I remember when splash pages first appeared. It was in the first half of the nineties soon after Flash just entered into our virtual lives. SEO web design was rudimentary at those times. I was an old school webmaster and, probably, the only SEO expert in a branch of a gigantic transnational corporation. Splash screen loading when somebody typed URL of my company, was the favorite page of the executives. And this was the design for which they truly paid a hefty price in dollars and cents. There had been no sign “Skip Intro” or music loop yet, but these elements soon would follow. My constant SEO advice to remove the splash screen usually passed unnoticed: after all, this is how big shots wanted to see their web pages. They wished all of them would be filled with splash screens. All my arguments and even detailed web usability analysis and presentations were in vain.
For those SEO professionals, who don’t know what splash page is (although, I doubt that such people exist), I will gladly explain. It is a graphically rich page designed with the sole intention to impress website visitors and sometimes to direct them to alternative views of content. This web page is, basically, useless and unimportant for the content of the website, which is reminded to a visitor with the “Skip Intro” link. Programmers and web designers tried to modify splash screen dropping cookies into clients browsers, so this page would appear only during the first visit only. But this did not make splash screen page more vital to the structure of the website.
So, even only from the web usability point, creation of the splash screen was always a bad idea. Dumb slider “Loaded” and searches for a “Skip Intro” on a wide monitor screen were simply not helpful. Website visitors who paid return visits were extremely annoyed – even if splash screen looked like fun the first time, on the tenth visit it was very aggravating. All these factors will definitely have negative impact on site’s search engine ranking.
That is why I was astonished to see that on certain websites there is a comeback of splash screens. The practice considered harmful in the Stone Age of the World Wide Web did not die, even as we are approaching the end of the first decade of XXI century. The problem is not related to web usability error anymore, it is also a big obstacle for search engine optimization.
Here is what happens. Splash screens reside at the top of a website hierarchy. And it turns out that website owner prevents visitors to get directly to the home page which is the most important page of the site. If a spash page is higher on the root level than a home page, then the latter will get less inbound links and less traffic as it is lower in the website structure. Home page should always be the default index page, but the splash page takes away this. Crawlers also will get confused and assign to the home page less important which, for example, may end with lower PageRank.
And the last but not the least problem occurs when you start some kind of viral marketing campaign and direct your visitors to your site. Reports in my web analytics company show that getting to splash page instead of a home page, where visitors get needed information, can be a major turn-off. With current marketing trends, one can easily lose the majority of customers after spending a lot of time and money advertising the website in question.