Your Homepage is Not Obsolete Yet

12/07/2016 05:18 pm ET

The migration of content to offsite platforms has prompted the question of whether or not news sites should publish original content primarily on their homepages or where that content can be consumed most quickly and organically (off site, on a social media or external publishing platform).

But while publishing content where your readers “hang out” on a regular basis is a smart move in terms of what’s going to garner the most engagement, focusing solely on publishing content via off-site platforms may depreciate a highly valuable asset: the homepage.

Social Media Darling, BuzzFeed, Finds an Unlikely Ally in the Homepage

BuzzFeed’s content strategy has shown us that publishing original video content on Facebook can result in tremendous engagement, so much so that 75 percent of its site content views are driven by off-site channels. At the same time, BuzzFeed acknowledged that while part of its strategy revolves around not trying to lure its audience away from social media to its homepage, some of its most engaged readers visit BuzzFeed.com frequently to see what’s new.

This prompted a redesign of BuzzFeed.com. In an interview with Poynter, BuzzFeed Vice President of Product Chris Johanesen notes that the homepage is still important because it’s a jumping off point for content that could go viral. It’s the homebase.

How to Boost Homepage Traffic

According to data from Parse.ly’s network of digital publishers, the top online news sites receive around 2,000 views per minute on their homepages during peak times; that’s around 10 to 20 percent of total traffic. But the sites with particularly loyal audiences see as high as 50 percent of traffic coming straight to their homepage.

A few other interesting insights about news site homepage traffic:

  • Leader posts, which include lists of popular content, are critical. They receive more than 80 percent of homepage clicks.
  • Infinite scroll has been shown to increase page views per visitor. Slate increased its page views per visitor (on desktop) from 2.96 to 3.36 after implementing the technology.
  • And around 80 percent of homepage visitors are typically returning visitors.

Despite predictions from a few years ago, the homepage is not dead -- and digital publishers are best suited to optimize the homepage for user-friendliness. After all, your homepage is the hub that incredibly loyal fans frequent. Here are a few ways to do this.

Use analytics to cycle out poorly-performing content. It may seem like a smart move to keep your most popular posts positioned on your homepage, but publishers should take into account that these posts may be doing well because of how long they’ve been featured. Your loyal audience of readers may have already seen them, so switch out content on a cadence determined by your own data. How long does it typically take for an article to go stale?

Treat your homepage as an acute representation of your brand. Giving timely stories leader positions even when the topics aren’t ideally aligned with a publication’s brand can chip away at all the effort put into brand positioning and capturing a niche market. Don’t forgo leader positions just to ride the what’s-trending wave.

A simple homepage is a user-friendly homepage. Just like with web design, simpler homepages typically work better. You only have a few seconds to convince visitors to spend time on your site once they’ve hit your homepage. Give them a carefully curated set of choices so they’re not overloaded with links or distracting images.

When it comes down to it, your homepage audience is your most loyal audience, so give them reasons to visit your site frequently and stay for a while; keep content fresh, intelligently curated, and streamlined design-wise. And remember: though they’ve changed, homepages are still (irrefutably) alive.

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