The web is a numbers game and we’re all losing. Everyone is obsessed with metrics that don’t matter, and most folks don’t even realize it. Like I tell my students, a million hits on YouTube on a video or having a couple thousand followers on Twitter doesn’t mean much unless you’re using your presence on those platforms to leverage people’s focus onto something else you’re doing that will put money in your wallet and eyes on your work. Otherwise you’re only vying for bragging rights, and on the Internet, that won’t take you all that far.
Take, for example, how fixated folks are about SEO (which is important) and website entry points (which are arguably less important because hits are hits). As the world is shifting away from valuing writers as much and declaring we are faceless content providers and nothing more, there’s a pervading notion that a website is only successful if it gets a ton of hits. I think this is undeniably true. It differs from YouTube and social media because few businesses are running a website just to run a website. They have contact information so you can set up a deal. They have an online store so you can buy something.
So what does this mean? Ann Friedman of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote in January that:
As editorial agendas have become complicated with new concerns, like tweets and shares and clicks on individual stories, there remains a surprising amount of energy expended on the homepage. But as more and more traffic comes from search and social, the homepage as the entryway into a site’s content is increasingly obsolete.
Sites like BuzzFeed get it. Old-school publications are less likely to. Ironically, websites are taking many cues from social media in the sense that you don’t start off on Google’s homepage and search from there. You use the menu bar or a plug-in and search through Google there. It’s the same for content-driven websites: You don’t start at the beginning, you start with what you got search results for or whatever you were sent a link to.
I remind my writers at Inc. Well of this, my students of this and I also approach freelance writing from this mindset. What that means is you can’t assume people have any context or extra knowledge of what they’re clicking on going in. For all you know this could be their first visit to your site, so be welcoming and be relevant. Don’t fill space. The front page isn’t a branding opportunity. It’s just a portal — and one of many, at that.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.