RIP: The Over-Optimized Homepage, Age 15

By Adam Figueira

June 12, 2012

The Over-Optimized Homepage, whose existence had long marked the center of the universe, died today after a long battle with relevance. It was 15 years old.

Monetate's Strategic Services Director, Nathan Richter, confirmed the news at 7:39 a.m.

"The health of the Over-Optimized Homepage had been in decline for several years. Attacked first by Google's organic search algorithm, and later by the ability of search marketers to successfully direct traffic to deeply-nested subpages, the Over-Optimized Homepage finally succumbed to the ability to easily optimize every page on the website—something that had, until recently, been unprofitable. There was nothing anyone could do to save it,"  he said.

News of the death hit some circles hard. "What will wee [sic] work on? #notlmao" remarked one testing specialist on Twitter.

A Slow but Predictable Decline

Over-optimization first became known to online marketers in 2007. News that Google could identify efforts to detect "SEO in action" took the form of rankings penalties against pages with an artificial distribution of back links. "Whereas it was  previously believed that great links were those whose anchor text was something other than the domain name," Richter said, "Google saw this as unnatural link building, marking one of the first blows against over-optimization."

Not to be outdone, however, SEO managers became increasingly adept at optimizing internal pages on the website. Said one channel manager, "It wasn't enough to get traffic to the website. We were spending too much time optimizing our homepage, but visitors don't want to go there when it takes anywhere from five to 10 clicks to reach the content they actually want."

A Blessing in Disguise

The final death knell came when website optimization platforms proved the ROI of a subpage-centric strategy.

"Historically, delivering relevant experiences on pages other than the homepage made little sense," said online marketing expert Bryan Eisenberg. "It took just as much effort to get a test in place, but fewer visitors would actually see it."

It was, however, a blessing in disguise. One pundit, who commented on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, added, "The homepage as an 'entry page' is almost oxymoronic. Channels managers don't want to send you there, and customers don't want to go. Whether you come from email, display, search, social media, or an affiliate, the rule is to put the right content in front of the right visitor at the right time. The homepage stands in the way."

At Monetate headquarters in Philadelphia, some were sad, but few were surprised. Said Richter, "We'll miss our old friend, but are excited to be working with younger, more relevant site experiences."

Toward a New World Order?

Although the death of the Over-Optimized Homepage marked the end of one era, it signals the beginning of another.

For the majority of companies, the conversion doesn't take place on the homepage—or on any landing page, for that matter. "Marketers must devote as much attention to the total site experience as they do the homepage," added Eisenberg. "The subpages are every bit as important, and customers expect relevant experiences to follow them throughout the website, regardless of the page they're on."

The Over-Optimized Homepage: dead at age 15.

Adam Figueira is a former product marketing director at Monetate.

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