In the opening scene of the 1998 car-chase movie “Ronin“, Robert De Niro is in Paris. He cases a small cafe. First he hides a gun behind some crates in the back of the cafe, noting the exit, then he returns to the front of the cafe and enters. There is high drama as the audience wonders whether there will be a shoot out. In the end, the cafe was the meeting point for a group of rogue, mercenary-like operatives (an allusion to “ronin”, the Japanese samurai who had no master). They meet and discuss their operation then leave. Before leaving, De Niro heads around back to re-collect his weapon. Upon seeing this, the leader of the group, an Irish woman with a brooding brow, asks him:
“What exactly were you doin’ back here?”
De Niro, never one to disappoint with film wisdom and taglines (especially those written by David Mamet) says:
“Lady, I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of….”
Websites, especially those dealing with e-commerce, should always have an entrance and an exit. The entrance seems to be of the utmost importance to most companies. There are enormous marketing and sales teams along with SEO, SEM, and advertising executives that work night and day to draw traffic to their website. Bringing in traffic is the cause of enormous concern in the world of web design. It’s nearly impossible to talk about text without talking about SEO, and just as difficult to talk about products without talking about advertising. Website entrances are of such critical importance to so many aspects of web design, that website exits have been tossed aside.
Why would we want someone to leave our website? That’s the general question involved here. The idea is to draw them in…but you can’t keep them forever. So then the narrative is focused on getting people to come back. Returning visitors are just another example of how focused the web design industry is on drawing traffic. This time the visitor has already been to the site, so there must be a reason for return.
What about leaving? Shouldn’t there be an appropriate exit to a website?
The two most popular exits are purchasing something at e-commerce sites and leaving details at lead generation sites. Both of these are appropriate exits. Once you buy something at a store, you leave the store. If you leave your dry cleaning with the store, they take your number and you go home. The idea that you will or should be cycled back through the store after purchase online seems a bit odd to me. Alas, this is the case. After purchase at Amazon, you’re funneled back into the Amazon store, after leaving your details at at lead generation site, you’re brought back to the homepage (in most cases) along with a thank you message.
So, you’re probably thinking, what are they supposed to do? Why would they want to send you somewhere else?
Let me answer that this way– Why not send you to a partner site or give you an option to go somewhere else? How would this hurt your business relations? Amazon, for example, owns several other websites. The same is true for eBay. So why not give Amazon users a choice: “Return to Main Page” or “Check out Amazing Audiobooks at Audiobooks.com!” Amazon operates IMDB.com as well, so even funneling users from Amazon to IMDB makes sense. You keep the user on your pages without redirecting them to the homepage where they will ultimately leave since they’re done using the site. This is equivalent to the various Subway locations found inside Wal-Mart. Don’t leave the store, just stay and have lunch. This makes business sense as well as *common* sense.
If a website is built on lead generation, and the user has already given their details, why not steer them to a links page? Keeping the user interested will only result in further interest in the future, and help them to avoid using competitors. Rather than cycling from “Give your details” to “Homepage” which makes absolutely no sense, why not steer the user toward other sites?
Additionally, it is far too common to fill page after page with information and hope that the user clicks on a contact page. An improvement here is when a header or footer contains contact information for lead generation, but this should be standard and normal not hit-or-miss. If you’re trying to generate leads, don’t overwhelm, but be sure that access to the lead generation tool is accessible immediately regardless of where I am in the process of navigation.
Exits can be used more efficiently.
After De Niro says he doesn’t walk in to a place he can’t walk out of, the leader of the operation asks him: “Then why are you gettin’ into that van?”
De Niro, knowing he has no choice but to get into the van, just as users have no choice but to be funneled back to a homepage after purchse, responds, “You know the reason.”