This article is about Entry Pages and how to analyze them. Entry pages are important. They are different from other pages and require dedicated analysis. Before I can explain why they are important we need to review the processes inherent in a web site visit.
The first, and most important, thing to remember about all 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 that goal. Visitors have to expend effort to extract content from each page they visit – 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. When your site falls below their Tolerance Threshold, they leave. Entry Pages are important because they are the primary point at which visitors check their Tolerance Threshold.
Before we can see how that happens we need to understand the different types of Entry Pages.
Types of Entry Page
Broadly speaking an Entry Page is a page someone sees when they start a process.
A Visit Entry Page is the first page someone sees at the start of a visit to your site. A visit is defined as a succession of page views with no more than 30 minutes between each view. People can do other 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. So long as they return to your site within 30 minutes, it’s considered a continuation of the same visit, but a new session. So a visit is composed of one or more sessions.
A session 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 wanted to be really strict about this we could say that the first page in a visit is thus both a Session Entry Page and a Visit Entry Page. However, what we do about each type is different, so its more useful if we confine Session Entry Pages to only those which do not constitute the first page in the first session – but only those which are seen when someone returns from elsewhere during a visit.
A Landing Page is a type of Visit Entry Page. It is a page someone sees when they arrive at your site from a link in an ad. It is important to separate them 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
Visitors have a series of questions they need answered before they can buy something. A visit is thus a process of finding answers to their questions. Most of the time the site which answers the last question gets the sale. Once one 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 further forward in their quest for the next item of information they need. I call pages which do this “movers” – they move the visitor forward. Mover pages can do this by either telling the visitor the information is elsewhere in this site 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 this book.
Thus the primary function of any entry page is to convince people the answers they are looking for are available here. Most of the time these pages will be doorways to other pages – so the wording of the hyperlinks will also be critical.
Metrics & 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. The metrics we want therefore need to assess the engagement and click-through behavior 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. This is the first page someone sees when they arrive at your site. It is therefore used by them to judge 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. Don’t try to sell products or your company on the Entry Page, sell the site. Think of all the things you offer to visitors in the site. You need to ensure that each of these is clearly identifiable at a glance on your entry page.
In the case of a Landing Page with PPC advertising, you have to pay for each of these bounces, so your bounce rate costs you money. To improve this look at the match between the promise in the ad and the Landing Page. You can typically reduce a Landing Page bounce rate by 25% or more by ensuring key text in the ad is prominently reproduced on the Landing Page, so that it is visible at first glance. If you are run search PPC such as Google Ads, this text should exactly match the search phrase. Ideally every PPC ad should have its own Landing Page. DON’T 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. The great thing about have 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 need to assess the bounce rate according to the search phrase which 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. 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, they know why they’re coming back. You really don’t want to loose these people – they’re already half-way to the check-out. If someone has looked at your site, then gone away, and now returns, you have no excuse for loosing them the instant they return. What is important here is the click-through rate, which is the percentage of people who click a link on these pages to go further. Most likely they will return to the page they left. By now they’re really moving and are focused on finding their answers in your site.. If they don’t click on anything, either you don’t have those answers, or (more likely) your hyperlinks are worded badly or hard to spot. Check the visibility of your hyperlinks – is it obvious something can be clicked on? Check the wording on the hyperlinks – the words in the link are the only thing the visitor has which tells them what is behind that link.
Entry Pages are the junctions on your site. They stand out as the major points in the site’s structure which determine overall success. You should know what your Entry Pages are, and who uses them. By cross-referencing bounce rate and click-through rate with different types of visitor you can determine the match between the visitor’s goals and these pages. This will enable you to retain more visitors and also to understand your audience better.