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The homepage makes a comeback

“Publishers can’t control what Facebook or Twitter or Google or Apple will do in 2019. But they can control the homepage.”

A few years ago — just as Facebook traffic to publishers was beginning to soar — media watchers pronounced homepages dead. Consumption habits were changing; audiences were getting more of their news via social media platforms and homepage traffic was plummeting. An executive I worked with in 2012, discussing the dawn of the social news era, proclaimed at the time: “Websites are the Rust Belt of the internet.”

Today, the social news bubble has burst. Facebook traffic has plummeted and publishers are focused on diversifying their growth strategies. Audiences are exhausted, the news cycle is more intense than ever, and feeds are cluttered with noise and fake news. It’s harder to figure out whether you can trust the things you see on social media.

But audiences know which sources they trust. And what better way to visit a source you trust than typing a URL directly into your phone’s browser and checking out what’s on their homepage? The homepage visit is the ultimate indicator of loyalty: It’s the repeat visitor who spends time reading multiple stories in each visit. Visiting a homepage allows news consumers to actively take control of their consumption habits, rather than passively waiting for things to be served to them through algorithm-powered social media channels. Engagement-driven algorithms allowed low-quality websites to game the Facebook algorithm with stories that drove other more important or higher-quality stories out of the News Feed entirely. But your favorite website’s homepage won’t let you down, and thoughtful homepage editors work to serves you the stories you need to know about each day to be a smarter, more informed consumer.

In 2019, publishers shouldn’t forget about their homepage strategy. Thinking about how best to serve and understand the readers who visit it — and how to maximize how long they stick around — will be key to developing loyalty, trust, and growth. Publishers can’t control what Facebook or Twitter or Google or Apple will do in 2019. But they can control the homepage.

Nisha Chittal is engagement editor at Vox.

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