Recently I was asked this SEO question by someone who came to me for Web copy writing advice.
I was really glad because it was a good question, and the answer is multi-faceted :)
Here’s the thing people normally don’t realize – even many SEOs need an adjustment in their thinking regarding what I’m about to tell you (though it may sound obvious):
Web sites don’t rank.
So when someone comes to me and says, “I want my home page to rank for this list of 100 keywords please” I think – oh man, this is never going to work. People used to do things like put a bunch of keywords in their footer and all kinds of really weird stuff that doesn’t fool anyone, let alone Google.
Every keyword is it’s own target, and every page needs to focus around a keyword. This is why the popular WordPress SEO (by Joost de Valk) plugin for WordPress forces you to select only one focus keyword per page.
So my answer to this SEO question is:
You should make room for text on your home page IF you want your home page to rank for a focus keyword. And if you do make room for text, it should be at least 350 words.
I think it’s good practice to always have text on your home page – I think it says a lot to Google about the root of your domain and its topic (though I can’t prove this) BUT it is certainly not necessary to get your other pages ranking.
So let’s say you sell chocolate, but you have many types of chocolate. You want to rank for nutty chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate and just the word “chocolate” on it’s own (which would take years by the way – this is a really bad SEO keyword strategy I’m giving you! But it’s just an example).
If your conversion tactic is to get people to land on your home page and from there branch out and find the chocolate they are looking for, then I would write tons of stuff about all kinds of chocolate on your home page.
But if you want people who search for “white chocolate” to land on the white chocolate page and the people who search for “nutty chocolate” to land on the nutty chocolate page, then I would write content focused on those two separate topics. It can’t be duplicate text, it has to be varied; that is key (which is hard when your topics are as similar as two types of chocolate…but I won’t get into that now).
In all honesty, for Internet marketers, the latter strategy is going to convert better than the former. This is why Google Adwords rates can be cheaper for higher spots if you make sure the landing page content is very related to the ad. If you sell candy as well as chocolate, and candy is on a sub-sub-sub page of your site, but your Google Adwords ad leads to your home page, which talks all about chocolate and doesn’t make it easy for the candy-searcher to find candy, that would be a very, very, very low quality ad, will cost a lot and will not make you any sales for the high cost-per-click rate you would pay for it. It is like that with SEO too – you would never want to use a strategy like that because it won’t convert. In other words, it won’t make you money.
So while I would put text on my home pages if these decisions were always up to me (sometimes clients dictate designs and I can’t help them), I would also keep in mind that if I do SEO for a client who doesn’t have text on their home page, it’s not impossible to get them to rank. Because I can rank pages like this:
And they would be more relevant to the search queries anyway, and will likely sell easier.
BUT – that is a lot of work.
If you think about it, let’s say you want to sell the following:
chocolate in Vancouver
chocolate in Los Angeles
chocolate in Miami
You have to write about chocolate as it relates to each of those cities, individually, on separate pages, without repeating any content (or you’ll get dinged with duplicate content penalties).
So it’s a lot of work! And a lot of writing!
Which is why it’s helpful to make sure that your home page can at least garner some traffic and conversions while you are working on expanding your site’s content and pages to focus on more targeted keywords.
I can tell you that when I get customers to my own site, I rarely get customers from my home page. I know this because I ask what they searched for and they’ll tell me they typed in something like “technology writer vancouver,” which means they landed on my post about my technology writing samples. But my home page doesn’t say I’m a technology writer – it says I’m an Internet marketer in Vancouver…but if I looked at my home page only and tried to get it to rank, that would be the kind of thinking that doesn’t work for SEO, which is thinking that web sites rank instead of pages.
Now, with all of THAT said….
I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with scrolling on a website design.
A lot of modern site designs are purposefully made to scroll. I think there was a notion for a while that it’s hard for users to scroll, but in reality, scrolling is a web convention (have you read ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ by Steve Krug?), and it’s a lot easier than clicking and waiting for a page to load, or feeling like you can’t find the one page that has the info you need. There are probably UI studies out there on this.
But for example, the thought-leaders in this industry are using long scrolling pages for their sites, such as this:
http://theleanstartup.com/ – I just have to load the page once, and then scroll, it is so easy to use. And he even helps me scroll; if I click on orange buttons, it just scrolls down for me.
And look at this:
Notice they have the larger graphic above the scroll, so it seems like a contained home page, but actually, you just go ‘zoop’ down the page to get the info you want (plus this page will rank better because of the content copy on it being so long).
And this one:
I also worked on these sites recently which have the same concept:
I know this design was made by an agency and was inspired by the livestrong site (and many, many other things, including Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and the Brand Personas download by the guy who branded MailChimp – now THAT guy has a cool site):
And I also saw this recently and was really impressed by it:
But notice the way these sites are designed is that they’re not just long and pointless, they’re long and interactive and fun and the content architecture of the site and the professional design makes you want to keep scrolling, to find out what more there is. It’s not just a bunch of text on a page – the design is highlighting the text and making you want to read it.
I think the reason they work well is because they allow you to ‘tell your story’ to the user and keep them engaged (without having to wait for page load times), which is the latest development in customer acquisition online. I learned that from these super awesome videos from an SEOmoz conference – they’re a great way to spend 20 minutes before making any decision on a new web site!
http://youtu.be/Q9qawFHt9y8 – part 1
http://youtu.be/gRA6rSgBfT0 – part 2
So I hope all of this helps!
Here are the key takeaways from this SEO question:
1) You want text on your home page but if you can’t have it there it’s not the end of the world where SEO is concerned.
2) Pages rank, not web sites, so you can write lots of text on pages of your site and get them to rank if you can’t get text on your home page.
3) There is nothing wrong with scrolling on a website, in fact, it’s the trend to go long and encourage scrolling nowadays. It’s fun, it’s easy and it’s faster than waiting for a new page to have to load every time you want to find a particular piece of info.