With a significant portion of the audience arriving at news sites via social media and search, the imminent death of the homepage is a common refrain. One senior digital manager told me he was expecting the “death of the homepage revolution” to hit his market at some point, but it hadn’t yet. He might be in for a long wait. Based on data from my own research at three newsrooms in three different countries, as well as the latest research from Chartbeat, the death of the homepage, in homage to Twain, is much exaggerated.
At Norway’s public broadcaster, NRK, one editor said having a story on what they call the front page can be the difference between 300 and 300-thousand views, and that was supported by interviews with 28 other people at the broadcaster. And of those interviewed, those who came from the private sector in Norway said the homepage was even more important in terms of article reach at digital giant VG, which 55% of the country’s population accesses weekly (Reuters 2017).
At The Hamilton Spectator, a local newspaper in Canada, and The Bournemouth Daily Echo, a local paper in England, multiple employees referenced the importance of getting a story on the homepage in terms of promoting reach and pageviews. As well, metrics at both organizations show, generally, the majority of their audiences connect to content through the homepage.
Finally, using Chartbeat data for more than 50,000 sites across 65 countries, perhaps the most important value of the homepage can be identified. Researchers found loyal readers spend more of their total time on homepages and section fronts than they do on article pages, coming back frequently to scan for what’s new and “snack” on stories. However, only about one quarter of these loyal readers actually pay for content. Analytics experts at Chartbeat believe if you can identify these regular visitors who aren’t paying, they’re your best bet at conversions to subscribers.
With growing understanding that reaching a significant scale of audience alone can’t guarantee revenue, as seen with Buzzfeed, concentrating on building and retaining a loyal audience versus fly-by readers seems like a logical pivot, and a strong homepage is key.