How to capitalize on the death of the homepage

Last spring a NY Times internal document was leaked highlighting a whopping decline of its homepage traffic from 160 million to 80 million between 2011 and 2013. Since the report was leaked, there have been a number of reactions, and overreactions on what the trend means. For my inaugural iBus Media blog post, I decided to give my thoughts how this trend affects iGaming affiliate sites, and some tips on how to optimize your content and product strategy to combat the trend.

First off, I think it’s important to note that most iGaming affiliate sites already differ greatly from traditional media sites such as the NY Times. There has always been an SEO-first approach to affiliate sites in poker, casino, and sports betting, and that approach naturally sets affiliate sites up for success in the world of the faltering homepage. For example, editors for the NY Times are focused on driving quality content to ensure users are coming to the site on a daily basis in order to generate page views, and in turn advertising revenue. iGaming affiliates are focused more on a conversion funnel, or getting players to click on specific links or offers. So while many affiliate sites still work on a dynamic content strategy by putting regular content on their sites, there is also a heavy focus of building landing pages, and content designed for specific search terms. Because of this SEO first strategy, we’re already ahead of the game, and I’d argue that affiliate sites have seen less of a decline on homepage traffic than traditional media sites.

Being ahead of the game is not enough though. What can we do in the affiliate industry to stay ahead of the game? Here are a few steps to help you succeed.

Understand and Analyze Your Incoming Traffic

Any good publisher or editor lives in Google analytics, or some other analytics tool on a regular basis. Understanding your audience will help you develop your site, and your site's content for that specific audience. As an exercise I encourage you to look at your own homepage traffic over the last two years. Is it declining? Is it increasing? Is it on par?

Once you’ve reviewed the homepage traffic, have a look at sections of the site. How are they comparing to that homepage traffic? Are there specific sections, or specific pages that are on the rise, or that have surprised you? Are you able to spot any trends? Is there sizable growth in social traffic to individual articles, or sections of your site, which are drawing a lot of referral traffic? Where are users coming in to your site? Honestly you can easily get caught in a black hole of information in your analytics, but it’s absolutely critical to take the time to study and understand your audience.

Depending on your site, there may be any number of trends that you may spot, but in particular keep an eye on your side doors. Side doors are pages of your site that people are entering through. Picture your site as a house. Your homepage is the living room that you greet people in. You typically keep it really nice and clean and you're very proud of it. Would you be as comfortable with letting someone enter your house through the bathroom? The kitchen? That’s essentially what’s happening with your website. You’ll begin to find that people are entering your site for the first time through pages that you didn’t plan on them entering through, which takes us to the next step.

Optimize The Design of Your Side Doors

So through Step 1 hopefully you’ve identified your most popular side doors. Now we need to optimize those side doors to ensure they are working for you as efficiently as they can. Obviously iGaming affiliate sites have built their homepages around conversion, and because of that you’ve probably spent 75% of your time and energy on getting that homepage PERFECT. Well, now it’s time to do the same with your side doors. If you’ve spotted that your side door conversion rate is lower than other pages, but you’re getting more traffic to those side doors – you guessed it, it’s time to make some a change.

Treat your side doors with the same care as you would the homepage. For example, let’s say you’ve got a really strong Twitter following, and your weekly blog posts are getting tons of hits through that social traffic. You need to make sure that the article or blog layout has as many conversion opportunities as your homepage. We can’t rely on readers clicking through from a popular article about a casino player turning $1 in to $1,000,000 to your homepage to see your latest promotion. It’s likely that the user will read the article, and then exit your site. So you need to find a way to display that promotion within, or around that popular blog post itself. Maybe try some sort of native advertising within your own blog pieces for promotions. Or you can insert a top promo widget at the top of every blog page. All the conversion tricks you’ve used on your homepage, it’s important to experiment introducing them to your most popular side doors.

Don’t stop there, though. Every page on your site could be the first page a user looks at depending on where they’re coming from, or what they’re searching. Treat every page as if you’re trying to make a great first impression. Look to have consistency and uniformity on your pages to enhance your site’s usability. When you treat each page with the same attention you have previously given to your homepage, you will see improved traffic numbers, conversion rates, and revenue. Trust me on this one.

Future Proof with Content Strategy

OK, we’ve done some solid research to determine which pages seem to be driving traffic to our site. We’ve taken those side doors and optimized them for conversion, just as we would our homepage. So… We’re done, right? Wrong. We’re never done. The obvious next step is simply to rinse and repeat, which I don’t disagree with – but instead of stopping there, let’s try to get ahead of the game by trying to predict what our users might be looking for next.

This step is not as black and white as the first two. Use the research you’ve found from Step 1 and start trying to duplicate those results with other topics. Build more content around the most popular searches to your site. For example, if you’ve seen you're getting significant search traffic to an article you wrote about online roulette strategy, do your best to replicate that utilizing some long-tail keyword variations. For our topic in particular, variations might be:

  • 5 Tips For Winning at Roulette Online
  • Best Places to Play Online Roulette
  • A Beginners Guide to Online Roulette

Why write about the same thing if people are already landing on my first roulette strategy page, you ask? Well, different folks have different search patterns. Maybe there are 100 people searching for online roulette strategy, and you’ve hit 55 of them with your initial online roulette strategy article. But if you build out another 3-4 articles, you’ve got a much better chance of reaching all 100 of those users searching. If you’re optimizing these pages for conversion as we talked about in Step 2, that bit of extra work can pay off with big results.

OK, let’s wrap it up. It’s clear that user patterns are changing. Homepage traffic is declining for most major digital media and affiliate sites, but let’s not lose hope. There’s still plenty we can do to turn things around and take advantage of this trend.

  1. Get comfortable diving in to your analytics on a regular basis. Don’t just guess what your audience wants; learn as much about user patterns and tendencies as you possibly can.
  2. Take that insight and tweak all of your most popular side doors. Embed native promos, add calls to actions, and in general treat the design of all internal pages of your site the same way you would the homepage.
  3. Don’t be complacent. Make sure to use your research to build new pages on your site that you know users will be interested in. By understanding user tendencies you can avoid wasting time on content your audience doesn’t care about, and focus more on content that you know is already performing for you.

Don’t let your homepage traffic discourage you. Get creative, innovate, and have fun!

Matthew Parvis is the Chief Creative Officer for iBus Media and has been a content and product strategist in the iGaming industry for 10+ years. Follow him on Twitter --> @MatthewParvis