For most publishers, the home page is dying - long live the article page? More and more readers are bypassing publishers’ home pages and going directly to content through links from Google, social feeds and aggregators.
For over half of publishers, the homepage generates fewer than 10% of article views (Source: Parse.ly). Our own publishing partners confirm this trend, reporting that on average only 8% of visitors enter their sites via the homepage.
Readers are entering your site through ‘side doors’ – the links on Google, Facebook etc. that we mentioned above. This means that publishers will have to adapt. Search, social and other referral sources help you increase traffic to popular content, but with that traffic comes a high bounce rate. How can you get readers to stick around instead of bouncing back to Facebook?
As Lawrence Horne, Managing Director at Time Out Group, puts it: “Modern article pages are telling stories through big imagery, videos, animations, transitions, interactive elements and, of course, compelling editorial.” These page designs are great for getting lost in a storyline and driving one-time visitors, Horne explains, but “they don’t do a great job of creating a relationship with the reader or recommending the next article to read.”
Articles pages can’t just tell great stories anymore. Now they also have to perform the function of a homepage. That is, they have to position the brand, set the site’s tone, encourage readers to subscribe to a newsletter and, crucially, promote more of the site’s great content.
But that isn’t what’s happening. In their attempts to maximize revenue per page view, plenty of websites have forgotten the reader. One striking example of this is ‘recommendation’ networks such as Taboola and Outbrain, displaying articles from clickbait sites as ‘related content’ at the bottom of your page. This is a terrible use of valuable site real estate. It devalues your site, tarnishes your brand, prompts readers to leave your site, and, even worse, feel cheated afterwards.
If you want readers to keep reading your content, you have to respect them and the content experience. Start investing in your brand, build a relationship with your readers and help them find more of your own great content:
“Surely websites should want to keep readers, understand their viewing habits and redirect them around their own site’s relevant content, not push them away to another to look at, for example, the “Top 10 fun parks that have closed down”!” - Lawrence Horne
Keeping readers engaged
What’s the best way to help readers find relevant content that they really want to read? Well, the premium content companies (think Spotify, The Washington Post and Netflix) use real recommendations for their users, not just a ‘most popular’ list. How do they do it? A good recommendation draws upon insights into the following dimensions: a) the content, b) audience behaviour and c) the individual reader. Let’s think about why.
Understanding more about the content allows you to offer more relevant recommendations. There are tools available to help you do this, for example natural language processing APIs that can understand sentiment, reading level, keywords, high-level thematic concepts and more. When you really understand what the content is about it becomes easier to find relevant pieces from the rest of your content.
Audience behaviour data tells you about the journeys your readers are taking through your content. This aggregated data can inform recommendations so that they help to replicate the pathways which readers enjoy the most. The same recommendations made in a different order might turn out to be a lot more compelling.
Lastly, insights into individual readers will help you to personalize recommendations and make them even better. If you don't hold any data about new or returning readers, then using the insights you've gathered on the specific article they're reading when they enter your site can also be useful. Allow the reader to have control of what to read next, e.g. do they want to dig deeper into a certain topic or explore something else?
Recommendations are often heavily skewed towards just one of the many dimensions that go into making a good recommendation. An example of this is a ‘Most Popular’ widget, which displays the articles with the most views, likes, shares etc. in a particular period of time. This usually ignores the relevance of what’s being suggested to the reader’s actual goals or interests.
Good recommended content honours your brand, readers’ interests and opens pathways to your commercial goals. Do you run advertising and/or sponsored content? A good recommendation increases the chances of a click on one of these ads. Does your site have a store? Recommendations help people find more items to purchase and increase your basket size. The same goes for a premium publishing offering which is looking to encourage users to sign up to a paid-for subscription.
Recommending your own content allows you to track and map reader ‘sessions’ to a commercial conversion event on your website. Smart recommender systems can use this data to improve your content suggestions, boosting your conversion numbers.
Mini home page
If your article pages tell great stories, and you can use them to help the reader find other great content on your site, then every article page can become a mini home page. More visitors will turn into regulars and spend time on your site, subscribe to newsletters and premium offers and spend money on your site.
Are you making the most of every page? Check out our recommendation service, and see how it can help you here.