4/27/2005

(No One At) Home Page?

A majority of visitors come to big news sites by clicking on links that bring them directly to some story, bypassing the home page – and any advertising attached thereto. An excellent article by Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing documents the trend and suggests designs that can redirect visitors to other pages on-site. I want to add a few thoughts on how small publishers should factor this behavior into their page planning, and perhaps use this bypass behavior to their advantage.

“With home-page visits at most news sites coming in at between 25% and 50% of total vists,” web designers are coming to understand that every article should be presented as a gateway to the site, rather than as a destination, Outing writes. He notes that at CSMonitor.com (the Christian Science Monitor) “only 23% of its visitors' sessions (come) in via the home page.” The article quotes CSM’s Joel Abrams as saying "a shockingly high percentage of those sessions that start on a story end on that story."

Visitors brought to individual stories by “deep links” may bypass registration requirements. Outing points to a 2002 article in Internet News about how some publishers argued that deep links constituted copyright infringement, a claim which courts have generally pooh-poohed.

Outing suggests that, rather than fight the trend, Web designers acknowledge that visitors will enter their sites through side doors, and redesign their article pages as mini-home pages – walking the line between larding up the page with so much stuff that its loads slowly, while providing enough navigation links to encourage visitors to go elsewhere within the same site.

Outing’s favorite example of this was the Toronto Globe & Mail which presents articles alongside links to related pieces and clickable navigation tools. He quotes Globe & Mail website manager Angus Frame as saying:

“We turned every story into a mini hub . . . Literally overnight daily page-views increased by more than 25 percent, from about 2.3 million pageviews a day to 3.0 million pageviews a day. That works out to about one extra pageview for each daily unique visitor to the site.”

Outing’s article focused on Editor & Publisher’s constituents in the daily news biz, but its lessons seem to apply equally to small publishers. In fact I find it encouraging that visitors are being drawn to content by links. It suggests that viewers may judge content on its merits, rather than on its pedigree. Of course, all things being equal, branded content will have more credibility for now.

But if a visitor arrives at a small site in pursuit of some bit of knowledge, and finds the article well done, that’s a potential convert. By all means make sure the page layout suggests that there are other interesting bits to be found here, and offer easy ways to subscribe to periodic updates.

Of course, given my pathetic ignorance of HTML, I have no idea how easy or difficult it is to create templates that would accomplish such ends. If anyone can point to small sites that provide good examples of this, or can explain how much effort would be required, that would be most helpful.

Let me close today by thanking Paid Content for pointing me to Outing’s article. Tomorrow I want to pursue this thread further by suggesting how small publishers can use this side-door entry trend as a traffic builder.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media

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