Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building Loyalty: The Death of the Homepage Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building Loyalty: The Death of the Homepage Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For a second there, many of the smartest individuals in the news business seemed to buy into the great "Death of the Homepage" scare of 2014.

Mostly attributed to the revelation of plummeting homepage traffic numbers at the New York Times in the newspaper's now famous Innovation report, experts like Quartz's Zach Seward quickly proclaimed "the social web has won" and that the future was an endless stream of "side door" traffic coming in from websites like Facebook and Twitter.

Luckily for all of us, editors and product managers came to their senses before every major metropolitan newspaper in the country turned their homepage into the equivalent of an RSS feed.

The homepage of 2016 isn't the homepage of 2006, the heady days before social media companies would disrupt how journalists view their relationship with readers. These days, an increasing percentage of traffic comes from outside sources such as Google and Facebook, while on average just 15 percent of referrals come directly from the homepage.

Then why is your homepage strategy more important than ever?

For starters, Mark Zuckerberg isn't plucking stories from your website and sharing them on Facebook. Every publication has a group of devoted users that are committed to your homepage, and find stories there to share with other readers. Those readers in turn share it with other readers, and before you know it a story becomes a social media hit without any analytics to show how important a role the homepage played in driving traffic.

In fact, the amount of homepage play a story receives plays a large role in its potential to go viral. According to a new report by Parse.ly, a popular analytics firm that tracks data for a number of high-profile media websites, there is a clear relationship between the number of homepage referrals an article receives and how well it performs across social media.

"Homepage traffic is often required for stories to go viral in the hours after publication," a spokesperson said, noting that the homepage is among the most effective and reliable "seed" sources for social media users.

In that way, a strong homepage strategy also helps protect an organization from the constantly-changing priorities of sites like Facebook. Yes, social media is vital to a website's success, but it's important not to put all your traffic (and the future of your organization) in the hands of these sites.

All this points to the idea that the homepage for a news organization plays a much different role than the front page of a newspaper, where story placement is determined by the news judgement and values of editors. Think of it more as the cover of a magazine, offering the overall vibe of the editorial product and a glimpse at some stories without pointing to them all directly.

"The front page is our branding opportunity. It's a rebranding opportunity, too, a way to demonstrate intelligence, taste and--yes, snicker away!--even beauty," said Gawker CEO Nick Denton, who is constantly tinkering with the look and feel of his popular websites.

In a way, the diversification of traffic sources to media websites should make it easier for news organizations to experiment with their home pages and make bold statements about what their newsroom is all about, and stake out their place in the town, state, region or the world.

Maybe that's why over the past year several high-profile news organizations rolled out new homepages, not surprising given the hyper-competitive market online news gathers find themselves in. …

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