What To Do When Your WordPress Site Has 17,871 Landing Pages

During February 2014, visits to WPMU DEV started from over 17,000 different pages.

As site owners, we’ve known for some time that visitors weren’t just coming through the front door but what we’ve probably underestimated is the sheer scale of the shift and what impact that has on our site’s ability to meet its goals.

So what can and should you do when your home page is not only one of a myriad of point of entries to your site but potentially no longer the main point of entry?

A line-up of doors
There are numerous doors to your site, hopefully none with monsters waiting behind

17,871 landing pages. It’s a mind-boggling figure isn’t it?

But perhaps it’s not surprising when search is the main source of traffic (77% of visits) and the site has over 34,000 pages and organic search accounts for 77% of traffic.

Surprising or not, the sheer volume of landing pages has significant repercussions.

Home Page Is Not As Important As You Think

Screenshot of the WPMU DEV home page
Only 2% of visits to the WPMU DEV started with the home page

One of the biggest is the decline of the home page’s importance as a landing page. For WPMU DEV, whilst the home page was the top landing page for all traffic it was only by 0.01% and only accounted for the starting point for 2% of visits. In other words, 98% of all visits to WMPU DEV during February started on a page other than the home page.

It seems entirely feasible that the amount of time, effort and angst that usually accompanies home page design is completely disproportionate to the traffic. It may well be prudent to digging out the relevant stats for your site and keep them up your sleeve for the next time there’s an argument about the home page.

Most Pages Poorly Equipped To Be A Landing Page

Graph showing visits to the home page
Whilst site traffic has increased steadily home page traffic has actually declined

At least the home page is generally designed to be a landing page which cannot be said for virtually all other pages in a site and when when 98% of visits start on these pages this is a serious concern.

This is not a deliberate design decision, of course, but a consequence of site design and WordPress themes, in particular, being based on the out-dated paradigm that visitors come in through the home page and then navigate in an orderly fashion through the site, not that 47% of your visitors will look at a single page which has a 99% chance of not being the home page.

Think about when you look at the demo of a new theme. How many times have you been presented with a home page (we always enter demos through the front-door) that is beautifully crafted and immaculately put together only to feel instantly deflated the moment you click through to a post template?

Clearly, we need to do more with the templates for our posts and pages because that is what our visitors seeing.

Why We Have Websites

So why do we care about landing pages and single site visits? Shouldn’t we be tracking total visits and pageviews?

Let’s back-up a little and remember why we have websites.

Whilst there are a number of reference and help orientated sites, the majority of websites exist to convert. The conversion may be as obvious as buying an online product or donating to a cause or as nebulous as changing an intention to vote or swaying an opinion on a particular subject but it’s there and it should drive the content and the functionality of the site.

But such conversions are unlikely to happen on the first visit. In fact, it may take multiple visits over a long timeframe for the conversion to happen, if it happens at all.

Our sites are set up to attract new visitors and then use a number of techniques to maintain and strengthen that relationship. This site, for example, places a huge emphasis on the content in the blog. That is the hook, the content that hopefully searches discover and want to click on. We then use email newsletters and social media connections to try and maintain those relationships and that engagement, slowly building the trust required to make the conversion. With 69% of our visitors entering the site via a blog page, it looks like we’re doing a reasonable job.

It is, then, all about relationships and building trust and that all starts, of course, with that first visit and that’s where the repercussions of having so many landing pages are felt most.

How Do You Make Every Page A Landing Page?

When we say that we want to make every page an effective landing page, what do we actually mean? Well, in relation to our conversion we want to get a first time visitor onto the conversion path or move a returning visitor further down the path.

To do that we have to make sure that they visitor knows exactly where they are and what their options are:

  • Site logo must be obvious (and linked to the home page)
  • Site tagline has to immediately visible (tells a new user what the site is about)
  • Page title has to be clear and unambiguous
  • Navigation must put the content in context within the site (breadcrumbs work well here)
  • Content must be able to standalone – it must not rely on other content for context

The first four suggestions are relatively straight-forward to implement and may only require some minor changes to your WordPress theme. You can, and probably should, complicate the task and audit the site via a tablet and a mobile device as sometimes the choices a responsive theme makes will break these suggestions.

A great example is the current default theme, Twenty Fourteen, which puts the tagline in the left-hand sidebar but moves that sidebar below the content when viewed on a small enough screen.

The fifth suggestion about content being standalone is a little more involved although most of your content is probably fine. Where you do need to be careful is with posts that rely on other posts for content, perhaps a series of closely related posts.

In this situation, you must explicitly state that the post is part of a series and link to at least the previous post, if not all previous posts so that the visitor can decide where to jump in.

In actual fact, it’s a good idea to link to other content on your site in the first and last few paragraphs anyway just to encourage a longer visit.

Making Sure We Have Conversion Tools Available At All Times

Providing context to a visitor is only half the solution. To be a truly effective landing page it needs to help push the visitor down the conversion path and to do this it needs to provide access to the conversion tools.

These tools might be anything from an advertisement to a e-newsletter sign-up form to links to your social media profiles but whatever they are they need to be prominently and consistently displayed.

Be Strategic With Your Changes

If your site is reasonably large then there’s a strong case for rolling out changes slowly. In WPMU DEV’s case, we have a number of distinct areas, each with different themes and each requiring a different solution.

After looking at the stats I can see that 13% of the landing pages are in the forums which are definitely not optimized as landing pages – what forums are? – so that would seem to be a good place to start.

Almost 70% of visits start with a blog page and the bounce rate is considerably higher than the site average, even when looking just at search traffic (a high bounce rate for email and social media traffic is less of a worry as we know that we’ll have regular contact with the visitor).

In this situation, the theme already contains conversion tools so A/B testing would perhaps come in handy as we could easily test changing of the placement of those tools. We might also decide to simply change the layout for search traffic only, again to see if those visitors react differently to visitors who arrive by other means.

And don’t forget to track. You won’t know if you are having a positive impact on your site unless you track the impact of your changes.

Search And Social Have Changed Everything

3 pie charts showing domination of organic search for overall traffic, new visits and single page visits
The domination of traffic from search dramatically increases the number of “landing pages”

Search, and to a much lesser extent, social media have had a profound impact on how visitors access sites with pretty much any page now being an entry or landing page.

And it’s savagely competitive. A use searches, they click on a link and if they don’t see the answer to the question then they are back to those search results. And the quicker they go back, the lower Google is going to rank you next.

That means that when we build our themes, assign our widgets to our sidebars and publish our content we have to be constantly asking ourselves: how would a first time visitor feel if this was the first page they landed on?

Because now, every page is a landing page.

Did you work out the stats for your site? What percentage of visits start on your home page? Does your theme and content meet those five requirements?