The Homepage Is Dying: What You Need To Know

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When most people launch a new website a key focus of their attention is the homepage. Conventional wisdom says that this is the first thing users will see, therefore it’s where important and new content should be featured; it’s the hub for the rest of the site’s content and its design can make or break whether users bounce off elsewhere or stick around.

But is this really true?

Think of your own internet browsing habits. In any given day how many website homepages do you land on versus internal pages?

If you Google something specific it’s rarely going to point you to a homepage. If you follow a link on social media, it’s likely going to be a blog post, video, or news article – not a homepage.

Even websites that you visit regularly are probably reached through their RSS feeds. You click what’s new from your browser or feed reader and go on through to an internal page.

Though this is not new information, a lot of people stood up and took notice when earlier this year data leaked from the New York Times website revealed that they lost 80 million hits to their homepage between 2011 and 2013. In 2013 they had around half the hits they did in 2011.

There was not a significant drop in overall traffic to the site, rather readers were no longer using the homepage as their starting point. In many ways Twitter and Facebook are the new homepages for the rest of the web.

Of course not every website is the New York Times, but if you check your own analytics you may find that traffic to your homepage is decreasing, and there will likely be a handful of internal pages that get a lot of traffic due to being ranked well in Google, or linked widely across the web.

It’s too early to say the homepage is dead, but it may well be dying and there are some things you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

Every Page Is Your Hub

In the age of content management systems, wordpress and other simple website platforms, it has never been easier to control the content of your site.

If we agree that the homepage is a hub for your site’s content and a place where timeless and newer content should be featured, then in stands to reason that if users are entering the site in other ways, then other pages should act as hubs as well.

Check your internal pages. Do you have a widget linking to the most recent content at the bottom of the page or in the right or left column?

If the user has to click “home” or browse to a category before they can jump to other pages, then there are one too many steps involved. They might just find it too much hassle and click the X instead.

Likewise if you have timeless content that you think people will always find interesting a “popular posts/pages” widget is also a good thing to include on most of your internal pages.

If you really want to get under the hood. Do certain pages of your site pair up, but perhaps aren’t as related to other pages? Could users landing on that page be sold something specific? There’s no reason why you can’t fine tune individual pages specifically for those landing on them. This could be a simple “related posts” widget, though a more hands on approach can be more accurate than displaying links based on keywords/categories being pulled from a database by a plug-in or script.

There’s no set rule on how you should approach the dying homepage problem, but if you analyse your goals it shouldn’t be too difficult to work out what to do (if anything). No matter what type of site you run, there will be certain content that you want eyeballs to see – it then stands to reason that you must display that content to where the most eyeballs are already looking.

It might not always be practical to link to everything from every page – in fact that might overwhelm the user – but the buzz about the death of the homepage gives you the opportunity to take a step back and look at exactly how users are finding your site, where they go once they’ve landed there, and what content would be best to expose them to.

Does The Homepage Need To Be A Homepage?

This concept is perhaps the exception to the rule and probably applies more to larger sites, but there are webmasters that are starting to think outside the box when it comes to homepages. If most of the traffic is sent from social media and landing on internal pages, and those pages do a good job of linking to other content, does the homepage need to be a hub at all?

It could just as easily be a mission statement or “about” page. Think of it as the website version of Youtube’s channel trailer feature.

What if you just featured all of the ways people could connect with your site on the homepage, such as your RSS feeds, social media accounts etc? After all it’s one thing to get a hit to a page, but that user will rarely return unless they connect.

What if the homepage is just an RSS feed itself? A simple minimalist list of content?

What if the homepage reflected the values or editorial slant of the site, regardless of the popularity of other content?

Hell why not just have a giant meme on the homepage that changes every day?

Those who adapt and innovate find the most success, so there’s no better time than now to start experimenting with your homepage.

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Author: Keelan Balderson

Keelan Balderson is a Blogger, Youtuber and Podcaster from the UK, with an avid interest in social media, alternative politics, and pro wrestling.

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