Rethinking engagement strategies for a home page bypass

By Greg Bright

Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA


This isn’t a doom-and-gloom blog post … just a PSA.

If you have not already, you need to build into your 2017 digital strategic plan the impact of a home page bypass. Everything from the ad impression revenues to site design and individual story presentation needs a rethink. Take action now, or you may wake up some day wondering where all of your traffic and ad impression revenue went.

Media companies need to consider how readers are reaching specific pieces of content.
Media companies need to consider how readers are reaching specific pieces of content.

The search engines have always bypassed the home page. The game changer is how social media sites (such as Facebook) have changed digital behaviour patterns. The era of never having to leave your social site to get news means a consumer relies on news feeds and alert messages.

Yes, if you are The Washington Post, The New York Times, or USA Today, consumers will continue to come to your home page. But if you are the Mid-Atlantic Daily Miracle, only the loyalist of loyal readers will hit your home page first.

This fundamental change should make you rethink how your site design needs to encourage engagement. Engagement hooks have to start at the individual story level.

Is your recommendation engine presenting “next story” values within (or at the end) of each individual story? Does your site make it easy to get to the next story? And, for the designers, do you have the right hooks in your analytics to see entry and exit paths?

Don’t forget the mobile traffic. Do you think mobile-first in your designs yet? The screen real estate difference between mobile- and browser-based search is a profound change in how people move about the Internet. The Internet has always been the place people go to confirm.

Now, with mobile, the phone user does not even see content hooks that surround information they are confirming to entice them to learn. Many are probably not even aware of what source content is coming from — just that they got a search return and they read and believe. Mobile is a search, read, return, and move on process.

In the mobile and social site-centric models, the “explore” step is eliminated. Without the explore step, you miss serving ad impressions, but more importantly, you miss presenting further reading recommendations to the reader.

So, let us work on putting the local revenue stream back in place as we all know we can’t sustain the business with the commodity level pay-per-click or impression-based pay from the uber-lords of the Internet.

Your site is probably designed around a content journey that starts with your home page. If readers no longer take the journey from your home page to get to the desired content (that is, they are just getting dropped into the content from a feed), how do you reach them beyond the one piece of content they dropped in to see?

From the revenue perspective, when they drop in this way, are you able to serve an ad? On longer stories, do you serve multiple ads (say every 5-8 inches)?

Hyper-focus on the new journey. Use your Adobe or Google Analytics to get a deep understanding of the “real” entry points to your content — not the bot’s journey over your site but the human journey. Is your robots.txt file up to the task? Can you handle bots that do not care about the exclusion file?

Then map out (with a flowchart) the real journey, and cross-link it to the revenue opportunities within the real journey. Are your recommendation engine presentations sitting where people can see them? Are your locally controlled ad positions set in the right places? Are your network-delivered ad positions in lower priority positions?

Remember, it is up to you to manage the engagement and sustainable revenue streams. The uber-lords have a different agenda, so don’t fall into their spell of clicks and traffic. Understand the journeys as they really are not what you hope they are. Build your content presentation strategy to this front door-bypass reality.

A wrong step here and you lose control of not only the revenue streams connected to your content but you lose control of the content visible for delivery.

About Greg Bright

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