https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2012/01/27/what-does-google-is-the-homepage-mean-irl/

What does “Google is the homepage” mean in real life?

Back in April last year the Alpha.gov.uk team talked about Google being the homepage*:

“Since for the vast majority of people their web journeys (finding out the date of the next bank-holiday, or reporting a lost passport) start with a search engine rather than a direct visit we should think of Google as the homepage and we should also feed Google, Bing and other search engines nice friendly urls.”

So what does that mean in real life?

In the summer GDS launched e-petitions, “an easy way for you to influence government policy in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons.”

A few weeks ago a Barbara Hepworth sculpture was stolen from Dulwich Park, and the Friends of Dulwich Park have started an e-petition calling for a ‘Cashless Scrap Metal Trade’.

What’s particularly interesting for us at GDS is how they are encouraging sign up in the park. I was there at the weekend and noticed this sign in the window of the park cafe.

Google "epetition 406"

No url, no short url, no QR code, no clunky explanation. Just google “e-petition 406″.

Easy to say, easy to remember and crucially easy to google.

I went home googled it and sure enough it’s the top result. Clicking on the link takes you straight to the petition. Success.

* Other search engines are available, but given Google has well over 90% market share in the UK

11 comments

  1. Paul Downey

    There’s great pragmatism behind this approach, but I feel it’s a shame URLs aren’t more widely understood, or published along with the keywords in print given search results are ephemeral and are becoming increasingly personalised; my results aren’t the same as your results.

    In other words I trust the GDS are publishing nice, understandable and stable URLs as well as being optimised for search engines.

    Reply
    • Tom Loosemore

      Fear not Paul, the beta of GOV.UK will have nice, stable and human-readable urls.

      Reply
  2. David Pomphret

    Agreed, for most people if they don’t know the address, then human-nature kicks in and they use what comes to hand first or whatever is the ubiquitous choice, generally: “Google is your friend!”. Though, for balance, Dogpile does search Google and three of the other ‘big’ engines.

    But search engines aren’t all created the same… Horses for Courses; Wolfram, Goshme, Duckduckgo, Quintura, etc etc etc have their niche uses…. But you’ll need a search engine to find them.. ;-)

    Reply
  3. js

    If Google is your homepage (which, as with most content rich websites, it obviously is) why did the http://alpha.gov.uk/ project focus entirly on creating a new home page?

    Put another way, if 90% of your traffic goes directly from Google to your inside pages why spend 100% of your effort on a page that only 10% will ever see?

    Also, for that 10%, would it not be better to create for them a home page that is quite different from Google rather than a virtual replica of it? Afterall, they are probably the few that Google type text search has not worked for

    Reply
    • James Stewart

      It’s not really accurate to say that alpha.gov.uk was focussed entirely on creating a new home page. The proportion of the design and development time spent on the homepage was very small (I don’t have detailed records, but I’d say it was well below 10%).

      That said, google being the homepage doesn’t make sites’ own homepages entirely obsolete, it just shifts the emphasis. In the case of a site like alpha.gov.uk the homepage was important because the site needed clear entry points for visitors well before it had time to establish itself in search engine indexes. Obviously that homepage was a distraction for some visitors, but it was necessary.

      Similarly, internal search and linking remain important because there’s still a chance search engines will drop visitors in at the wrong place. Careful analysis of traffic and regular review of users’ experiences of a site will let you improve that over time, but search is never going to bring visitors to the right place every single time.

      Reply
    • Tom Loosemore

      Approx 2% of total project time was spent on homepage for alpha.gov.uk, in the last couple of days. The vast majority of effort was on ensuring landing pages were appropriate, so traffic from search engines would end up in the places which were most likely to meet their needs.

      Reply
  4. Luke

    Fastest route to a web page using a modern browser, when I don’t already know the URL:

    1. Open browser
    2. Type search query in the address bar, e.g. “epetition 406″
    3. Click preferred result on the search engine results page
    4. Arrive at web page I want, in this case: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/406.

    If I can avoid typing into a browser the domain name of a website (assuming I know which website I need to be on), familiarising myself with the navigation that may not be designed around my specific task, wasting time reading/being distracted by other content, all before I get to the information I want I’ll take the above approach every time.

    Throw in some helpful autosuggestion along the way I’m going to be a very happy person.

    Reply
  5. Analysis of Incoming Links to Russell Group University Home Pages « UK Web Focus

    [...] of Google being the homepage. This was followed up last week with a post which asked “What does “Google is the homepage” mean IRL?“. The background to this discussion was a realisation [...]

    Reply
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