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How and why the home page should be part of publishers’ distributed content strategies

The history of the web traffic for publishers from Google becoming the dominant search engine until about 2015 stayed relatively the same. This has changed dramatically, though, over the past several years with the rise of social. The expectation of the user has reversed. The news should no longer be found, but instead should find you wherever you consume content.

Sachin Kamdar, CEO and co-founder of Parse.ly, spoke at Digital Innovators’ Summit 2017 (DIS) about seeing this exact change happen through Parse.ly’s network data.  

Following on from his talk at DIS, here he writes for about 2015 as when Facebook took over Google in terms of how much traffic they were driving to publisher sites, with some suggestions on how publishers can balance distributed content strategies.

External referrals Parse.ly ()
Facebook now represents 40 per cent of all external traffic coming to publishers in Parse.ly's network.

Facebook now represents 40 per cent of all external traffic coming to publishers in Parse.ly's network

This shift was due to an algorithmic approach to content discovery via the Facebook newsfeed, the shift to show more content instead of status updates, and the emergence of distributed platforms like Facebook’s Instant Articles. The natural inclination of the digital publisher was to follow this trend. More publishers began to engage with Facebook and other platforms so they could be wherever their users were. 

While platforms began their meteoric rise as the major drive of traffic, other, historically large and stable sources of traffic began to wane. Most notably, publishers were seeing the homepage as a declining traffic source. In fact, Quartz proclaimed it dead, in their article “The homepage is dead, and the social web has won—even at the New York Times

Parse.ly wanted to dive deeper though, given that we have a unique perspective with our dataset of over 700 premium sites representing 50 billion pageviews tracked monthly. Though the homepage was no longer the main drive of traffic, could it serve another purpose?  We learned two key things through their analysis: 

Homepage = Loyalty

We found that though overall audience on the homepage declined, the ones that were still visiting the homepage were amongst the most loyal.  Further, we learned that the desktop was the main device used when visiting the homepage, which could have major implications to design. Ultimately, though the number of people visiting the homepage has decreased, those that do visit it are still seeing utility. They regularly come back to the homepage and they spend timing looking for content to consume.  

HP traffic Parse.ly ()

Homepage can Signal Social Content

The second thing we found with their analysis was that the traffic patterns on the home page could indicate whether a post was going to dominate social or not. We looked at 20,547 articles when the sum of each post’s homepage and referral traffic equalled 500. We could then classify articles into three different buckets: social negative, social neutral and social positive.  

Social negative articles received less than one third of their traffic from social. Social neutral was split between social traffic and homepage. And social positive content received two thirds or more of their traffic from social when compared with homepage.  

From there we looked at the lifespan of the article in each bucket to see if there were any patterns or trends.  With social negative content the likelihood of an article becoming social at 10,000 total views was 4 per cent.  Social neutral was 13 per cent. And social positive was almost 3X social neutral at 33 per cent.  

Parse.ly posts with mostly social ref ()

This insight could be used to inform what content you place on your homepage and could change the behaviour that you take with content on the homepage after each article reaches 500 views.  

Ultimately, though the homepage doesn’t command the attention that it had prior to the emergence of platforms, not focusing on it could be a missed opportunity for your site. The goal of the homepage arguably shouldn’t be to generate the lion’s share of traffic.  But instead, publishers should use it to drive quality audience and as a means to experiment with content may be the best way to extract value out of it.   

Balancing site traffic and social and search traffic is a challenge for publishers, but by optimising publishers’ sites with the help of data, this may be helpful, according to Sachin Kamdar, CEO and co-founder of parse.ly, speaking at Digital Innovators’ Summit on Tuesday in Berlin. 

Since 2015, referral traffic for publishers has been largely coming from social. 

“In July 2015, we saw Facebook beating out Google as the largest source of referral traffic for publishers,” Kamdar said. “This is a change in how people find news, more that things are finding people, not the other way around.”

In 2017, Facebook continues to be a top driver of traffic. The challenge for publishers’ homepages, is that there’s a wide range of diversity when it comes to talking about traffic. Some publishers dismiss it completely, relying instead on social, or search specifically. However, there is still 10 per cent of overall traffic driven by publishers’ homepage, Sachin said. “If you have audience that is coming to your homepage and they’re regularly visiting it, it could make a large per cent age of overall.”

He outlined how the homepage can impact what’s happening on social and how publishers can use that traffic to inform their social strategies.

In a recent Parse.ly report which looked at 20,500 articles, Sachin said they classified articles by how well they performed on social media, positive, negative and neutral. They found that one third of social referrals overall were coming from social relative to the homepage. “What’s really interesting, when you get to a social positive article, with two-thirds or greater social referrals, this type of article has a high likelihood of 10,000 views on social,” he said. “We’ve experimented with that.”

Sachin suggested that social positive articles are good indicators that the can be successfully shared and promoted on other platforms, and using the publisher’s homepage as a mechanism to do that can make it go viral. 

“If you get two thirds of an article’s traffic from social, that’s a good indicator that this thing could take off,” he said.

Sachin outlined that it is important for publishers to combine analytics data with how editorial teams are interfacing with that data. They need to be able to understand where those clicks come from and how to promote them.

“Its important to think about your data, from an analytics perspective,” Sachin said. “Users have a flow to how they’re experiencing content, they’re not just social, they’re not just homepage visitors. They might be both.” 

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