Is The Home Page Really Dead?

As soon as you hit a content page, the begging starts.  “Join our e-mail list.”  “Like us on Facebook.”  “Share with your friends.”  The begging usually starts with a page overlay, although an ad might be shown at the same time.  Some sites even throw up a paywall or subscription request.

What would make publishers need to pounce with such veracity on an unregistered user?

The answer is an increased percentage of “side door traffic.”

The concept certainly isn’t new.  Prior to the advent of modern social media, we called it “deep linking.”  The idea is that fewer and fewer content consumers will come through the home pages of websites in browsing mode, but instead will be linked directly to items of interest by outside aggregators or by social sharing.

Publishers have long known about this dynamic.  The path taken to content consumption looked radically different in the early days of the Internet when a content piece was shared in an e-mail, or posted with a link on a message board.  Rather than meander through the home page and perhaps a section front before landing on an article, consumers would simply pop in to get what they want, and publishers might never see them again.

The effect has been exacerbated by the Facebooks, Reddits and Outbrains of the world.  In fact, it was enough for some pundits to declare the death of the home page when its effect on The New York Times was detailed last year.  See where the begging starts to make sense?

As this consumption dynamic continues to play out, advertisers need to think long and hard about how their media campaigns should anticipate and adjust to the notion of increased side door traffic:

  • Ensure that page or section front sponsorships also include relevant content pages. If an increasing number of people are jumping directly to content and then disappearing, simply advertising on a section front is likely to miss them.  You will lose relevant reach if you’re not advertising on the granular content pages that fall under section fronts and home pages.  Watch those high-value sponsorships and realize they’re not capturing 100% of the relevant traffic.

  • Use programmatic proactively to identify relevant content. Content has a half-life.  That is, if it’s going to experience a bump in popularity thanks to social sharing, it’s probably going to happen early in its life cycle.  This doesn’t always leave you with enough time to identify new, relevant content and decide you want to buy it programmatically.  If content having to do with your brand or category frequently ends up on the front page of reddit or in similar high-traffic spots, it may be time to put aside an opportunistic fund, work with social media specialists to identify such opportunities ahead of time, and fast-track whatever approval processes might be bogging you down so you can take advantage of high-traffic relevant pieces.

  • Think Internet-wide, in addition to site-specific. Too often, digital planning is framed incorrectly.  Planners tend to want to answer the question of what sites the advertiser’s ads should appear on.  Media planners also need to think “What content should we align with and how can we identify it quickly and effectively?”

Again, the side door traffic dynamic hasn’t really changed in a while.  It’s just the extent to which it’s happening that can be alarming.  A lot of content is aggregated by entities other than the original publisher, so a lot of content isn’t encountered by consumers by following paths through the home page of a site.  How we plan and buy media needs to adjust to reflect this.

Tom Hespos is the Founder and Chief Media Officer of Underscore Marketing, an integrated media agency focusing on health and healthy brands.