WHY YOUR SITEMAP IS UPSIDE-DOWN

Aside map is a tool that is often used to communicate the hierarchy of a website.

The way sitemaps are typically drawn would lead us to think that most people visit the home page first. Then they follow one of the paths that we have neatly described in our sitemap. The reality is that this is rare.

Visitor's path on a website.
We are conditioned to think that people start from the home page and follow a neat pre-ordained path

Where do people actually start on your website?

More often than not people DO NOT visit the home page first.

In reality visitor's journey looks more like this
In reality people’s journey looks more like this

What percentage of your audience do you think visits your home page first? Using a sample of available data, we found that anywhere from 2.5% up to 47% of users will visit your home page first. The smaller percentages correlate with larger websites. This is expected. The larger the site, the more possible starting points there are.

People will usually start from one of the following:

  • A Google search. Which hopefully takes the user to the most relevant page, not the home page.
  • Online ads e.g. Adwords. Which you direct the most relevant page, usually not the home page.
  • Other websites. The home page is often an easy default to link to. Asking people to link to the most relevant page helps the user. It also helps the relevant page gain search engine rank.
  • Emails and social media. Both of which you can target specific pages, assuming they are your own channels. If they are someone else channels they are much harder to influence.

A high percentage of home page traffic is usually an undesirable pattern. Your home page tends to be your most generic page. You can have a lot of influence over where people land on your website. Why make them come in through the front door if you can take them directly to the room that has what they are looking for? Always aim to match the intent of the users’ click, with the most relevant page.