Michael Manning

Splash Pages: Bad for Usability, Bad for SEO

Splash Pages are bad If your job involves convincing clients why they need to redesign their sites with SEO in mind, sooner or later you’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 world… 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 you’re doing SEO consulting for a site related to the entertainment industry, for example, you’re probably dealing with someone who places a lot of value on the “Wow!” factor. They think that just because you’re a fan of Adam Lambert, you’ll be more than happy to sit around for 30 seconds watching celestial bodies swooshing through the universe as the artist’s name is slowly revealed. They couldn’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, “Well, heck, that’s a lot better than the 50% bounce rate on the home page!” But if your splash page is the default entrance to your site, it’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 you’ve got a 20% bounce rate on your splash screen, that means you’re losing 20,000 visitors every month before they even see your home page! Wouldn’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 “inside” your site ASAP. Don’t leave them waiting for someone to “open the door”!

Here are some of the main reasons why you don’t want your user experience to start with a splash:

Hurts Search Rankings
Having a splash screen usually complicates your website’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 crawlers… 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 “skip intro” or “enter site” 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? I’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 “performance” is done), your site’s ranking will be affected negatively.

You almost HAVE to redirect from a splash screen. There’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.

User Frustration
Even user-friendly splash pages include a “skip intro” link. This tells the user this page is less important than your other content, i.e. not worth viewing.

Most splash pages waste time. You’re asking the user to wait for content to download. Then they have to sit through an unwanted presentation. And you wonder why they’re leaving? Many sites even force users to see the splash page each time the site is loaded.

Reduced Credibilty
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 site’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 “loading” 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 site’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!

There’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 minutes….

“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 you’ve explained everything above but your client still insists on having something “splashy” 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 “CLOSE” or “X” button, you won’t be losing them into the ether… in fact, they’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.

They’re also much more friendly for SEO purposes. Lightboxes don’t dilute the strength of your site because your home page sits at the base-level URL, and the content inside a lightbox – images and/or text, rather than Flash – 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?

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Comments

  1. Great post Michael! You explained the splash screen problem very well.

  2. This is great – you’ve just laid out my biggest pet peeve. Great logic and reasoning why splash leave me all wet )pun intended!)

  3. Great article! Been preaching the same sermon for years. Wish I could get a couple of my customers to read it. My sales rep forwarded it to me though so, at last, there is hope!

  4. G Powers says:

    Definetly agree. Not the way you want to go. Great article. Just putting it out there, if you ever need to ship a car anywhere, and I mean anywhere, look up Auto Shipping Network. They worked wonders for me!

  5. Thanks for the article. I agree with you 100%. I just started a project for an automotive group and am dealing with Flash and a splash page. The site has been around for at least five years with the same URL but the SEO is terrible. The site does have a link to press at the bottom of the page that extends the page to a text filled area that they use for SEO but it is not doing a good job. I am trying to find a work around. Any suggestons? Thanks again.

  6. Great Article, you can explain things very well… Keep it up!

  7. Good points, but this assumes it’s a generic “enter / skip intro” splash screen and not something more intuitive

  8. … in my opinion, sometimes it also becomes harsh on browser, if you have not an upgraded version. Second thing that in modern age, people don’t have much time to wait for opening your website.

  9. Excellent. And you are spot on about “creative companies.” They think the web is TV — and it’s not. I’m actually thrilled with the direction that good design and UIs have gone in the past several years. People no longer surf the web for fun, they search it for info — and they want pages to be clear, concise and simple to navigate. Period. To them, a splash page of any sort smacks of annoying video pre-rolls…and nobody likes them!

    Ron

  10. I agree it can be bad in some cases, However I use a splash page on my social sharing site that points to my off site SEO service, this brings in about 500 hits per day and increases the rank of my SEO site.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] They also foster a app over a mobile site by promulgation a trailblazer to a dash page first, which isn’t good for users or hunt engines. [...]

  2. [...] They also promote the app over the mobile site by sending the searcher to a splash page first, which isn’t good for users or search engines. [...]

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