Your home page is dead. Just ask AOL.

Here’s a screen shot of from way back in 1998. Dig it. AOL was trying, like everyone else in the universe, to create the “sticky” portal that consumers would start the day with, sort of like the front page of The New York Times. Look! Sports! Travel! Lifestyles!

Home pages don’t exist anymore. Most web users start with a Google search, and Google in turn throws the consumer deep into the bowels of your web site — in front of the content they want to see, not the nice path you set up from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Time Warner spent $10 billion in total this year to acquire online ad networks that cast a wide net over the hundreds of thousands of web sites consumers may frequent. AOL’s current chief admitted it.

“We’re not interested in building yesterday’s portal,” said Ron Grant, AOL’s president and chief operating officer. “Consumers are finding what they are looking for is coming from more and more fragmented places. We need a way for advertisers to take advantage of that fragmentation.”

There are two messages here. For advertisers, you need online BREADTH tied into smart ad networks. Your online communications need to bob and weave across the entire net playing field, using tactics such as behavioral targeting (to reach key demos), retargeting (to reach unsold site visitors), or social network ad tests (young viewers spend more time on Facebook than on traditional web sites).

For marketers, the message is to think beyond your product-based HOME page. Your next web redesign should make every page deep in your site relevant, with clear links to other content, because chances are users will land there first. Your home page doesn’t really matter anymore. No one will see your Flash animation. No one is coming to the party through your front door.

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