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Don’t Believe the “Death of the Homepage” Hype: How to Revamp A Homepage for the Social Web

Posted on 9.28.2016

:: By Margaret Lucas, Nicho ::

When The New York Times announced that they had lost half the traffic to the homepage in just two years (80 million visitors), the Internet collectively mourned the “death of the homepage.” Other publishers like GQ, and brands alike,  have seen their homepage traffic steadily decline as more users visit their site via article/content pages, bypassing the homepage altogether. Some even say that Snapchat killed the homepage. Well, it’s true. The homepage is no longer the primary point of discovering brands, their content and products on the Web, as social sites have replaced them as the new entry point.

The homepage is not dead, however, it just needs a revamp for social Web. Here are four ways to make the homepage a destination again.

1. Promote real-time discovery

A homepage should present the most relevant content an audience is looking for so they don’t have to dig around for it. After all, more than 83 percent of visitors abandon a site because it takes too many clicks to get what they want. Extend engagement by re-configuring homepages for real-time discovery. Add the products and content relevant to what brought the visitor to the site in the first place.

Promoting real-time discovery allows visitors that come directly to a site from social to be immediately immersed in content related to the click that brought them to the site, leading to longer and more frequent engagements. Put less emphasis on ‘Top,’ ‘Featured’ and ‘Popular’ sections that could distract or frustrate visitors. Take real-time discovery a step further by treating individual pages on a site like a homepage. Build out pages to act as content funnels around the interests that drew a visitor to the site, encouraging deeper exploration and consumption.

2. Personalize the experience

Rather than treating all visitors to a single average experience when they land on a homepage, create a new design that supports personalized messaging, imagery and calls to action (CTAs) for audiences that drive the most business impact. Website personalization is about creating data-driven online experiences that are tailored to a visitor’s specific interests, based on their previous actions. Personalize a homepage for well-defined audiences based on various criteria such as geo-location, time of day, search terms, referral sources, weather and user behaviors.

Homepage personalization is everywhere. Amazon and Netflix regularly analyze previous behaviors to promote products that they think shoppers may want. Personalized Web experiences see on average a 19 percent uplift in sales. Creating custom experiences for homepage visitors is easier than one may think. Tap into Web browser cookies to match content to a user's settings preferences or use location tools to serve up an experience relevant to where the visitor physically is to make the entire experience feel more welcoming and custom.

3. Design for small screens

Between 2014 and 2016, smartphone Internet consumption has grown by 78 percent, meaning an increasing number of visits are happening on small screens. Responsive Web design (RWD) has become the preferred method for creating better user experiences on mobile devices. The common approach is to scale down the desktop homepage and to make it responsive to the size of the available display, but this can often lead to homepages that feel cluttered and hard to navigate. That can have devastating consequences for website traffic as more than 80 percent of visitors abandon a site because of poor design.

Rather than just scaling down a homepage, use fluid designs that truly scale to all screen sizes. Keep homepage clutter to a minimum by featuring one central message or CTA. Readability is critical, so make sure images and text scale perfectly on different screens sizes. Most visitors are accessing the homepage from different devices throughout the day and expect the content to be consistent across all those screens. Be as consistent as possible in design and navigation, including labels, buttons and links, and their visual elements.

4. Embrace more meaningful metrics

The top-level homepage performance metric most marketers obsess over is traffic. Since many visitors bypass the homepage altogether and arrive at a site via indirect means, using a steadily declining metric to determine success can set marketers up for failure. Consumption and engagement metrics can help diagnose declining traffic by helping marketers understand where traffic is coming from, what visitors are consuming, how frequently and how in-depth. Consumption and engagement metrics include pageviews, unique pageviews, new versus returning users and time on a page.

UTM (Urchin Tracking Modules) codes help tap into consumption and engagement metrics, by providing insight into how each visitor comes to the homepage. UTM codes are attributes added to destination URLs that track the traffic that a particular link sends to a homepage. When the link is clicked and the visitor arrives on a site, the tags are sent back to Google Analytics for tracking. UTM codes aren’t new.  Links with UTM codes look like this:

Use the underutilized analytics tool to understand link performance from various indirect touch points (mediums like PPC, email or social) and campaigns to optimize a homepage.

It's safe to say that news of the homepage's death has been greatly exaggerated. Though the days of a homepage serving as just a static index of headlines and hero shots are long gone, an engaging homepage is still a major factor in generating audience engagement, interaction and retention. Use these tips to help serve up customized content for each user in real time, while keeping the screens used to view the homepage squarely in focus.

About the Author

Margaret Lucas is the Digital Strategist at Nicho, a visual marketing platform that brings branded and user-generated content into one place, part of SocioFabrica. Margaret is responsible for ideating, launching and executing digital, social media and content marketing programs to meet business and brand goals. She has guided companies like MTV, Nokia and the American Cancer Society in their quest to stay relevant and evolve in todays always connected world.

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