A couple of years ago, Buzzfeed released the results of the New York Times’ comprehensive survey of the state of their web presence. Overall traffic for the website was solid, but what’s of most interest is the numbers for the NYT homepage, it had plummeted over a couple of years. The NYT front page saw less than half of the traffic it did 2011, dropping from 160 million visitors to 80 million visitors.
The combination of strong overall traffic and a massive decline of home page traffic lead some to announce the demise of the home page. I think that’s a bit premature for most types of site, but it’s a strong indication that use patterns on the web are not what they used to be. Back in the day, news readers would either enter the URL of their favorite news source in the browser or search for the site in Google. Their journey would almost always begin at the home page, from which they would navigate to articles or sections caught their interest.
In 2017, that’s no longer how web users find their content. A significant proportion of traffic originates from social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which is why traffic remains high while home page visits dwindle.
With the introduction of Google’s AMP and Facebook Instant Articles, the home page was rendered even less important. Not only do people not visit the homepage to find articles; they don’t have to visit the site at all. Facebook and Google serve as the “homepage” for their users, and content is absorbed by the platforms and served from their networks. The experience is certainly slicker, especially on mobile, but it’s fair to say that the web loses something when it is consumed within walled gardens.
While the home page is less important than it once was, it would be hyperbolic to claim its demise. The homepage is still the most prominent part of a business site, and the page most likely to get referral traffic from search engines.
But, a shift from the homepage to social media has implications that go much deeper than a simple change of venue for business site owners. As social media dominates, businesses must publish content that is going to be shared by users of social networks. That implies a shift from traditional sales copy to content marketing, because sales copy will almost never generate the sort of attention necessary to drive traffic to a site.
Given the use patterns of modern audiences, social media is their primary point of access to the web, and without a significant social media presence, businesses will be invisible to users. At the very least, they’ll be at a competitive disadvantage relative to companies that are actively pursuing social media strategies and allowing their content to be syndicated to social media and other platforms.
Does that mean we should give up on the traditional website and its home page and plough everything into social media and “publishing platforms”? No: a website remains the best way to establish a long-term, consistent identity on the web. Without sites, there’s nothing for Google and Facebook to ingest, little worth sharing, and no identity that isn’t entirely dependent on someone else’s platform and priorities. The website, and the homepage, are here to stay.
About Matthew Davis – Matthew works as an inbound marketer and blogger for Future Hosting, a leading provider of VPS hosting. Follow Future Hosting on Twitter at @fhsales, Like them on Facebook and check out their tech/hosting blog, http://www.futurehosting.com/blog.