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Apparently the jury’s out on whether traffic to your website’s homepage is declining. My own analysis shows law firm homepage traffic has been relatively unchanged over the past two years, though law firm website strategist Robert Algeri says his clients have experienced a 17 percent decline, and well-known legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe says homepages, as the “foyer” to firm websites, are in demise.
I don’t dispute Algeri’s numbers. We were measuring different things in our analyses. Algeri was intent on capturing the number of people arriving to a site via its homepage, while I really didn’t care how they arrived. If homepages were truly “dying,” I reasoned that it didn’t matter whether the homepage was the 1st, 2nd or 10th page viewed. Instead, I looked at total homepage visits versus the rest of the website.
But, ignoring the numbers for a moment, let’s ask the more important question: “So what?”
So what if traffic to homepages is in fact declining? What would the significance be? Does it mean we should stop paying attention to them and their design, or leave them to get dusty and full of old news? Hardly.
Here’s the bigger picture, from my perspective. For the past 10-odd years, there has indeed been a slow overall decline of visitors arriving at law firm homepages. The “sideways surfing” Algeri and O’Keefe describe — traffic arriving at the website via social media and search engines — definitely accounts for some of the shift, but there’s another very simple explanation. Websites are now much bigger — made up of substantially more pages — than they once were, so it’s inevitable for the volume of traffic arriving via the homepage to be diluted.
Moreover, this is actually a testament to search engines doing a better job at returning desirable results and to law firms doing a better job at providing more granular, specific information (lawyer bios, practice pages, speaking engagements, community participation and so forth.)
We shudder to think of it now, but 10 or 15 years ago, most law firms had “brochure”-style websites made up of only a handful of pages — essentially a webified version of their most basic print collateral. And remember, it was not unusual to find all the lawyer bios listed together on a single web page.
There’s a bit of an evolution going on here, if you think about it. As we’ve increasingly loaded firm websites with more content, and more pages, the traffic arriving has simply had more “roads leading into Rome.” If a firm website has only a dozen pages, the odds of visitors arriving via the homepage are … well, fantastic! I can speak from experience having built websites throughout the ’90s and ’00s: Some firms had their homepages delivering 50 to 70 percent, or even 80-plus percent, of arriving visitors.
But in 2014, the picture is very different. Law firms have much bigger, more robust sites. Lawyers and practice groups even have their own dedicated pages. Firms have also become publishing houses: There are blogs, lots of articles, firm news and e- alerts and … you get the idea. Even the smallest of firm websites can host hundreds, and even thousands, of pages.
When thinking about the role of the homepage in the context of the site as a whole, bear this next fact in mind. There is a distinct trifecta of content pieces that firm websites with hundreds or thousands of pages can count on to bring in most of their traffic:
These three types of content can easily eclipse the firm homepage. And here’s the thing: That’s okay!
The funny truth is that the lower the percentage of visitors who arrive directly at the homepage, the healthier the site is. Because it is a sign that folks are either directly accessing information about your firm’s services and lawyers or that people are consuming your firm’s commentary and ideas.
Either way, this is a “win” for your firm’s online presence.
Steve Matthews, founder and principal of Stem Legal Web, helps lawyers and law firms gain greater web visibility and effectiveness. A thought leader and a trend watcher within the legal profession, he blogs enthusiastically at both Law Firm Web Strategy and Slaw. Follow him @SteveMatthews.
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