Here’s what I learned this summer (2)

As I mentioned yesterday, while travelling around the UK this summer introducing our Insider Programme, I’ve started to see the challenges involved in online marketing in UK industry, and have discovered some common problems and mistakes, which I thought I’d bring to you all this week. Today: the Splash Page lives!
Now, you’re probably thinking: “The Splash Page? Does Chris mean those movies people used to make you watch before being able to access their websites? The ones which made half the visitors hurriedly scroll around for the “skip this” link, and the other half go straight to the “back” button?”
Well, sort of.
The Splash Page which involved spinning logos was long ago discredited as an own goal, and I think almost everyone knows this. In addition, most people understand that the home page of a website is the most important page on it, and the one where you absolutely must have plenty of text describing your company’s capability, using all the critical key search terms. There’s a reason why newspapers and magazines have the headlines and contents up front, and there are even stronger reasons to do this on a website.
No, the Splash Page which I’m referring to here is just as much of a barrier as the spinning logos from 1999. It’s the home page which just says: “what country are you in?”
Not only is this unnecessary, it’s an utter chore which massively handicaps a website’s effectiveness for two reasons: firstly, it throws away the opportunity to fill the most important page on the website with the most important terms for the search engines, and secondly, it will send a significant proportion of visitors right back to where they came from. Other sites are only a click away, and they don’t put a bouncer on the door, like the bridgekeeper at the Gorge of Eternal Peril in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: (“Who approaches the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side he see”).
From a user point of view, the worst thing about these “what country are you in?” questions, is that for half of the world (including the UK), you have to scroll way, way down the list to find your country. You need a good mouse and a steady hand, and if you’re using an iPhone or something you may as well give up now. US companies often put the USA at the top, and then everyone else underneath, which just says to me “you want to make it easier for yourselves but don’t care about the rest of us” and makes me even more irritated. As a UK resident, I like to select “United States Minor Outlying Islands” for a laugh, because that’s probably how most Americans see us.
Of course, it’s totally unnecessary. If you must know where I am, then detect it automatically and stop making your customers do the work for you. If your IT department doesn’t know how to do that, get a new IT department.
And that’s the second thing I learned this summer. Many companies still know so little about how to build an effective, customer-centred website that they still have Splash Pages. Amazing.

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