Welcome to Parse.ly Bites, a monthly series created in partnership with online analytics platform Parse.ly, to help media companies to understand how to better engage and build their audiences. The first entry in the series looks at the continued importance of the homepage.
When incoming New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and his team published their Innovation Report, they highlighted a 50% decline in traffic to the Times' homepage. But, now we’re in 2018, and the homepage is still alive and well.
According to data from Parse.ly’s network of more than 600 digital publishers, the importance of the homepage varies widely. For each publisher, we calculated the percentage of article referrals generated by the homepage. For over half of publishers, this number was less than 10%, indicating that they rely more heavily on social or search referrals than homepage referrals.
On the other hand, for one in ten publishers, this number was over 25%, and for sites with especially loyal audiences, this was as high as 50%. See the histogram below for a more detailed breakdown.
To get a sense of the absolute volume of traffic that homepages handle, consider that top news sites on the web receive around 2,000 views per minute to their homepages during peak times. So what role does the homepage realistically play for digital publishers today, and how can they use the homepage to meet their content goals?
Think about homepage anatomy.
Where you place content on your homepage matters. For example, top slots receive 5%–20% of a homepage’s total clicks: at times, that means around 50-100 clicks per minute. Combined, the slots “above the fold” (visible without scrolling) typically receive between 15%–50% of the homepage’s total clicks.
Slots in the “second fold” typically receive 80% fewer clicks than those at the top. Slots in the “third fold” receive 90% fewer clicks than those at the top.
This means that users don’t typically scroll much on homepages. Even further, the links leading at the top of your homepage are precious real estate. Make sure to use them wisely.
Seed your content and sow for social.
Once an article is live on the homepage, editors can quickly get a sense of whether an article will take off on social by comparing the number of social referrals to the number of homepage referrals.
If homepage referrals generate few social referrals early on, then the article will probably never do well on social (we call this type of piece “social-negative”). On the other hand, if homepage referrals generate lots of social referrals, this trend is likely to continue (“social-positive” articles).
Think about your goals here. if you're aiming to have a piece drive referrals through social, you can easily gauge where people are being referred from. If it's something that does drive people in, great, keep it there. If not, switch that piece out of the top spot and try your luck with another.
A few additional tips to keep in mind:
Treat your homepage as a representation of your brand.
Don’t order your posts chronologically by publish date, as not all posts will be interesting to your readers. Instead, consider which stories will benefit your audience most from being featured and feature them.
Keep it simple.
On the web, a simpler format is usually better. You only have a few seconds to convince a reader to convert from homepage into a story, and it is rare that they will peruse all the links you have on offer. They want a few choices, not a plethora of choices.
Choose photographs and headlines carefully.
Aesthetics do, in fact, matter as much as the content itself. Bad headlines and junk photos on your homepage not only will convert poorly, but will also prevent users from coming back.
Use analytics to cycle out poorly performing content.
You may think it’s wise to put your most popular posts on the homepage, but ask yourself this question: “Are they the most popular posts because they have gone viral from you featuring them there two or three hours ago?” If the answer’s “yes”, your loyal audience may have already seen them.
The next part of the Parse.ly Bites series will appear in February.