The homepage was once a valued, integral website asset - the gateway to a company's brand and a driver of customer engagement. It was so important, there used to be employees whose sole job was to manage a brand's homepage.
Then came search and social.
For the past 10 years, the way content gets discovered has evolved dramatically. The rise of Google, and then social media, has created entirely new paths for website visitors to find content without ever navigating to a brand's homepage.
In 2014, leaked data from The New York Times showed a plunge in its homepage visitors instigating the now commonly accepted belief that this digital real estate has lost its value.
Based on internal customer data, just five percent of website visitors enter through the homepage. The other 95 percent are "side-door traffic" visitors, who land on a company's website via search or social media postings that direct users to a specific page.
As a result, marketers are rightfully focusing their efforts on those channels, but should be wary of ignoring the homepage for their Web or mobile experiences. In many ways, the homepage is like the preferred customer experience found at hotel chains.
While those customers make up a small percentage of the overall audience, it's an extremely valuable segment.
Here are three reasons not to ignore the homepage:
1. Homepage visitors spend more time on your website.
Entrance through the homepage is a sign of loyalty. Based on our data, while only five percent of visitors come through the homepage, they account for 50 percent of page views.
Visitors who enter from search and social only view an average of three and 1.8 pages respectively per session. On the other hand, visitors who enter from the homepage are more likely to view 10 to 30 pages per session. Longer engagement with a brand's content leads to higher conversion rates, larger purchases and increased loyalty.
Brands are beginning to realize that the homepage offers an opportunity to improve engagement and convert occasional visitors to loyal users. The homepage can be easily personalized to provide visitors with content that will encourage more clickthroughs, based on their interests. First and third-party data can help develop visitors' profiles and allow marketers to showcase targeted content.
For example, if a consumer is a devout hockey fan who is constantly following the NHL, the homepage of her favorite sports news website can serve her more hockey-related content. That one-to-one experience will keep her coming back for more, while also broadening the scope of content available to her.
2. Homepage visitors have a wider latitude of interests within a particular topic.
Visitors who enter a brand's website via social media or search are there for just one thing: that viral article their college friend shared on Facebook with a catchy title. Thirty seconds after perusing the article, the reader is gone.
When readers enter through the homepage, they may be looking for a number of articles pertaining to a particular topic. They have a wider scope of interests, which makes it easier for brands to showcase their content.
While viral content shared on social media platforms is likely to be clicked because of compelling headlines, articles on the homepage are likely to be clicked because of their subject matter.
Publishers like ESPN are beginning to acknowledge the homepage as a largely untapped resource. Curated content featured on a homepage serves as an opportunity for businesses to provide readers with the most relevant articles, presented in a way that is tailored just for them.
Personalization should be elastic and adaptable, which is easier to deliver on the home page. For example, if a consumer is looking for a pair of running shoes, he may go directly to a specific brand's website because he likes those shoes.
While on the brand's homepage, he sees relevant content from the blog, a video about new running shoes coming out in a month and a special promotion for returning visitors. Search can deliver a consumer to a brand's site, but a compelling homepage can nurture an ongoing customer relationship.
3. Homepage traffic is a good indicator of your marketing successes.
Publishers are focused on three things when it comes to their websites: audience development, acquiring new users and existing user engagement.
Today, one of the most difficult challenges for publishers is getting one-time visitors, also known as "flybys," to come back to the website for more after stumbling upon a viral article they found on Twitter. Whether or not side-door visitors end up on the homepage is a good indicator of how well search and social campaigns are performing.
Investing in the homepage is good business. It may not pull the traffic numbers brands are looking for, but its value can be measured in other, long-term benefits that search and social can't produce. By personalizing a user's homepage experience, brands can make an extraordinary impact on user engagement, driving longer sessions and developing loyalty among visitors.