The demise of the newspaper homepage
It isn’t saying it will disappear for good, far from it, but the importance of the newspaper homepage in the grand scheme of things has been greatly diminished because of how increasing numbers of people enter websites. They’re coming in sideways.
It’s a nice phrase to some up the search engines, mobiles, emails and social media links that bring us to newspaper content. As a result of the changing nature of our digital journey’s newsrooms are starting to rethink what a homepage is.
The same is no doubt true of many of the articles you have read today — including this one. Most of you probably didn’t come via a homepage, but more than likely took some other digital route.
Nieman Labs spoke to a number of news organisations including The New York Times. It for one has seen a dramatic shift in how users access its site. Last year up to 60% of its visits come from people starting at the homepage in March that had dropped to 48.6%.
So where was that traffic coming from? A lot of it from Google (and others) with more than 17% arriving via a search engine. You might have expected social media to deliver a large slice, but not yet: only 3.1% arrived via Facebook or Twitter.
That figure sounds low and is certainly lower than some of its rivals, which is odd considering the combined size of its Twitter (5.9 million) and Facebook ( 2.3 million) pages.
Of course, it isn’t just newspapers, we’re talking about all news sites here. Whether it is the BBC or somewhere much more humble. The sames rules and changing habits apply.
The changing nature of the homepage is echoed in comments made by Atlantic Digital editor Bob Cohn who says writing on Folio that the home page is no longer about traffic:
“The homepage is the single best way for editors to convey the sensibilities and values of their websites. Everything about the page – the design; the selection of stories and images; the treatment of features and widgets; the language and cadence of the headlines; the typeface; the frequency with which the page is updated; even the ads – is a statement about what matters to the publication.”
What it isn’t though is about traffic:
“There’s one thing, though, that the homepage is not much good for: driving traffic. While I don’t have data on this, it’s my sense, anecdotally, that many editors continue to believe that one of the primary goals of the homepage is to guide readers to the articles on the site. I know that’s what I long believed. But the evidence – and here there is data – suggests the homepage is overvalued as a mechanism for generating visits to interior pages.”
Cohn told Nieman that a whopping “88% of traffic to The Atlantic comes in sideways, meaning just 12% of site visits begin on the homepage”. It is because of this he says that the “old mantra that every page needs to be a homepage has never been more true”.
That’s why you increasingly see on sites across the web, including say Brand Republic, that news sites are in fact comprised of multiple homepages — packing more images and video on these pages and making them bookmarkable destinations in their own right.
Raju Narisetti, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, told Nieman that the shift away from the homepage was clear — although activity between subscribers and non-subscribers differed.
He said that as many as 60% of its audience was not coming via the homepage while social media accounted for anywhere from 6 to 10%:
“Ultimately, the curated aspect of the homepage brings people to big brands, right?” he said. “The trick is not to worry about where they’re coming from — the trick is what are they doing after they come. If they come sideways, can I get them to actually go to the homepage? That won’t happen if I diminish the value of homepage internally. I still need to make sure the homepage is engaging — just not get too hung up on people coming there first…It’s more of an engagement play than a front-door-audience play these days.”
Narisetti says the Wall Street Journal’s numbers are comparable with other big papers like The New York Times. His previous employer, The Washington Post, declined to share their traffic percentages. Its Beltway rival Politico would only provide wide ranges of traffic percentages. It said between 35 percent and 50 percent of its traffic begins at the homepage, for example. The Los Angeles Times was similarly cagey, Nieman Labs reports.