Should we kill the homepage?

Should the Interhacktives pull the plug on a time-honored component of online news? Has the time come to rethink the home page?

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Two years ago, Buzzfeed leaked a graph showing a steep decline in visitors to the New York Times’ homepage. Almost immediately, Quartz and the Atlantic pronounced the homepage dead.

This leaked graph shows a two year decline in Home Page Visitors at the nytimes.com

In 2014, The Columbia Journalism Review noted, “Less than half of visits to nytimes.com start on the homepage.” Poynter described the flatlining frontpage as “a previously dominant force” which had lost influence. Forbes were a little more optimistic, yet still issued a warning to publishers who ignored change.  

Look here though, and what do you see? Why, It’s a rather traditional-looking, not-even-slightly dead homepage.

Did this sharp rise in criticism from Poynter et al, bury the homepage alive?

Martin Belam, the social and new formats editor at the Guardian, offered a more nuanced explanation on his personal blog. He said:

“It seems to me that what we’ve been saying for years is that homepage traffic is going down as a proportion of your overall traffic. Sadly it seems to me, it looks like this leaked graph is going to be taken for evidence that ‘the homepage is dead’ – but for the wrong reasons.”

So, has the homepage been clawing at the doors of its tomb for two years? What do the figures say now, in 2016?

The digital marketing company Quantcast offers a slight insight into how people access Buzzfeed, with a storming 80% of unique visits coming from mobile. Homepage traffic, however, is kept behind closed doors. Of course, at Interhacktives we have access to our own stats – and we have nothing to hide.

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The peaks and troughs of our most popular article, as unpredictable as they may be, are a world away from the slow hum of our homepage traffic – it’s a different class.

Over the course of that month, 38% of our traffic came from our top article. It’s encouraging that it’s the content of our site that people are reading, but people aren’t using the homepage to get there. Facebook shares, the power of search and the nefarious rhythms of dark social form a complicated union, and a new gateway to Interhacktives articles.

So what do we do?

Interhacktives are at a crossroads. Our fledgling new website, and the contents of our home.php file, are up for debate – debate that has seen choice words launched like barbs and oranges used as missiles.

On the one hand, if the two years since Quartz sounded the death knell haven’t marked the end of the homepage, why get rid of it now? On the other, we have the shifting sands of analytic trends driving us to make dramatic changes, in an arena where social drives more traffic than ever before.

We took the leap, and the homepage is dead. For now.

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