Making the Case for the Homepage

May 13, 2016

Article ImageWhen newspapers were the main way people got information, the front page was where they went first. It concisely presented the most important news and sent readers to other pages to see more. Then came the internet to completely disrupt the newspaper model. One lesson the online era took from print was the homepage. Much like the front page was to newspapers, the homepage became an entry point for users, where they went first to learn about a company or scan for potential stories of interest. Companies spent big money to ensure their homepage presented the right information, with the right look.

Innovation never rests, and in the past decade, the way users discover content has continued to change rapidly. First Google and other search engines allowed a user to target specific topics and go right to related content, bypassing a site's homepage. Social media then developed completely new routes for users to discover content-with no need to ever stop by a site. Today, a lot of content is consumed away from the company's website entirely, thanks to Facebook Instant Articles, Snapchat stories, and more.

The numbers confirm this trend: Customer data shows that a mere 5% of visitors to a website now get there through its homepage. The other 95% are side-door traffic, or visitors that come to a specific piece of content on a company's website through organic search or social media.

It makes sense that marketers are now focusing on these other channels. But, does that mean they can completely ignore the homepage? The answer is a resounding "No." As it turns out, those 5% of homepage visitors are often a company's most valuable. In this article we'll look at three important qualities of homepage visitors and why marketers shouldn't ignore them.

1. They Take Their Time

Website visitors who engage through your homepage are your most loyal consumers. Those 5% of users that enter your site through the homepage account for 50% of page views. These five-percenters generally view 10-30 pages per session, versus three pages per session for search and just 1.8 from social media.

Good things happen when users engage with your content for longer time periods: increased conversion rates, higher purchase amounts, and increased loyalty are just a few. In short, the homepage is an important opportunity to engage with loyal users, and convert occasional readers to frequent ones. Personalization is one easy way to help make this happen; you can use the user data you collect to develop visitor profiles and highlight targeted content on your homepage.

Giving visitors a homepage with content personalized to their interests will encourage them to click. Let's say you run a sports news site, and one of your readers is a serious Chicago sports fan. When this person comes to your homepage, the content she sees can feature articles and videos about Chicago teams. This personalized experience will keep her coming back to your site, while also expanding the amount of content she consumes per visit.       

2. They Have Varied Interests

When you click on a link someone shared on Facebook, what do you generally do? If you're like many people, you read the article, close the window and return to your news feed. That's how it goes - a user who arrives at your site via a social media link doesn't stick around. But, when readers go to your homepage, they are more likely to be looking for content about a particular topic, but they're often open to related content, as well. This makes it easier for brands to feature more of their content.

Your Chicago sports fan may click a link she sees on Facebook about a particularly interesting game. But, if she goes to your homepage, she is likely to read several articles about the team, other Chicago sports teams, and check out a video of the greatest Cubbies home runs of all time

Once again, personalization comes into focus. The homepage is a business's chance to give readers the curated content that's most interesting to them, presented in a way that's most appealing to them. Content providers, like ESPN, are starting to realize this and treat the homepage as an untapped opportunity to serve highly personalized content to individual users.

One important factor in making the most of personalization is adaptability, which is easily delivered through a homepage. So, if that Chicago fan is looking for a Cubs hat, she might go to a particular brand's homepage. While she's there, she can read a blog about what players are wearing and take advantage of a promotion for returning customers. The publisher knows her interests and presents her with the most relevant content.

3. You Can See if They're Responding to Your Marketing

Companies focus on three questions to determine whether their website is doing its job:

  • Is it developing an audience?
  • Is it acquiring new users?
  • Is it engaging existing users?

One of the most difficult challenges in today's online publishing world involves all three questions--converting one-time visitors who find the site through social media into readers who come back to the site consistently. If side-door visitors end up visiting your homepage, that's a good indication that your search and social media campaigns are performing well. If they aren't, it's time to make some tweaks to your marketing.

The days of the homepage attracting the majority of a site's readers are long gone. But that doesn't mean homepages should be ignored. By focusing on strategies, such as personalization, investing in your company's homepage can cultivate reader loyalty that social media and search can't attain. Search and social media may help land a potential customer on your site once, but a compelling homepage can create a lasting relationship.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)