Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy

Why the website footer is at least as important as your website’s header. And indeed, the homepage.

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy

As a web designer, I’m starting to get mixed messages about the importance of the header versus the footer of a webpage.

Google is increasingly judging websites about the amount of content they have above the ‘fold’: the fold defined as what you can see on a webpage before you need to scroll. (Think the ‘head’ of a website.)

By now, we should all know that key content should be above the fold so that it is immediately viewable by users. Right?

If a user can see your offer (“Save 50% all this month”) as well as the call to action (“Get Started Now”), chances are they’re much more likely to take part in your offer than if the offer is several feet down the page.

Some people get hysteric about the importance of the ‘fold’ though getting key offers and content above the fold is generally an important consideration in web design. Hysteria or not, I agree with that in general.

But is this always the case? Does this mean the footer is less important or not important at all?

At this point, this blog is going to fork into three observations I have including one not exactly about either the head or the foot of a web page, though which falls into the overall discussion and should be part of the mix:

  • The homepage is not as important as you might think it is and in any event, should be the last page designed in a project.
  • Your website headers should be as minimal for two distinct reasons, though not necessary to entirely counter my later argument that the fold is not always important to website design, or important at all.
  • Your footer should get much more focus than it currently does. Depending on your website, it is more important and more powerful than your header.


Designing your homepage

Classic web design trains us all about the homepage.

It is the first thing we design. We spend hours on it, crafting and overanalysing it.

And yet over time, the importance of the homepage has dwindled and dwindled. 

Whilst it is true that the homepage is sometimes the page with the most traffic, this is increasingly less so.

A few years back, the homepage could command as much traffic as all of the other pages on your website. Today, it is nowhere near that. 

In fact, when I checked a few client websites a while ago as part of this blog, none of them had the homepage as the top page. Number 2 or 3 was generally the rank for the homepage. 

Search (i.e Google) has played a big role in that.

So too however, has the very web itself, as we increasingly deep-dive into product pages and content deep inside a website, via a link on Pinterest or Facebook.

I mean, who links to a website’s homepage?  We link to a product or detail page, not the stupid homepage.

Moreover, where classic web design taught us that the homepage was where users would engage and interact, we know by now that unless a homepage is specifically designed to ‘interrupt’ the user, the homepage is a fairly useless part of a website. 

As best and it most circumstances, the homepage should contain only recent or high-level content, links and navigation. The homepage’s role really should only be to ‘register’ or ‘learn more’ and except for special circumstances, nothing more.

Even search specialists will tell you to drop focus on the homepage. 

We scan homepages to find the quickest path off of them. We don’t go to homepages to stay on them.

Well, very rarely.

If you’re going to spend time designing your homepage, design the navigation, links and search so they are clear and prominent: help the user make the right decision to get help them get off your homepage.

Otherwise, don’t waste your time designing much more. 

On that note, design your homepage as the last page designed on your website. I’ve written a blog about it and my thinking remains the same: work out the content and functionality of your website and let that drive the design of the homepage.

Not the other way around.

Trust me, it is a lot easier to design a homepage once you know everything it is promoting and linking to.


Make the header minimal

As with homepages, people can get quite carried away with the design of their website’s header.

Sure, the header of your website should look handsome and trustworthy, though it should take up as little space as reasonable possible.

Two reasons for this:

  • People do not spend any time in the header. In fact, we’ve been specifically trained to get out of the header. To this extent, consider experimenting with pulling certain things out of your header such as your search, registration link and any ads. They’re more likely to perform better outside of your header than in… as long as they can be found.
  • The smaller the header, the more content you can fit above the fold. 

Having said this, I do like big logos. They confer trust and in an online world with few ‘brands’, help reaffirm you as real. However big your logo, give it some space and let it breathe. 

Whilst the header should be minimal, not at the sake of crunching your brand and logo and you can design the two in tandem.


I'm a foot guy

So here is the paradox I have with getting everything above the fold.

If I observe my wife on her iPad (and web design is quickly becoming all about the tablet, making links clickable by thumb and so forth), she doesn’t spend much time at the top of websites.

Given how small the resolution on her iPad is anyway, she’s almost immediately scrolling down the page; she is very, very quickly below the fold, not above it.

Perhaps claiming that I have a paradox with being above the fold is too harsh.

It is more that I think the ‘everything has to be above the fold’ concept works only in certain circumstances. Well, plenty of circumstances, though not all of them.

Because the tablet is changing how we interact with websites, especially in eCommerce where finding the right frock for Saturday night is much more of a passive, explorative process.

My wife spends time simply swiping and swiping through pages of shoes and dresses.

Which brings me to the footer and its new importance.

When I take time out to read and explore on my iPad, I get this growing nervousness as I know I am reaching the end of the article and the bottom of the page.

The nervousness is that I will need to a shortly make a decision about where to click and what to read next. And like all web users, I hate making decisions.

Moreover, as I get closer and closer to the bottom of the page, not only am I increasingly nervous, I have this growing trepidation that the footer isn’t going to help me make a decision… in which case, I’ll have to swipe all the way back to find my next link.

Good blogs and fashion websites increasingly deal with this by linking off to other stories and content. 

And this is why I’m a foot man.

Whereas the header and top of the website didn’t compel me to, or help me make any decisions, the footer can.

I’m all the way down there. You know I want more.

Let the footer serve it up. Let the footer keep the user on your website.

Let the website wipe their anxiety, nerves and trepidation away.

The NY Times does a great job and it doesn’t even have a big footer.

As you near the bottom of the page and the end of an article, it visually loads an element inviting you to the next story.

You can’t miss it as it flashes up on the RHS of the screen.

Running content and offering prominent links along-side your content should also be considered so that if the user only makes it halfway down the page and becomes bored, at least you have something for them.

Don’t distract them or move them away from the product they might have otherwise purchased, though help them escape if they want to.

I know I might seem contrary, though there is a balance.


In conclusion

Clicktale has a great tool that lets you see how deep into your web pages users are making it.

The bluer it is, the colder that part of the web page is.

Interestingly, this tool can also tell you which FAQs your users are reading, though that’s a by-product.

Use a tool like Clicktale to observe how users are interacting with your website and content.

Think about how you would use your website, especially on a tablet. Think pragmatically.

Challenge the old notions of web design and how websites and users engage. 

Tablets are smashing the concept of websites with lots of little links.

The tendency to scroll and swipe has changed the importance of the header and in growing circumstances, the fold.

And search killed the homepage ages ago. We just now need to kill the fascination so many web designers still have with it. And Google’s prejudice of the header as exclusively most important part of a web page.

Here’s to the footer.