How GQ reversed declining homepage traffic

The homepage is not dead. Publishers are discovering anew the wonders of owning direct traffic. At GQ, the homepage is a priority, with homepage traffic up by 20 percent in the past six months.

“There’s for years been so much conversation about how every page is a homepage,” said Howard Mittman, publisher and chief revenue officer at the men’s glossy. “But in premium environments for luxury advertising, premium positioning still matters. Maybe whereas five years ago, it was the premium space. Now it’s a part of that strategy, but it’s still an important part of that.”

The only problem: direct traffic to the homepage is still dwarfed by search and social. Homepage traffic, despite the 20 percent boost, still makes up just one-fifth of overall traffic. Overall site traffic is still growing faster — average traffic for the first half of the year, at 7 million, was 82 percent higher than the year-ago period, per comScore. But homepage traffic, while it’s not growing as fast as GQ’s overall traffic, is heading up after being flat the year before and down the year before that.

Here’s how GQ is bumping up the homepage on the priority list:

Speed: GQ went through a major exercise in cutting page load time a year ago, making its site load 80 percent faster. But with speed so important to readers on mobile devices, GQ has been building on that this year, reducing external requests like ad calls by one third; introducing lazy loading of images; and adopting responsive design on mobile. Those changes helped cut the homepage load time by as much as 60 percent in testing, to 2.6 seconds.

Design: With more than half of GQ’s digital audience reading it on mobile devices, GQ wanted to push people to the homepage once they landed on an article. So it increased the size of the navigation bar on the article page that redirects people to the home page. “Your mobile homepage can become an important recirculation moment,” said Mike Hofman, GQ’s executive digital director.

Publishing volume: GQ has been publishing 36 percent more posts than it was was a year ago (GQ said the daily figure varies so it couldn’t say how many it posts a day), so when people come to the homepage, they’re more likely to see something new. It’s also been publishing more posts in the evenings and weekends, when people have more time to read.

GQ introduced a new homepage design this week that it hopes will keep the momentum going. Fashion coverage does particularly well for GQ, so the new design showcases is designed to optimize that. The old homepage used to be a river of content, like lots of homepages are these days; the new one has three spots where stories can stay longer: the hero image and “related stories” underneath and the top spot on the right-hand rail.

“There are a lot of incentives to not pay attention to the homepage these days,” Hofman said. “And those exist around us as well. But if you can build a homepage to serve your most loyal audience, there is great value.”

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