As the gateway to your website, the structure, design and functionality of your entry page is of utmost importance. As such, different considerations must go into the development of an entry page, and they require specialized, dedicated analysis to determine their contribution to the success of your site. But, before we get to all that, let's take a step back to review the processes inherent in a website visit.
The first and most important thing to remember about all website visits is that they are goal-oriented. In the visitor's mind, any content on a website is valuable only to the degree that it serves their browsing goal, whether it's to shop, to learn or to be entertained.
A second consideration is that visitors have to expend effort to extract content from each page they visit. And each site's design is unique, so they have to first work out where the information they want is located; they have to learn navigation schemes to find their way around; they have to filter irrelevant sites from search results and so on. A visitor is happy while the value of the information they are obtaining exceeds the amount of effort they are prepared to spend to get it. This is their Tolerance Threshold. If your site falls below their tolerance threshold, they will leave. Therein lies the importance of the entry page: they are the primary point at which visitors check their tolerance threshold.
But before we can see how this threshold is determined and acted upon, we need to understand the different types of entry pages.
Types of entry pages
Broadly speaking, an entry page is what someone sees when they start a process. So the type of page used depends on the type of process intended.
As you would assume, a Visit Entry Page is seen at the start of a visit to your site; a visit being defined as a succession of page views with no more than 30 minutes between each view. But people can do many things while they are visiting your site. For example, if you are selling products, the visitor might check out a product review on another site for a few minutes. As long as they return to your site within 30 minutes, it's considered a continuation of the same visit, but when they return it is a new Session. So a visit is composed of one or more sessions.
A session, on the other hand, is a succession of page views, with no intervening page views from other sites. Technically, this is determined by examining the Referrer Field, which is the page someone was on when they requested yours. If the referrer field contains the URL of a different site, it constitutes the start of a new session. When this happens, the entry page becomes a Session Entry Page. If we want to be really strict about this, we can say that the first page in a visit is thus both a session entry page and a visit entry page. However, what we do with each type is different, so for our discussion, it's more useful if we confine session entry pages to those that do not constitute the first page in the first session-- only those that are seen when someone returns from elsewhere during a visit.
Then there is the Landing Page-- a type of visit entry page. This is what someone sees when they arrive at your site from a link in an ad. In an analysis, it is important to separate these from ordinary entry pages because their performance is more closely tied to costs, and because you can know more about them and have more control over them.
Processes and pages
In an online shopping experience, visitors have a series of questions they need answered before they can buy something. A visit is thus a process of finding answers to these questions. Most of the time the site that answers the last question gets the sale. Once this question is answered, the visitor commences the search for the next answer. This means they first must decide if this answer is in the site they are currently on, or if they'll have to look elsewhere. In order to hold them on your site, you must move them forward in their quest for the next item of information they need; I call pages that do this movers. Mover pages accomplish their goal either by telling the visitor where else on this site they can find that information or by directly answering the question. (I am indebted to Brian and Jeffery Eisenberg for this insight in their book "Call to Action." This book just blew my mind. If you really want to understand what the web is about - read it.)
Thus the primary function of any entry page is to convince people that the answers they are looking for are available right on your site. And because most of the time these pages will be doorways to other pages, the wording of hyperlinks on the entry page is critical.
Metrics and analysis
We can now see that analysis and improvement of entry pages revolves around ensuring these pages retain people and get them to click on links. Therefore, the metrics we want need to assess the engagement and clickthrough behavior (the percentage of people who click a link on your pages to go further) of visitors to these pages.
Bounce Rate is the first and most important metric. The bounce rate is the percentage of people who see a page then leave. Bounce rate is most critical for visit entry pages-- remember, it is the first page someone sees when they arrive at your site. It is therefore used by them to judge the value of the entire site.
Every visitor has the same question when they first arrive at your site: "Is this site worth reading?" The bounce rate tells you how many of them decided it wasn't. So the best advice I can give is not to try to sell products or your company on the entry page-- sell the site. Think of all the things you offer to visitors within the site, and ensure that each of these is clearly identifiable at a glance on your entry page.
In the case of a landing page that uses pay-per-click advertising, you have to pay for each of these bounces, so a higher bounce rate costs you more money. To improve this, look at the match between the promise in the ad and the landing page. Typically, you can reduce a landing page bounce rate by 25 percent or more by ensuring that key text in the ad is prominently reproduced on the landing page, so that it is visible at first glance. If you are running search PPCs such as Google Ads, this text should exactly match the search phrase.
Ideally every PPC ad should have its own landing page; if you link your ads to your home page, you're just wasting cash. Make a bonfire with your money instead, it's more fun and just as effective. And the great thing about having lots of landing pages is that you can tune each one to a different ad, and calculate ROI accordingly. This level of granularity enables you to improve on a phrase-by-phrase -- or ad-by-ad -- basis.
You can't do this so easily with your home page, or other entry pages, which get traffic from native search engine listings. In this case, you would need to assess the bounce rate according to the search phrase that was used to generate the listing. Don't worry too much about which search engine sent the visitor-- bounce rates for a given phrase don't vary from search engine to search engine. Instead, analyze bounce rate on a per-phrase basis for each entry page, pulling together the stats for that phrase across all search engines.
Bounce rate is less important on session entry pages-- people have already spent time on the site, so they know why they're coming back. You really don't want to lose these people-- after all, they're already half-way to the check-out. What is important here is the Clickthrough Rate. Most likely they will return to the page they left. By now they're really moving and are focused on finding their answers on your site. If they don't click on anything, either you don't have those answers, or (more likely) your hyperlinks are to blame. Check the visibility of your hyperlinks-- is it obvious something can be clicked on? Check their wording-- the words in the link are the only thing the visitor has to tell them what that link is leading to.
Entry pages are the junctions of your site. They stand out as major points in the site's structure that determine its overall success. You should know what your entry pages are, what they offer and who will use them. By cross-referencing bounce rate and clickthrough rate with different types of visitors, you can determine the match between their goals and your pages. This will help you reach two important goals: retaining more visitors and understanding your audience better.
Brandt Dainow is CEO of Think Metrics, creator of the InSite Web reporting system. Read full bio.