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hotel lobby reception home page metaphor

House Home Hotel

My problem? I'll tell you what my problem is. The website home page - site of some of the most heated discussions I've ever witnessed Customers have about websites. Too often, I have found myself being drawn-into such internal politics to add weight to one viewpoint in a final push for victory. So I now need to put this out there, for what it's worth. My unshakeable, hard-fought-for opinion concerning the website home page is long-overdue an airing. 🛎

Can we talk about your home page please?

Let's be honest, everyone has an opinion about website home pages. Often regarded as the first page of a website, the time spent arguing and sweating over home pages seems, at times, grossly disproportionate to time spent arguing over any other web page. Part of this problem comes-about by regarding the home page as the best and first page of a website when, technically, it isn't the first page. The home page is, in reality, the last page on a website so you now need to think of something better.

You're seeing it all back to front

This belief of mine that the website home page is actually the last page of the website warrants some initial exploration as it's a rock-solid conclusion that'll need a little technical explanation - bear with me, quickly, it'll all make sense. Firstly, let's start with that explanation and discuss what it actually means:
"When an HTTP client (typically a web browser) requests a URL that points to a directory structure instead of an actual web page within the directory, the web server will generally serve a default page, which is often referred to as a main or 'index' page."Wikipedia - Webserver directory index

Webserver directory index

What the foregoing paragraph means is that each and every time you visit a website via a website address such as or then you are not making a request to view a particular page or specific piece of content. In order to avoid such a request generating a 404 - Page Not Found - HTTP Error, what actually happens is that, thanks to a scheme dating-back to 1993, the web server will have been programmed to handle such directory root level requests by defaulting to an index page such as index.html, index.shtml, index.php, index.jsp …

So what is an index page?

There's a technical answer for that but, first, let's consider the index of a book. A book index is, in essence, a roadmap for the book, listing places of interest in alphabetical order and offering the reader a 'link' by giving the book page numbers at which the reader can find the information. Here's the critical difference:
The index of a book is wildly different from the contents page of the book.A book's index is a list of all the things within the book that a reader will need to find, quickly and easily. A book's contents page has no other meaning than to display to the reader the structure of the book. You may think of the contents page as being the author's view of the book, whereas the index pages exist as a better representation of the reader's view of the book. The author of a cookbook will want to use their contents page to tell you how their book is composed: a set of recipes for each season; a set of recipes for functions; recipes for family meals; recipes for kids; recipes for entertaining; low calorie recipes and so on. The index of the book, however, serves the reader - a reader will use an index to find recipes for chicken, garlic, chilli, beef, radish or parsnip.

webserver directory structureSo, back to that technical answer. A webserver directory index page is, historically, a helpful list (or index) of all the things that a website user may find inside that directory. For the record, I do fully acknowledge that the last thing a Customer wants to see when they visit your home page is an exhaustive list of everything. Nevertheless, they are on your home page and, by definition, the reason they are on your home page is that they do not know which web page they should be on, right? It's not a home page - it's the place you go to when you don't know where to go.

So here it is; here's the answer to the question of what should go on your website home page. I hope by now you recognise that your Customer is looking at your homepage because they have not requested or been directed to a particular page. A website that's well-optimised for search doesn't need to argue about what goes on the home page because it will have a high-ranking web page for 'widgets' that is found on Google for widget related searches. Think about it. Google is, by default, keen to bypass your home page because, if Google knows the searcher is interested in widgets, the best and most prized search results are links to web pages about widgets - not to web pages about the company that makes them. In the case of a poorly-optimised website, Google will err on the side of caution and return a link to your homepage. Proving that, even for Google, the home page is the place you go to when you don't know where to go.

The greatest crime in website design

Filling a website with the things you're solely interested in is the greatest crime in web design. You must think about your widget searcher landing on your homepage and being forced to figure-out how to get to the web pages about widgets. How many of us think that what's important to our Customers is looking at our organisational structure, or reading a message from the Chairperson, or downloading our annual report, or watching our logo dance across the screen? You call it a home page - and it is your home, not theirs but you don't want to commit the greatest crime in web design so you do genuinely want to welcome Customers and make them feel at home.
Well, that's not a home. That's a hotel!

The very moment you stop thinking in terms of a home page and, instead, start thinking about a hotel page is the moment that you stop arguing amongst yourselves and start figuring-out what should go on the homepage of your website. The first room of a hotel is the reception or lobby. Ideally, the lobby shouldn't feel oppressive, the hotel lobby will be light, airy, spacious and allow guests to find their way through the hotel - this way to the restaurant, this way to the lifts, this way to the bar and so on…

The reception of a hotel is the place you go to when you don't know where to go. Hotel receptionists have one aim in mind: to delight and excel at guest services. The hotel lobby serves as the prime point for help in the building; guests know they need to book a meeting room, book a taxi, eat out, have some clothes laundered or book a spa treatment. When you realise that you have a hotel page and not a home page you should realise just how abhorrent and ghastly your cookie acceptance procedure appears to your guests.

Book a wake-up call

Does your guests' first experience of your website make them feel welcomed and valued? Does the first page of your website give them what they're initially searching for and give your guests the confidence that, just one click away, there is more in-store for them? If you are still arguing amongst yourselves about what should be on the home page then please let me be as clear as possible. Every other page of your website is more important than your home page because each contains the information Customers and guests actually want. You don't actually want a home page - you need a hotel page instead. A hotel page has just the one purpose - to welcome and accommodate your Customers. If you need some help turning your home into a hotel then just pop down to reception 🛎 and let me know how I can help you. /S

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