Is the home page dead?

Are branded content designers spending too long on the homepage at the expense of the pages that really matter?

There’s a really interesting post from Martin Belam, who is part of the team behind the Mirror Group’s acclaimed UsVsTh3m and Ampp3d sites in which he looks at the recent discussion about the supposed death of the homepage.

Belam points out that it was a topic that very few people were talking about until the New York Times document – leaked by Buzzfeed - which pointed out how little of the paper’s traffic came from the homepage.

As Belam says,

‘I first lost interest in the homepage when I was at the Guardian. The newspaper embarked on a massive project to redesign the front. The first meeting had approximately a gazillion stakeholders in it already. I asked some awkward questions like ‘have we done any user research?’ and ‘what is going to be our measurement for success?’ and then slunk away to focus on other stuff. I realised that everybody was going to be so tied up worrying about the homepage, that I’d probably be better off concentrating my efforts on optimising the article page, which made up something like 85% of page views anyway.’

So not surprisingly Belam’s Mirror projects have functional rather than decorative home pages. In his own words.

‘I’ve gone much further with Amp3d. Just like Quartz, we’ve kind of abandoned the concept of the homepage at all. You land on the domain and you are thrown simultaneously into a story and a story list on desktop. On the phone, you are just straight into latest story.’

What about content marketing homepages?
Ultimately Belam is making a point about news websites, so does his slightly cynical take on homepages also apply to content marketing sites too?

It all comes down to what is the purpose of the homepage. For some brands the homepage is ostensibly a shop window that displays the brand's core values visually, in a highly attractive and engaging way. Issues such as navigation and usability are obviously hugely important from the reader’s perspective, but for some brands they take a back seat.

For other brands homepages are often crammed with thumbnails and widgets and can look far too busy as they attempt to shift readers around the site.

There are some interesting suggestions as to how branded content pages should look here.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that brands shouldn’t focus on their website’s homepage or that designers consider them an afterthought.

However increasingly as more and more brands develop content marketing strategies, long form articles, viral videos and more become their key focus. And ensuring that these are housed in a permalink (page) that makes the most of their key attributes as well as offering the reader a path to find other similar engaging content is perhaps the editorial web designer’s most important task.

 As Belam puts it ‘You should be treating every article on your news site as a homepage.’

It will be interesting to see how branded content homepages evolve. Who knows in the future branded content pages might be dominated by video players and interactive queries rather than lots of links to stories.

Or they may follow the route pioneered by Belam’s titles, Quartz and others and throw the reader straight into the content.

Commissioned by The CMA

Posted in CMA blog
29thMay 2014

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