Why Your Blog Homepage Is a Missed Opportunity
Here’s a question -- how many “must-read” blogs do you follow?
How many blogs do you visit on a regular basis, whether by manually typing in the URL, following a bookmark, or subscribing to an RSS feed?
And what percentage does that make up of the total content you consume?
If you’re like most people, the answer is probably ‘little to none’. This just isn’t how we find and consume content anymore.
But this wasn’t always the case. The content landscape has changed drastically over the past few years which, fortunately or unfortunately, has turned the “/blog” main page into a dusty old relic from a bygone era.
It’s wasted real estate. A barren plot of land.
But to truly understand why that main blog page represents such a huge missed opportunity, we need to first understand how people are discovering our content in 2015.
The Rise of The Stream
By now, the blog has lost significant airtime to “the stream”. As a result, there aren’t nearly as many blog loyalists these days. Rather, people read whatever their favorite influencers are sharing on Twitter. Or whatever their friends are Liking on Facebook. Or they look at what’s trending on Digg or some kind of larger aggregator.
We follow creators and websites that we like on social media, mostly to create a better chance for their content to appear in our stream. We often don’t visit their site regularly to check for ourselves. Sometimes we do. Just not nearly as frequently anymore.
But social isn’t the only way people find content. There’s also the old standby -- organic search. Users go to Google with a very specific question, problem, or challenge and explore content that helps them find the answers they’re looking for.
So when you put these two things together, you can almost start to see every piece of blog content as its own landing page. And as marketers, we’ve done a good job of optimizing for this. We’ve learned to build our evergreen or search-friendly content around relevant keyword themes and problem solutions to help users discover it; “How to Change a Flat Tire” and “What to Do If Your Sink Leaks“.
And we’ve learned to write headlines that drive a high social click through rate and encourage sharing; “7 Surprising Numbers On Your Credit Card Bill” and “Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Go Grocery Shopping for 2 Years”.
So far, though, given this new content landscape, what we’ve failed to optimize is the blog home page.
Set In Our Ways
The way we’ve been thinking about the blog homepage is completely outdated. It’s not at all reflective of the new normal.
Your home page isn’t users’ most common entry point to your content anymore. It’s more likely that they’ll visit your blog home page AFTER having landed on a specific piece of content through search or social.
By then, they’ve engaged with your content. They’re interested in more. They want to get to know you or your brand.
And what do they get?
A chronological list of previous blog posts that may or may not be relevant to their interests.
This is especially troublesome for blogs, brands, and publishers that cover a wide range of topics, or feature a diverse chorus of voices and perspectives.
And there’s nothing wrong with this per se. We even do it ourselves on our own blog. Because this is the way it’s always been done.
But it could be a missed opportunity. Scratch that. It’s definitely a missed opportunity.
In an age where users expect more and more personalized experiences, dropping them in a sea of content and leaving them to fend for themselves means throwing away a chance to really wow them.
Trying New Things
The most common alternative to the chronological blog layout is the “magazine” or “newspaper” tile layout. You see this coming from a lot of large-scale publishers like Slate, Salon, Huffington Post, and others.
Here’s Slate's front page. It’s beautiful and visually pleasing, but a little overwhelming.
It’s politics mixed with tech mixed with pop culture mixed with sponsored content. And you can filter these all by going to just the Culture page, or just the Politics page. But those are broad concepts. Where do you start if you’re a person with diverse interests? Where do you go if you’re interested in political news but not political op-ed?
Here’s Huffington Post. It’s the same concept, only messier.
Sports, science, politics, and featured posts all run together here. Throughout, you can click on wildly diverse sub-topics like “Dinosaurs” and “Argentina”. Again, you can also filter by broad categories. But what purpose does this front page really serve to users who arrived through a specific piece of content?
In contrast, here’s what we did for Catavolt, a client, in terms of organizing their resource section. Users choose their Industry (Manufacturing, Healthcare, Pharma, etc.) and Role (Sales, Operations, IT, etc.) to filter the content and receive access to hyper-relevant resources.
Similarly, Edsurge.com, a hugely popular education news source, offers two homepage views, Innovate and Instruct, which you can toggle between at the very top of the site. Beyond just filtering posts by broad tags or categories (like Education, Technology, Case Studies, etc.), these views come with an explanation of exactly what you’re going to see, targeted to very specific types of readers.
“You are reading Instruct – Tips, tools and practices to enhance learning / Switch to Innovate”
“You are reading Innovate – News, conversations and insights in the edtech industry / Switch to Instruct”
For another Nebo client, Pure TalkUSA, we took a different approach to the run-of-the-mill Category pages we see so often. Although the home page itself follows the chronological layout, we expanded these subpages to help better orient the user who may be looking for further reading. Below is the blog’s Educate category page, complete with a description of what users can expect from blog posts in this category.
Many Medium collections split their home pages into Featured stories and Latest, which isn’t exactly revolutionary. But at the very least, they’re offering visitors to that page a chance to see their best or most popular content first; as opposed to just the most recent. It’s like saying, “Welcome to our brand. Here’s a piece of content we feel represents the very best of what we’re all about.”
And how’s this for an offbeat example? On GoodUI.org, they keep a running list of quick “ideas” (really, mini blog posts) to help marketers create better user interfaces. The cool part? Through scroll tracking and cookies, they know which ones you haven’t read and offer a link at the top to take you immediately to an unread idea.
If we really challenge ourselves, we can push these ideas even further.
What if you could dynamically filter homepage content based on a user’s prior interaction with your site? What if you could use demographic information or other behavioral data to create a customized homepage experience?
Or what if the blog home page didn’t feature your content at all? What if it began by orienting new users to your brand with a landing page approach?
Jeff Goins starts by telling you exactly what you’re going to get by reading his blog and joining his newsletter, follows with proof to demonstrate that it’ll be worth your time, and then sends you on your way to his content.
These are all drastically different approaches to the same challenge. How do we ensure a better user experience when a person decides to “zoom out” from a specific piece of content? What’s the best way for us to help them decide how next to engage with our brand?
Your solution will depend on what kinds of content you create, what your audience cares about, and what your goals are as an organization. But one thing is for sure – this is a problem that will need to be addressed by all content creators in the coming years.
We don’t have access to Salon’s metrics, or EdSurge’s, or Medium’s. We don’t know who the top performers are and we don’t know exactly how these differing site layouts impact content success.
But don’t we owe it to ourselves to try something new? Something different than the same chronological blog home page we’ve all been using for 20 years?
Don’t we owe it to our readers to take their goals and intent into account when we design the experience of our site?
We’re in the middle of designing the next iteration of Nebo’s website right now, which includes the next iteration of our company blog.
And we can’t wait to build our own way of tackling this challenge.