Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

The continued decline of the homepage

November 30, 2014 -- Gerry McGovern

Google is your new homepage. Every page you have is a homepage for someone. We must think beyond the traditional homepage.
 
“The value of the homepage is decreasing,” a leaked New York Times report stated in May 2014. “Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”
 
“Across The Atlantic sites, the fraction of visits that begin on the homepage is surprisingly small,” Bob Cohn, editor of Atlantic Digital wrote in 2012. "About 13 percent of visits to our flagship TheAtlantic.com start on the homepage. We have found that for many of the sites we track the percentage of those visiting the homepage is somewhere between 5% and 15%.
 
“As more and more traffic comes from search and social, the homepage as the entryway into a site’s content is increasingly obsolete,” Ann Friedman wrote for Columbia Journalism Review in 2013.
 
Control of the homepage often represents a pyrrhic victory for traditional marketers and communicators. I recently heard a communicator say that the homepage was one of the few places where they controlled the message. For this organization, only 10% of site visitors came to the homepage and for every 100 people who arrived at the homepage, only 3 clicked on a news link. Thus, controlling the homepage is only the illusion of controlling the message.
 
The New York Times report is one of the most interesting analyses of the challenges faced in becoming successful online. It stresses that the Times must do a better job at linking and sharing content, but that this activity has been “pushed to the margins.”
 
Recently, I listened to a senior manager state that the job of content people was to create content, while linking, navigating and search were ‘technical’ issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are a web content professional your job is linking, navigating and searching far more than it is content creation. On the Web, your content is valueless unless it is well linked, easy to navigate to and easy to find. That is not someone else’s job. It’s yours.
 
We don’t work on the homepage. We work on the network. The Web is a network and those who work on the Web are networkers. The link is the essence of the Web. Web writing is link writing. Don’t think control, think sharing. How shareable is your content? Don’t think homepage. There’s no direction home on the Web because home changes based on the context of what people want to do.
 
If you want to buy an acoustic-electric bass on Amazon, then you want the Acoustic-Electric Basses homepage, not the Musical Instruments homepage or the Amazon.com homepage. The homepage shifts with the territory of the task.
 
Links are the currency of the Web, not content, and links are an inherently collaborative and sharing activity. Nothing lives in isolation on the Web. Every page is a homepage for someone.
 
 
The New York Times Innovation report is one of the key documents of this media age