May 13, 2004, 12:00 AM

The success of search engine marketing means web page design must change

At major retail sites, search engines are bypassing the home page to deliver as much as 50% of traffic directly to product pages. That means the intelligence formerly concentrated on home pages now must be scattered throughout the site, says Fry Inc.

Search engine success is about marketing, optimization, and through it’s less frequently considered part of the mix, web site design, says David Fry, CEO of Fry Inc. “It has a big impact," he says.

80% of the users on the Internet today use some major search engine to find sites and products, says Fry. “It used to be when you designed a web site, the first thing you’d focus on is what your home page would look like,” he says. But because search engines now deliver more shoppers directly to product pages, most major retail web sties now have less than 50% of their traffic starting at their home page, Fry says. Some, like Petco.com, have reported that as much as 80% of their traffic skips the home page.

“That means that all the brand equity and navigational elements and intelligence you put in your home page now has to be sprinkled throughout your site. The expectation was that people would follow this orderly path down through the web site, and you had the assumption that they were on a page having come from a previous page that gave some context to what they are seeing. That is no longer a certainly,” he says.

The design implications are that navigation has to be available on every page, and it must be crystal-clear, Fry adds. If a user comes to a site from a search on Google and lands on a product page, the merchant needs to have merchandising opportunities there for them. That goes the same for navigation, Fry says. “If you want your users to be able to find a product from any page, you have to make it available from every page with some form of navigation,” he says. You can`t have the expectation people will go back to a home page or category page and find it from there.”

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