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Long, long ago, visitors to your website entered through the front door—the homepage. You could decorate it nicely and make sure it presented a warm and inviting presence to incoming visitors. Life was good: it was simple.
Today, your visitors barely notice the front door. They come in through the back door, the side door, and the windows, and some drop in through the roof. Many of your visitors never even notice that you have a front door.
Why is this happening? Why aren’t visitors coming to the page you designate?
Because they’re coming in different ways. At one time, they were referred by your marketing material or search engines, and the homepage was the only entry point to your site that they knew about.
That changed with social media. Now they come to different pages on your site because they’ve been sent there by friends and other connections.
Here’s an example: one visitor to your site discovers your child support calculator. That person sends the link to a friend or publishes it on Facebook. Now your visitors are coming directly to that page. The more people who come to that page directly, the more people they tell about it. Suddenly, the side door is your most-visited page.
Is this a bad thing?
No, it’s actually a great thing. It means that your reputation is growing by word of mouth. People are talking about you and referring their friends to your site. That’s terrific.
What does it mean for designing your website?
Well, that presents a challenge.
You now have to assume that visitors are coming in from all directions. You’ve got to think through the objectives of the site, and you’ve got to make sure visitors are seeing and acting on your calls to action regardless of their entry point.
For instance, if your objective is to generate calls, you can no longer have the “contact us” link appear only on the homepage. You may want the phone number to appear everywhere. If you’re seeking sign-ups for an e-mail newsletter, then you need that info in more places than you had it before.
The key is that you need to think about the users’ progress through the site. You can’t assume they’re going to start in the beginning and proceed to the end. In fact, you’ve got to stop thinking about a beginning and an end. You’ve got to think in the nonlinear way your users are thinking.
If you have an organizational scheme for your site, it needs to be readily apparent to users, regardless of which part of the site they first encounter.
Many of us built websites based on our old firm brochures. That model doesn’t work on the social web. You’ve got to think differently when engaging your visitors, and you’ve got to wrap your brain around the way your visitors are thinking.
Like all marketing, good website development requires that you put yourself in the shoes of the other person. The various entry points to your website require a slightly different way of thinking. Stop thinking about front doors and back doors. Start thinking about a house without walls, floors, or a roof. That’s where we’re living now.