Zombies and Homepages

Zombies and Homepages
March 8, 2016 Kaz Scott

Well I wasn’t mourning the death of the homepage. Until it recently came to my attention that it had passed away (apparently in 2014).

At a recent Ogilvy PR conference in Sri Lanka our wonderful regional Head of Search Chris Actis broke the news – people aren’t searching for companies any more (there was a watershed moment when it was leaked that the New York Times’ homepage suffered a 50% drop between 2011 and 2013). It was only then than I realised they were gone. I skipped straight to the ‘Acceptance’ stage pretty quickly – it turns out I probably wasn’t missing them if I hadn’t realised they had gone.

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It turns out there was a sort of homicide involved with the death of the homepage – at the hands of social media platforms. We’re now not just searching for products by name, we’re searching via ‘side doors’ on the social media properties that we perceive are the authorities e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest etc. We’re searching for stuff that is near us (search interest in “near me” has increased 34 x since 2011 and more than 20% of all searches are local in nature) and that helps us shortcut getting to the information we really want. Media commentator Jon Berstein from the Guardian estimates that barely 20% of people see a homepage on a site visit these days.

So if homepages are gone – what’s replaced them? It seems there is an afterlife for homepages. Zombies. Or Zomepages (yes I just did that right then!).

Zomepages are not homepages of old but kind of a new re-incarnation of homepages. Best evidenced in news sites who have been the fastest to adapt. The Huffington Post now has an almost never-ending scroll of content – up to 200 stories – and a team of around 10 people JUST editing the homepage. Similarly the Independent’s i100 site which launched without a so-called homepage, actually has one in the form of a cascade of articles, and the editors of Upworthy say they plan to use the vast data they get to make every homepage different for every user – committed to keeping homepages alive and kicking, but just more relevant.

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For PR professionals ,  brands and organisations, this all means that we can’t rely on homepages to drive traffic for us anymore – or rely on them for high quality traffic either (a Pew Research study found that direct homepage site visitors spend roughly three times longer than those who get their via social media).

We already think seriously about social, search and direct engagement to drive traffic but now we also need to open our arms to the actual design and architecture of our content. After doing some web meandering with this in mind I realised that in the Zomepage age – every page is now a homepage. This means we have to ask ourselves whether our article or content pages work as a place to land, read and explore – rather than just being a one hit wonder? Are they appropriate ‘front doors’ for our audiences to enter or do we need to do a bit of work on our reception areas? As site visitors enter via windows, side doors, sliding screens and dog flaps we need to provide hospitable areas where they can not only consume the content they came to find, but have the same brand experience they might have had on the homepage – to entice them to stay longer, have a cup of tea and a biscuit like the days of old.

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