by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
Close your eyes and imagine using a design technique for your Web site that increases page load time, encourages people to leave the site, confuses search engines, and discourages repeat visitors. Did you imagine a splash page? You should have.
Digital Book Covers
A splash page is basically a digital version of a traditional book cover. Its purpose is to set a mood for the rest of the site or reinforce a brand; it usually consists of an eye-catching graphic and little or no actual content. Like a book cover, the splash page is designed to intrigue visitors and entice them to enter the site and learn more.
It doesn't always work that way. Some sites that have tried splash pages found that more than 25% of their visitors left the site immediately. These statistics have lead many organizations to ban them. For instance, the Web site guidelines on the PBS Online page advise the following:
"In most cases, PBS Online discourages the use of splash pages, because our users complain of unnecessary download time. Producers who have created splash pages, often end up taking them down at the request of their audiences."
Visitors Want Information Quickly
Audience preference is important: visitors to your Web site want information to be served up quickly and in an understandable format. First-time visitors have to wait for the splash page to load, click to enter the actual site, and then wait again to view the home page - that's quite a time commitment since they can't tell if your content is valuable to them until the second page loads.
Repeat visitors get even more frustrated. That dazzling graphic on the splash page may have been entertaining at first, but its appeal drops sharply on subsequent visits. Web-savvy visitors may bookmark your internal pages to avoid the splash page, but why take the chance?
Slam The Door On Search Engines
You may also have problems achieving a high search engine rank. Most search engine algorithms rank pages based on a combination of HTML code elements, page content, and link popularity. Splash pages - deficient in all three areas - often turn away spiders as efficiently as they turn away visitors. META tags with keywords and descriptions help spiders index splash pages, but the absence of links and content hurts the page's overall search engine ranking.
Furthermore, a splash page adds another level to your site. Many search engine spiders only crawl through the first three levels of a site when they index and rank pages. A splash page hides some of your content from search engines by adding another level without adding much value to the site.
When To Use A Splash Page
Some Web sites do get value from splash pages - in specific circumstances.
Intentionally Turn Away Visitors: Yes, some sites actually want to make it harder to view their content. The most common examples are adult-oriented sites that post warnings to turn away minors and anyone who visits by mistake. Other sites that operate on a subscription-only basis or contain private information may also use a splash page and require a password before visitors go deeper into the site.
Redirect Visitors: Sites that use plug-ins (like Flash and Shockwave) sometimes use a splash page that tests for plug-ins on the visitor's browser and routes the visitor accordingly. Other sites offer visitors the option of viewing the site with or without the plug-ins. Consider though, whether you want to spend time designing pages that require special plug-ins if you expect to attract a sizeable audience who may not have them installed.
Sell Creativity: Companies (like Web design firms and advertising agencies) that sell creativity instead of tangible products usually benefit from well-designed splash pages. Here, the pages help set a mood for the entire site by showing off the company's design skills and creativity level. People visit these sites expecting to be dazzled and don't mind waiting for the effects to load.
How To Improve Your Splash Pages
If your site has a legitimate reason to use a splash page (other than "it looks so cool!"), then you can take steps to make the page friendlier to human visitors and search engines.
Redirect Repeat Visitors: Instead of relying on repeat visitors to bookmark your site's internal pages, set a cookie on the user's computer that indicates the user has already seen the splash page. Then, include a script on the splash page; have it check for the cookie and direct the visitor immediately to the home page if a cookie is present.
"Click To Enter" link: Always use a "Click To Enter" link on the page. Visitors new to the Internet may not understand that they're supposed to click on the graphic to enter the site; a text link removes any question. It also gives visitors the opportunity to click past the splash page instead of waiting for the image to load completely.
Use A One-page Frameset: This is one of the few cases where a frame will help you with search engines! Place your splash page in a frame page that utilizes only one frame. Use the NOFRAMES tag to include keyword-rich content that describes your site and links that the spider can follow to the rest of your site. Your visitors will see the splash page and search engine spiders will use the information in the NOFRAMES tag to index and rank your pages.
Optimize Graphics: While your visitors may expect a splash page to load relatively slowly, do everything you can to decrease their wait. Optimize your graphics for load time by using NetMechanic's GIFBot, our free tool that reduces image file size by up to 90%.
Anything that makes it harder for visitors to get into your site is generally a bad idea. Carefully consider the purpose of your site, your target audience, and the possible impact on site traffic before using a splash page.