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Optimizing Your Website, Beyond the Homepage

by Rachel Lurie
Post Date:06/28/2018

In our recent content bootcamp webinar session, content coach, Martin Lind, discussed the importance of optimizing content beyond the homepage of your agency website and how to leverage analytics to improve your interior pages.

The homepage is often seen as the face of your agency’s brand, the first thing people see when they do an online search, but this is a common misconception. In fact, in a recent analysis of nearly 100 local government websites, Vision by Granicus found that only 35% of traffic enters a website through the homepage – and that percentage is even lower (21%) for those coming to your website via mobile.

Therefore, it’s imperative to design your website as if any interior page could be the first page the customer sees – because in most cases it is. So where do you begin when it comes to optimizing your website beyond the homepage? As our content coach would contend, it all starts with the numbers.

Understand Your Website Traffic

Website traffic is the number of visitors coming to your website. Understanding each traffic source and which ones drive the most visits to your website is key to optimizing your website design and navigation – both on the homepage and beyond, keeping in mind that the majority of entrance traffic lands on interior pages.

The following are the main sources of website traffic to keep an eye on – all available through Google Analytics:

  • Organic Traffic: When it comes to quickly finding information, what do most people do? They search for it online through Google, Bing, Yahoo! or another similar search engine. On average, 60% of traffic to local government websites comes from organic search – much of which lands directly on interior pages tied to specific search terms or keywords.

For example, if someone is looking for information on the local library, they are most likely not going to do a general search for the city or county. Instead, they will use more specific terms like “public library near me” or “Amarillo public library”, in which case the library page – an interior page within the main website – will rank higher than your homepage and most likely be clicked on first. In this case, the customer’s first impression of your website will be an interior page.  

  • Direct Traffic: About 20% of local government website traffic comes from customers typing your URL directly into their search bar or saving your website as a bookmark. In most cases, direct traffic comes from return visitors who find your website valuable and either remember or save your URL. Having a URL that’s easy to remember or intuitive can help boost direct traffic.
  • Referral Traffic: If you read online blogs or publications, you’ve likely clicked on a link within an article that redirected you to another website. These types of links are called referral sources and drive about 15% of traffic for local government websites, where visitors find the website through another trusted content source. For example, if someone is looking for pet adoption services through a local online directory or forum, they may click on a link that takes them to your county pet adoption page. Similar to organic search, typically, referral links go to specific interior webpages rather than the homepage.
  • Social Traffic: If you’re promoting the upcoming Fourth of July parade on your Facebook page with a link back to your agency website to learn more or register to participate, you are driving social traffic, which accounts for about 4% of local government website traffic. Usually social sources link directly to interior pages specific to the content or event that’s being promoted.
  • Email Traffic: While email marketing is not a huge source of traffic for local agency websites, it accounts for about 1% of visits, which may actually be more since some email links are unattributed (or untracked) and are therefore counted toward direct traffic rather than email traffic. To boost email marketing efforts, consider an integrated solution like GovDelivery, which allows citizens to subscribe to specific topics or pages on your website and receive email notifications when related content is posted.

By understanding traffic sources, you can optimize interior pages that receive the most entrance traffic and also use this data to help inform strategies to increase website traffic, such as modifying keywords to improve organic search rankings.

Examine Interior Page Data

You may have spent a lot of time perfecting your homepage, but as noted above, many website visitors enter through an interior page and may never even see your homepage. With this in mind, it’s important to examine interior page performance by looking at three key data points and optimizing accordingly.

  1. Top Entrance Pages: First, identify your top fifty most trafficked pages and determine which ones serve as entrance pages. Consider these top entrance pages as “mini-homepages” for people who come directly to these pages to complete a specific task, rather than your main homepage. Then, determine if these pages are performing as well as you’d like them to. How do these pages look? Is navigation intuitive? Is the content relevant? Are tasks self-contained within the page so customers can quickly complete an action?
  1. Bounce Rate: Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits – when someone comes to your website, completes a task on one page and then leaves without clicking to any other pages. The higher the bounce rate, the less pages a customer visits; while the lower the bounce rate, the more pages a customer visits.

Consumer sites like Amazon strive for low bounce rates. They want customers shopping around on multiple pages, clicking on recommended items, reading reviews, searching for shoes that match that dress, and ultimately adding more and more items to their digital shopping cart.

Conversely, local government websites typically see higher bounce rates since content tends to be more task-oriented such as paying a bill, applying for employment or submitting a permit application. In fact, pages on local government websites typically see bounce rates in the 40%-60% range. In this case, a higher bounce rate means that customers are finding what they need immediately, completing their task and leaving without having to visit any other pages. If the bounce rate is low on a task-oriented page, it could indicate that the content is not clear or a task cannot be completed without having to visit other pages, resulting in a less than ideal customer experience.

However, non-task-related local government website pages should have low bounce rates. The most common example of this is a routing page, such as a departmental directory page. For these types of pages, the goal is to provide customers with information to help drive them to other pages where they can find additional content.

  1. Time Spent on Page: Analyze time spent on the top interior pages to identify the average. From there, compare the average time spent on a page to the actual time spent on specific pages to identify trends and determine if certain pages need to be improved to help customers more efficiently complete tasks.

It’s important to consider which pages or tasks should require a lot versus a little amount of time. For example, it would make sense to see a higher than average amount of time spent on an employment page where a visitor is going to fill out and submit a job application – a task that may require a good amount of time to complete. However, on a routing page such as the directory example mentioned earlier, it would make sense to see a lower than average amount of time spent on the page since customers are quickly finding a link to what they’re looking for and bouncing to that specific page.  

Looking at this type of data can also help you identify low performing pages that may need to be deactivated, revitalized, or combined with other similar content to help further optimize interior page performance and improve citizen experience.

Differentiate Interior Pages

Once you’ve reviewed your interior page analytics, it’s important to make sure the top entrance pages represent your brand, provide an outstanding customer experience, and essentially serve as “mini-homepages”. In some cases, this involves giving these pages a unique look and feel. The most common types of interior pages that receive specialized branding include:

  • Revenue Sources: utilities, airports, economic development and tourism may be differentiated from the main agency website.
  • Well-Known Brands: popular properties owned by the city/county such as recreation facilities (pools, theaters, parks, ski areas), animal services, and major public works projects often receive unique branding.
  • Departments: elected official-led departments such as the city clerk, county registrar or courts may want the ability to control the look and feel of their departmental pages.
  • Cross-Departmental Tasks: pages dedicated to tasks like starting a business or providing information for new residents may have specialized branding.
  • Special Events: some agencies may want to differentiate specific pages dedicated to special events, such as annual parades, seasonal concerts, or local elections.

There are many ways to differentiate top interior pages so they stand out from the rest of the website, such as having unique navigation, branding (imagery, font, colors), tone of writing, or even a unique URL.

How you distinguish interior pages can range from being slightly different – such as a parks and recreation page that has unique departmental branding and specific task buttons but the same overall look and feel, navigation, and URL as the main website – to the more extreme case of having a completely different navigation and look and feel from the main website. For these more extreme cases, it may be worth building a subsite with a unique URL to further differentiate from the main agency website. Departments that may benefit from a subsite include parks and recreation, library, and animal services, just to name a few.

To bring it all together, remember that the most successful local government websites prioritize customer experience by taking a data-driven approach to website design and monitoring key analytics to optimize performance and ensure an exceptional experience across the entire website.

To learn more about optimizing your interior pages, download the beyond the homepage webinar recording, and be sure to register for our upcoming content bootcamp sessions.

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