If your job involves convincing clients why they need to redesign their sites with SEO in mind, sooner or later youâ€™ll run into the splash screen conundrum. Splash screens are terrible from an SEO perspective, but some clients love them more than their own children. They think about their website the same way they see the receptionist at their office in the real worldâ€¦ when you enter the front door, they want the first thing you see to be a pretty face.
Creative companies are the worst offenders when it comes to demanding splash screens. If youâ€™re doing SEO consulting for a site related to the entertainment industry, for example, youâ€™re probably dealing with someone who places a lot of value on the â€œWow!â€ factor. They think that just because youâ€™re a fan of Adam Lambert, youâ€™ll be more than happy to sit around for 30 seconds watching celestial bodies swooshing through the universe as the artistâ€™s name is slowly revealed. They couldnâ€™t be more wrong.
The main effect of a splash screen is to cause valuable visitors to leave your site. A bounce rate of 20% or more on splash screen pages is typical, which may cause you to say, â€œWell, heck, thatâ€™s a lot better than the 50% bounce rate on the home page!â€ But if your splash page is the default entrance to your site, itâ€™s probably getting 3x to 5x more traffic than your home page. So maybe 100,000 people enter your site every month through the splash screen, while only 30,000 enter directly through the home page. If youâ€™ve got a 20% bounce rate on your splash screen, that means youâ€™re losing 20,000 visitors every month before they even see your home page! Wouldnâ€™t you rather drive that traffic to the home page instead of losing it while your users stare at some stupid Flash animation?
You want users to get â€œinsideâ€ your site ASAP. Donâ€™t leave them waiting for someone to â€œopen the doorâ€!
Here are some of the main reasons why you donâ€™t want your user experience to start with a splash:
Hurts Search Rankings
Having a splash screen usually complicates your websiteâ€™s structure. Search engines rank top-level URLs first, so having your home page under /us/wpcontent/home/ (or any other nested directory structure) can really hurt your rankings. Why waste your top-level URL on unimportant splash content?
Splash pages are not optimized for search engine indexing. The content of a splash screen is typically Flash or graphics heavy. This lack of text makes the page nearly invisible to text-based web crawlersâ€¦ that is, all search engines.
No Keywords, No Links
Online search results are based on keywords. Splash pages typically contain no text except for the â€œskip introâ€ or â€œenter siteâ€ link. These keywords are obviously useless in terms of SEO.
Online search results are based on links. But the only link on your splash page goes to your home page. And what are the chances that anyone else will ever link back to your splash page? Iâ€™d say slim to none.
In terms of SEO, splash pages are a complete waste of your best online real estate.
Base-level URL Redirection is Bad
Splash pages often redirect to the home page. Search engines like Google and Yahoo! want to deliver people directly to the information they are seeking. When they see that your base-level URL is redirecting to another page (after the splash â€œperformanceâ€ is done), your siteâ€™s ranking will be affected negatively.
You almost HAVE to redirect from a splash screen. Thereâ€™s no good reason to redirect from your base-level URL (e.g. www.site.com/), but having a splash screen sit there pretty much forces your hand. Either you redirect the user to make sure he actually makes it to your content, or you risk losing him to splash frustration.
Even user-friendly splash pages include a â€œskip introâ€ link. This tells the user this page is less important than your other content, i.e. not worth viewing.
Most splash pages waste time. Youâ€™re asking the user to wait for content to download. Then they have to sit through an unwanted presentation. And you wonder why theyâ€™re leaving? Many sites even force users to see the splash page each time the site is loaded.
Your home page is the most important page on your site. Splash pages are a wasted opportunity to make a good first impression.
No matter how someone reaches your site, eventually they will visit the home page. Users want quick access to information. Splash pages are a speed bump, hindering access to your siteâ€™s content.
Poor Site Performance
Splash screens are graphically intensive and slow to download. Users with slower connections (mobile, dial-up, foreign countries, etc.) will get stuck with a â€œloadingâ€ message, and may never even make it to the home page. If your site is getting heavy traffic, the bandwidth used by the splash page will reduce your entire siteâ€™s performance.
Page load time is a now a major factor in search rankings. If your site loads slowly, your search ranking will suffer. Get your users to the home page as quickly as possible!
Thereâ€™s a good quote floating around from Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering on how to convince your clients that splash pages are bad:
“When we have clients who are thinking about Flash splash pages, we tell them to go to their local supermarket and bring a mime with them. Have the mime stand in front of the supermarket, and, as each customer tries to enter, do a little show that lasts two minutesâ€¦.
“Then stand back and count how many people watch the mime, how many people get past the mime as quickly as possible, and how many people punch the mime out.
“That should give them a good idea as to how well their splash page will be received. That’s the crux of it.”
Lightboxes: A Better Splash Option?
If youâ€™ve explained everything above but your client still insists on having something â€œsplashyâ€ upfront, you may consider recommending a lightbox. At the very least, lightboxes have a better reputation among users than splash screens. And when your users click on the â€œCLOSEâ€ or â€œXâ€ button, you wonâ€™t be losing them into the etherâ€¦ in fact, theyâ€™ll be looking right at the content you want them to see.
Lightboxes may not be as Flash-y (pun intended) as a splash page, but they give your site a chance to project some sort of welcoming message or offer without such a high risk of losing visitors.
Theyâ€™re also much more friendly for SEO purposes. Lightboxes donâ€™t dilute the strength of your site because your home page sits at the base-level URL, and the content inside a lightbox â€“ images and/or text, rather than Flash â€“ is typically more friendly to indexing by search engines.
Anybody out there have a positive or negative experience of using a lightbox as a splash screen to share? How about any other ideas on replacing splash screens when the client absolutely insists?