There’s no place like home?

As mentioned in my previous post, we recently implemented a new home page. It was a really big improvement on what we had and has proved very popular. The thing is, do we still need to worry so much about our homepage?

Since starting here at DCC I’ve always thought that the content on our homepage has been considered as really important. Unfortunately, the emphasis was very often placed on making sure there was a feature about a campaign which needed to be promoted or a story about how well the council has been doing at something. It was a case of “get it on the homepage” without any real thought being given to whether or not it had any right to be there. Carl wrote the follwing post back in 2009 The Council Homepage – Search, Signpost or Both and in it he talks about how there are a number of external influences which effect how a council homepage will look and our site has been no exception to this.

Our current homepage, as well as our previous one has at its centre an area for five features.

A screenshot of the features on the DCC homepage

This has been the case since about 2009 and I’m still not sure we really know exactly what we should use this area for (any suggestions are very welcome). You don’t have to look very far to realise that we’re not alone. Camden do a similar thing, as do Kent and our neighbours at Cornwall. These are just 3 examples and there will be loads more. It seems to have been the adopted model for a council homepage.

The demand for a feature has previously been fairly high but this changed recently when we launched our news centre. We now have a dynamic and engaging site containing a mix of news and features which in theory has freed up our homepage to do exactly what we want it to do….ah.

At the moment our features are a mixture of consultations, popular pages and ‘required’ content which has had to go there because, in all honesty, there was no where else to put it.

My feeling is, I think, that the features should be a rotation of our ‘top tasks and popular pages’ based on our stats.

Google Analytics tells us that that our Library Catalogue page is far and away the most popular page on our site and at the moment a link to the Catalogue is our current top feature. It may well be the case that many of the Library users don’t require this link as Google takes them straight to the destination or they have long since bookmarked the page.

This could be assumed to be the case with a large proportion of our pages, bearing in mind the fact that members of public will not be coming to our site to have a ‘bit of a browse’ but will be coming with the aim of completing a task or finding a very specific piece of information.

Gerry McGovern wrote an article called The decline of the homepage in 2010 and talks about the fact that users don’t want to go through a homepage in order to get to the information they’re looking for.

Look at the results of a search for ‘Devon County Council’. It’s essentially a mini homepage which in theory should enable a lot of users to completely bypass our homepage.

A screenshot of search results for Devon County Council

Interestingly though, our homepage still ranks as our 3rd most regularly viewed page with 587,267 page views for the period 1/4/11 to 31/3/12. In line with the theory that homepages are not used as much as in the past, this figure is down from 652,233 for the same period 1 year earlier.

The stats tell us that it’s too early for us to start writing off our homepage. We have more freedom than ever to make it look and work how we want it to and I have no doubt that we will continue to rethink and rework (see what I’ve done there?) it to ensure it doesn’t become stale.

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