Prioritizing Design Time: A Long Tail Approach
Do you find that you spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over your homepage? Is it the one page that gets the most attention from your design team? How about other parts of your company? Does it get attention even from people who aren’t on the design team?
We see this all the time. On nearly every one of the projects that we work
on, and even the ones that we only hear about, we observe the same thing: the
homepage has the highest priority in the design food chain. Much more energy
is spent deciding what will go where on the home page than any other page or
section of the web site.
The reason is simple. It’s the page with the most page views. Here is a snippet
of uie.com’s page views over a few days recently.
|What User’s Want (.pdf)||1267|
|Brain Sparks Blog||941|
|5-Second Tests: Measuring Your Site’s Content Pages||930|
|UIE Roadshow 2006: Web Design Foundations||717|
|UIE Articles Index||712|
|User Interface Conference||552|
|UIE Publications Index||446|
The first reaction to a ranked list like this is to pay attention to whatever is ranked at the top. And inevitably, on the Web, that will be the homepage. After all, it’s the default page when someone visits the site. It ends up being an easy target for designers (and everyone else) to focus on.
However, if we push further with these numbers, stretch them out a bit, we
actually paint a very different picture of where focus could be paid.
First off is the amazing statistic that the homepage accounts for only 1/10th
of the total pageviews. In other words, approximately 90% of the time people spend on our web site is not on the home page!
That suggests that there is a sizeable set of pages other than the homepage
that fulfill the needs of our users.
And that brings us to The Long Tail.
The Long Tail is an economic theory made popular by Chris Anderson,
chief editor of Wired Magazine, who pointed out that the Web is enabling a
whole class of content to be shared which wasn’t sharable before. Anderson
uses physical items like CDs and books as his primary examples, noting that
Amazon sells many more unpopular CDs than it does the most popular ones. (simply
because there are so much more of them) Interestingly, the theory is equally
applicable to those dark and dusty pages on your web site that don’t get much
attention relative to the few popular ones.
this graph, the homepage sits on the left, getting over 4000 views for the
time period. But look to the right, the mass of area filled in with blue.
That represents the rest of the pages (I included all the pages that got over
90 views in the time period – the entire tail is much longer). These are the
pages that get the vast majority of attention.
The Long Tail popularizes what mathematicians realized early on when they
started researching the Web. That is, there is a pattern to the way that
we browse web sites. The pattern is that there will always be a most popular
page (usually the homepage) and there will always be a huge collection of
pages that garner less individual attention but add up to the vast majority
when put together. Going further, when we separate out the pages in the tail
into what areas of the site they are in, we can get an even clearer idea of
where people are spending their time.
you can see, the section of UIE.com that gets the most traffic is our
articles section. This is followed by our Brain Sparks blog posts. Even though
these sections of the site are made up of multiple pages, they’re mostly
template-driven. Therefore, it might make sense to really optimize these templates
before moving on to less-visited sections of the site.
We think it’s worth investigating the relationship of where users and
designers spend their time. It might make sense for designers to spend
most of their time where users spend most of their time. That way, designers
will affect the most users possible with any improvements they make.
If you’re a long-time reader of ours, you won’t be surprised by this
suggestion. We’ve long sensed that too much effort was spent on homepages.
Our research continually shows it. (as do our site stats!) Not coincidentally,
we often talk about this very topic at our Conference and Roadshow events.
Nothing beats a good buzzword, and we’ve found that The Long Tail
is an effective way to communicate some of the issues design teams
face. (In addition, it makes a great visual and opens up a slew of opportunities
for making puns) So that’s a little of what we’ve learned from
analyzing our own tail. What does your Long Tail tell you?