Just how effective is your website homepage?
Just as kids of the ’80s mourn the golden age of Happy Meal toys, and ’90s kids still have their Beanie Baby collection stashed at their parents’ houses, some website designers are saying goodbye to the homepage. But is it too soon to ditch the online landing pad entirely, focusing on content-rich pages only?
A change in the way we think about homepages came on strong about two years ago. Both Quartz and The Atlantic declared that the homepage had been made all but obsolete; the catalyst for their bold declaration was the New York Times‘ homepage which experienced a 50% decrease in site traffic – that’s 80 million fewer site visitors – over the course of two years. Yet overall site visits to the Times remained generally the same. What gives?
Here’s where the new player on the scene rears its new – and big – head: referrals to websites from Facebook almost quadrupled from March 2013 – March 2014, and referrals from “dark social” – the name given to links in email and chat rooms that are difficult for publishers to trace – nearly tripled during the same period. These findings were linked as the inextricable explanation for the demise of the homepage: users were using social media to circumvent the traditional homepage and head right to the meaty content they were after.
So if the Times was still maintaining its overall site traffic, who cares? Let’s point our magnifying glass back on that data. According to Pew, site visitors who skipped the homepage were shown to spend less time on the site overall than users who started off with the homepage. That meant that the time spent on the site was down, which is a key indicator of site traffic success.
Sachin Kamdar uses his own magnifying glass on behalf of Forbes to look at how news media is tackling this problem. Kamdar noticed that large news sites were changing their homepage design, and he put the trends he saw into three main categories: Infinite Scroll, Constant Updates, and Curated Content. Those homepages that adopt the Infinite Scroll take a page out of Facebook’s – err, book? – and produce content that constantly refreshes as the user scrolls down, hoping to entice readers with a nonstop waterfall of engaging media. Kamdar’s Constant Updates category gives a homepage a makeover many times throughout the day, hoping to bait the reader with new content that updates periodically, spurring on a regular pattern of daily revisits. Finally, Kamdar’s Curated Content points at a method used by Forbes itself, where a selection of news articles and other media thought to be relevant to the ideal reader are chosen to sit on the homepage throne due.
When stringing all these threads of new information into a net ideally poised to capture site visitors, it is evident that an updated approach to the homepage needs to be taken… but the revamp mustn’t end there. If site visitors are seeing more of your site than just your homepage, you must spend time considering how to use that spread-out site traffic to your advantage.
Advertising opportunities abound: establish an updated scheme for advertising partners where their ads are repositioned across individual pages as those pages become more popular – as a page gets more unique visitors, the higher-paying advertisers are moved to that spot and the low-ballers are moved down to the less popular pages. That way, important advertising clients are no longer relegated to sit idly on the homepage while site visitors zoom past their content and straight to other pages.
Thinking beyond advertising, reroute your team of website designers to create templates that put all web pages under a wide rainbow of beautiful design, where each page sees the same swipe of lipstick and tickle of blush to makes it just as beautiful as the landing page. Nobody puts Baby in the corner!
Websites are a constantly evolving organism, changing just as quickly as we can notice any trend. Though written in a time when the internet was naught but a gleam in the world’s eye, Bob Dylan’s lyrics ring true when thought of in terms of the homepage: “If your time to you is worth savin’ then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.”
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