The Washingtonian took a major risk with their homepage just after the first of the year and it turned out beautifully. Instead of the classic view, visitors got a newsfeed-style page with a whole new look and feel. But that’s not the only thing that changed. According to Digiday, Washingtonian homepage unique visitors climbed 18 percent and the bounce rate dropped by 30 percent. And that was after only four months.
The homepage has traditionally been sacrosanct. Sure, publishers give it the old college try and refresh the content frequently. But so few really perform well that it begs the question: why hold onto something that’s not working? And why not try something different?
The Homepage Offered Some Freedom to Experiment
The very thing that made the homepage such a disappointment in the past gave the Washingtonian some freedom to experiment. It’s always been a necessary space, but one that wasn’t especially breathtaking. So like an artist playing with color and texture on an old canvas to see what might happen, designers didn’t have much to lose. The best they hoped for was a slightly better user experience that wasn’t quite as clunky.
Before the update, only about 5.8 percent of the site’s total visitors landed on the homepage at all. That’s according to Washingtonian senior editor, Andrew Beaujon who told Digiday that the space had become a “second priority.” Most visitors arrived through a search or social media and landed on an article page. It was a low-risk move that ultimately made the homepage relevant again. Nobody expected that.
Washingtonian Users Get a Fresh Experience
The Washingtonian homepage wasn’t a stand-out feature before the overhaul. Like many such pages, it was utilitarian. Since the renovation, the homepage functions more like a reverse-chronological newsfeed. Other publications, such as Quartz and Fast Company, are also on board with abandoning the traditional look for one that users actually use.
Digiday says traditional wisdom has held that the more editorial content you show, the more chances you give visitors to find something interesting to click on. But the numbers don’t support that as an efficient model. Data from Parsley, which is a publisher’s analytics platform, shows that the top performing content on most publisher homepages only snags about 25 percent of clicks, give or take. And with so much other content sharing the space, visitors are actively not clicking most of it.
Tweaking the look and function of the homepage isn’t the right course of action for every publication. While the Washingtonian is enjoying dramatically better performance, don’t expect to see the Washington Post abandon their traditional homepage anytime soon. But for less traditional ones that want a more relatable experience for visitors, the magazine and newsfeed style function appears to offer what they’d lacked before. Who says happy accidents never happen?
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