Why You Should Not Advertise on Home Pages
It all stems from offline thinking. Many people think that the home page is just like the cover of a magazine, and therefore it gets the most "exposure", and therefore you achieve "reach".
One of the worst places to place your ads on is the home page, especially if it's a portal.
- Targeting: Since the home page is usually the most general page on a website, you have no idea what kind of user is visiting it. Let's take an example of one big portal, MSN. Currently the navigation bar includes the following links: news, entertainment, sports, money, lifestyle, locals, autos. The purpose of that page is to route users to other pages. Even if they don't know it, there is nothing to do or read on the home page but links and very short teasers of articles, so the user will quickly end up going to another page to continue whatever task they came to do.
A full discussion of the categorization of the different types of pages can be found on Semphonic's Functionalism, and in a more specific white paper.
- Mental State: Since this is a spring board kind of page, and the user in a browsing mode, their hand is still on the mouse, and their eyes are moving quickly, scanning, and evaluating the different options. They are trying to find something interesting, and as mentioned in point 1, you cannot know what that content is, because it varies from cars to sports, and from entertainment to money. If you take a look at the submenus, you will easily realize that this page can be interesting to anyone on Earth!
Since the user is not identified to be interested in anything in particular, and since they are in a scanning state of mind, the home page is not where they would be most receptive.
The best place to be on is what some people call "deep pages", which are pages of articles, videos, or any content where the user sits back, releases their mouse and start reading. A quick correction, there is no such thing as a deep page. The web is a flat place, and since most traffic starts from a search engine or social media, you are usually sent directly to that article page or video page to immediately view and many times you continue on a journey in the website without even seeing the home page.
I previously wrote about the power of contextual targeting to inform us about the user reading the content, and following that logic, the home page is not effective at all.
Going back to our offline magazine advertising friend, I would argue that even in magazines, advertising on the cover would not be as effective as advertising a product next to articles related to that industry. The cover will definitely give you more reach, but at a much higher cost. Most of that reach is irrelevant audience, because everyone reading the magazine will have to start at the cover. The reduction in price, appearing next to your article, and using the remaining budget to advertise on more publications with a more focused reach would get you much better results, because you are reaching people who are in the market for your product vs. reaching the masses. Of course there is no way to prove it offline, but when done online and the cost-per-acquisition is calculated it is clear that the targeted option performs much better.
When might being on the home page work? Very rare cases where your brand is highly known, used by almost everyone, and depends on impulse. Carbonated drinks for example want to just remind you how thirsty you are, how hot it is, and how much you need that extra coke. Most brands are not like that, and you usually have a limited budget and you are much better off spending it based on performance.