May 9, 2011

Navigating News Online

The Importance of the Home Page

One question in the online world is how important a home page is, particularly if so much traffic is coming from search. The data here suggest the front page of a Website is vital.

For 21 of the 25 sites studied, the home page is the most viewed part of the site. This suggests a couple of likely behaviors. One is that some of the traffic coming from search is people typing in the name of the Website, not searching for specific topics. Second, it suggests that, for certain sites especially, going online to check the latest headlines is still an important dimension of news consumption.

The dominance of the home page, however, can vary sharply even among those sites for which it is the No. 1 page people visit.  At the top of the list is Reuters.com, where the home page commands fully 79% of the traffic. That is followed by news.google.com at 62% and cnn.com at 60%. At the low end, even though the home page was still the No. 1 page, was Aolnews.com, with just 6% of all traffic going to there. Topix.com was second to last at 7%.  
The four sites where the home page was not No. 1, where presumably traffic relied more heavily on search, were:  NYPost.com, Examiner.com, the DailyMail.co.uk and CBSNews.com. And for all but CBSNews.com, a specific article contained in the site garnered the most attention during the time studied. The top page within CBSNews.com is the video site.

Another finding was that the data suggest that news online remains a heavily text-oriented environment. Online video did not rank high on any of the sites as a place that people clicked to– even on the sites whose legacy product is affiliated with television, except CBSNews.com

Of the top 25 sites, five come from outlets associated with video (television): FoxNews.com, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, ABCNews.com, and CBSNews.com. But online video was only one of the top 20 pages viewed on two of those, CNN.com where it ranked second and CBSNews.com where it ranked first. In short, despite strong growth in online video, video remains a small, and in comparison with text, a distant part of the appeal of the Web, even on outlets whose legacy format is visual. (For more on online advertising see PEJ’s State of the News Media Report).