Google broke our shop window

Your website home page is your shop window – remember that old chestnut?

Get it on the home page….

It must be on the home page….

Can we get a link from the home page….

Home page, home page…what happened to you?

The shop window has been shattered. Google came along with a huge breeze block and smashed it to bits when you weren’t looking.

Actually that’s not true, we’ve been watching our home page slowly get smashed in by Google for years. Which is fine with me! Remember the days of council home pages with 200+ links (some still have them!)?

It’s why it gets rolled out at conference after conference – Google is the new home page. Well that…and saying ‘agile’ even if you don’t have the first clue what it means. Like the way I managed to get that into this blog post…agile, agile, agile.

I’ve just been analysing our website statistics for June. It is the usual suspects in the top 10 with the home page top. Interesting that last month, the page views for the home page dipped beneath 15%. It just brings me on a to a small point that we regularly face with service areas about the prominence of their content.

We (digital folk) get it…but try telling everyone else

It used to be a very regular request to get information flagged up on the home page as ‘customers cannot find our information’.

But this is a lot less relevant these days, given the statistic I’ve just quoted. Yes, it’s still the biggest hit page on the site, but its far from the be all of getting your content in front of the customer’s eyes.

Google is your home page

So true. We get over 65% of our traffic from Google search. If your content isn’t appearing on Google for the key phrases you are targeting, then the home page is certainly not going to come to your rescue.

This is exactly the message I will be taking to meet with one of our service areas tomorrow. To educate them to think beyond slapping a link on the home page / in the top level navigation, sitting back and patting themselves on the back.

How good is our navigation?

This brings me on to the navigation on the site. One area my stats cannot give me anything on is the use of the navigation. I know how many people go to the main Council tax page.

What I don’t know is how many made it to that page using the right hand navigation on the Central Bedfordshire Council website.

Bit.ly to the rescue!

On our website, I have replaced every direct link in our right hand navigation with a bit.ly link instead. I am going to leave this until September, then measure the impact for August. What I want to see is the volume of traffic for the page in the navigation, and measure how many came from using the navigation as a percentage of the overall traffic. I’m putting my cards on the table and guessing an average of 7%? That’s a finger in the air guess. That’s exactly what I want to remove – guess work. So, thanks bit.ly for coming to the rescue.

But why?

Curiosity? Actually do something with it?

Bit of both! No more seriously its to do something with it. It will further help banish the myth that the reason customers cannot find service area content is because they are not listed on the home page or in the navigation.

We built our navigation based on the most popular pages and matched this with the most popular search terms. So we pretty much know that it works, but we also see that the most popular search term is still ‘planning’ even though it’s clearly listed in the navigation. People love to search – both off and on site.

So I will use this to educate web editors and service owners when it comes to reviewing their website content. The number one test is finding it on Google.

Alan – there are easier ways to prove this!

I know. But, I have to fudge things a little due to the way our statistics package works as we’re not using Google Analytics. This does limit how easy it is to prove why I believe navigation is well behind Google when it comes to finding your content. But hey, I might be proven wrong come September!

Will we go for a search dominated site instead?

This was raised at Socitm’s building perfect council websites conference last week how big a risk it is to drop one of your routes to content e.g. navigation / A to Z (though I know A to Z traffic is down to <4%). Fylde is a powerful example of stripping back a home page and when I spoke to them the message was a very strong one – its working.

But to get there I’d want to see a more powerful search engine on our site which can look at multiple domains and also show best match results. Yes, all that can be done if you have the budget, the time and the love on internal search. Ok, I’ve at least got the love at the moment! Let’s wait and see about the rest.

Thanks for reading.

T: @alanfergs

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One thought on “Google broke our shop window

  1. I consider myself educated. Wow took me back to the old home page requests… A thing of the past which slipped so silently away…well for me, maybe not you. Extremely interesting blog.

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