This was originally written for The Interconnected, and previously published there on October 13, 2016.
I have to put a welcome letter on a website. I have to do this because the welcome letter is in the printed program, and if it’s in the printed program, it also has to be on the website. There, it either takes up valuable space for useful content, or it appears as a PDF that no one wants to download, especially to read a welcome letter.
A welcome letter is a terrible thing for a website. There is no audience that wishes to read a welcome letter. They are fiction. They do not exist. People are on your website because they want information, not to read the welcoming platitudes delivered from a CEO, or president, or artist. This kind of content gets in the way of the useful content.
People might read your welcome letter in print. Oh yes, at least a few of them will. But make no mistake, they’re not reading it because they want to read it. They will because they’re currently sitting in your welcome lecture and they’re bored. They will because it’s socially acceptable to read the provided program while tuning out the welcome speaker. They will because it’s not acceptable to read anything on your phone while listening to the speaker. Even if they’re reading the welcome letter you put on the website—which of course they’re not, because the internet is full of much more useful things to read.
I put the welcome letter on the website because I had to, but I put it where nobody is likely to read it, because nobody will read it, no matter where I put it. I’m not just being smug. I know this because of the regular user testing my team has done. In these sessions, we watch real people skip vast swaths of content, many times scrolling straight down to the bottom with wild disregard for The Fold.
It was a political move, I admit, burying the link. It can be hard to convince people who write welcome letters that nobody wants to read them, in part because the writers put time into them and do provide them with the best intentions. Sometimes it’s best to pick your battles when you’re working with a client. Sometimes there’s not enough time or energy to spare for a discussion or argument over idealistic details. But sometimes your political concession doesn’t matter. Nobody asked me where the welcome letter was ultimately posted, because even when the clients use the website themselves, they have no interest in its welcome content.