Student guest post: A farewell to the homepage

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the ninth of those posts. Paige Ladisic is a junior studying editing and graphic design and political science at UNC-Chapel Hill. But most of the time, she’s the online editor at The Daily Tar Heel, studying how to manage a print-first college newspaper in a digital-first world.

Every day, between 25,000 and 30,000 people view dailytarheel.com, clicking on links from Facebook, Twitter and the homepage. But every day when I open our Google Analytics panel, I’m noticing a trend — it’s just a little change for us, but at newspapers all over the country, it’s happening a lot faster and with far bigger numbers.

The modern homepage is dying.

That doesn’t mean people aren’t reading news, although seeing that The New York Times lost 80 million homepage visitors over two years is a scary statistic. That just means that people are getting to news in different ways.

Instead of treating a homepage like a digital copy of a newspaper, readers find news through social media referrals, Google searches and something analytics sites call “dark social.” Instead of readers reading the news online at certain times throughout the day, people are grabbing bits of information here and there.

At The Daily Tar Heel, our homepage’s death is coming more slowly than 80 million pageviews lost, but I’ve been watching the decline and getting ready for it.

What’s a student journalist to do?

My job every day is to make sure our website is produced with the reader and their experience in mind. I also oversee everything pushed to Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.

Before, the goal of producing a website would just be to drive people to your homepage — but now, every social media post I write is a pitch to read that one story, to share it or to send it to your friends. People aren’t seeking out our news, because hundreds of articles are competing for every UNC student’s attention at any given time — we have to jump in the fray too.

When I open a story in our content management system, the first thing I do is write a headline — but instead of one headline, I’ll write two or three.

One is the normal newsy headline that will also be featured in the URL, one is a feature headline for the story page itself and the final headline is exclusively for social media sharing. I take advantage of that third headline to drive people from Facebook to the website, and the feature headline is important to keep people on the site once they click.

In the body text of the story, I link to everything I can — older stories with important context, profiles about key players in a story, topic pages and archives of related stories. And when it’s time to write the social media post, it’s more than just using all 140 characters — I have to take advantage of every single character to convince readers to click that link.

It’s all about getting people to the site, and once they get there, keeping them there.

RIP, homepage.

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