, we are dealing with the Play Station generation, who tend to have a very short attention span!
“Search Engines cannot decipher the content of Flash, so they can not judge the content’s relevance”
Yes, you heard right. Your beloved and expensively produced Flash-based Introduction Page is actually invisible to search engines. So guess what, the guy with the £60 MS FrontPage software, making his website in his bedroom without any Flash at all, is beating you in the searching stakes. Although in truth it’s probably not because he knows better, but because he can’t afford the software, otherwise he would be at it too!
Because they look nice! Also, we have been conditioned to expect a ‘cover page’ ever since a man in Germany invented the printing machine. A book has a cover, a magazine has a cover, a brochure has a cover – so why not my website? Well, let’s think about that. There is a practical reason for book covers. They keep the book clean and make it last longer – and in a bookshop, the cover helps as a sales tool. This is also true of magazines, which use their cover to stand out of the sea of images that you see on any magazine stand.
The cover of the magazine is used to make a statement about its contents, whilst the potential buyer is scanning the stand. So that means cars on car magazines, birds (feathered type!) for bird-watching publications, people walking (you guessed it, for walking magazines) and so on. It’s very simple. You don’t type a search term into a box when you enter a newsagents, you just search with your eyes. Magazine covers are designed for ‘visual’ searching, whilst your website needs to be designed so that it can be ‘searched for’ in a different way. By text. Despite Google’s hype about the so-called ‘universal search’.
And therein lies the problem. Imagine if you will, a presentation from a web design company (and yes, probably using PowerPoint!). Web design company No. 1 comes in and shows you a smart looking Home Page with lots of relevant text and photos. They talk about page ’hot zones’, the kinetic qualities of the page, ease of navigation, logical interconnection, context sensitive navigation, colour justification and so on.
Then web design company No. 2 comes in and shows you a fabulous-looking Introduction Page with a Flash advert, your logo flying everywhere and lots of slinky images that make your company look great – and of course it blows your socks off. Tell me honestly, who is going to get the order?
But the thing is – that fancy intro page with the Flash animation, or the professional ‘arty’ photo with the glib slogans, was not for your visitors, it was for you. So that the web design company could get your business. It gave a little light relief to the code writers, so that they could have a bit of fun, the sales guy had a wild time looking at funky photos to impress you with during the presentation, and on seeing it – your marketing people thought, ‘Wow, I wish I had the money to do a real TV commercial’.
The problem is, now that the website design company has shown you this wonderful creation, how can you NOT put it on your brand new website?! So there you go, they get your business and you get a flashy website ‘cover’ which looks great – but zero visitors. The trouble is, you won’t find out about the lack of website traffic until it’s far too late, and they will have cashed your cheque by then. And anyway, what are you going to complain about? They showed you what they were going to do, and you gave them the order to go and do it!
As business owners, we like these Introduction Pages because they are exciting. They show our company in a good light, just like the expensive TV adverts that we would love to have but could never afford in a million years. Here, right in front of our eyes, are the very adverts which we always dreamed of having for our business, living and breathing on the screen. We didn’t think we could ever afford one. Our eyes well up, our lips tremble, the handkerchief is unfolded and the little excited voice in our head says, ‘We’re going to be famous’ – and then the chequebook comes out.
Guys, wake up! This is the Internet, not ITV or Sky. Nobody is going to see the advert because nobody is going to find your website. And even if they do miraculously stumble upon it, they will just press ‘Skip Intro’ – or worse, click away and be gone for good.
And finally . . .
The other day I was having lunch with a client. We were talking about websites in general and he made an excellent point that I wished I had thought of. He compared his website to being his ‘retail outlet’ on the ‘Internet High Street’. His argument is that if you own a shop, you will do your best to ensure that the front of the shop is uncluttered, the entrance is not obstructed, the front door is open and the shop appears clean and welcoming. You would not block the door way with a pile of the stuff that you sell, so that customers are forced to dodge around it. Nor would you employ a 6’6” ex-rugby player to make sure that everyone had your sales message drummed into them before they gained entry. So why do it with your website?
This is such an excellent and simple analogy that it made me think, “I have geniuses as my clients”. Hurrah.
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