Did you know that less than half of the visits to NYTimes.com start on the homepage? The question is where are they all coming from? The answer: search and social.
Instead of coming in via the front door, more and more people are accessing websites (in particular news sites) through the back gate.
The fundamental reason is that people use the web to gather information differently to any other medium. When you go online you know what you want and you look for it directly through a search engine. Let’s focus on newspaper here.
Rather than going to the virtual front page of a paper and clicking through it from there, you use a search engine to find a particular article and enter the site through that page.
Unlike the traditional print newspaper model, people using digital news sites don’t sit down and read the whole paper. For that reason, the editorial layout of an online newspaper probably has less importance than in a print version. In a broadsheet or tabloid publication, pages are laid out in terms of lead stories and newsworthiness, guiding the reader through the news. This is in complete opposition to how most people access news online – free to search a giant database of information for exactly the story that they want.
But, this doesn’t mean the homepage is altogether unnecessary. For general news consumption, the front (home) page still has meaning. Despite changing habits, audiences continue to enter news sites via the home page to find out breaking news, lead stories and major headlines. Also, there still seems to be a loyalty to publications digitally like there is in print versions of newspapers. Plus, there are sites which specifically attract readers because of the content on their homepage – Mail Online for example.
There’s also another kind of reader to consider. The ones who enter a site through the back door and then click through to the homepage to see what the site is all about, or what else it has to offer. In that sense, the homepage on a news site acts more like a magazine cover than a front page. It gives a teasing glimpse of what’s inside, but nothing more.
So, while the homepage isn’t dead, it has definitely changed in its appearance and purpose. Instead of killing it off completely, you need to look at your homepage with a fresh pair of eyes. How does your audience use your site, what do they go to the homepage for, or what would attract them to the homepage? Perhaps you need to view it as more of a central page than a traditional home page.