How your homepage can improve your rankings
This week: Shelby explains how to use the power of your homepage to further your search efforts.
Hello, and welcome back. Shelby here. I have returned to the helm after spending 95 per cent of the weekend outside. I’m happy to report I only burnt one of my shoulders and actually wore sunscreen! New month, new me.
This week: Homepages and SEO. A few months ago, our friends at SEMRush asked me to pen a Twitter thread, and I wrote about how homepages are a secret to improving your overall rankings. This issue is an expanded version of that Twitter thread, and we go through some helpful tips you can use right now to optimize your homepage.
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In this issue:
Homepages and SEO
What impact does the homepage have
Three ways to optimize your homepage
The homepage – the first stop
Your homepage is your primary landing page. Anyone who is loyal to your brand, or searches your publication, will be directed here first.
In journalism, we look at the homepage like a digital front page – the main packages, however your site is set up, provide links to your most important stories. Under that, you may have additional throws, links or section teasers with more gateways to your journalism.
However, readers don’t just search your brand. They also find their news through social feeds or by searching particular topics.
You may be inclined to ignore the structure of your homepage. Shouldn’t it just be visually attractive and show off the journalism that we care about? If people don’t come to the landing page of my site, why should I care about it?
Your homepage is a secret to improving your rankings.
The homepage of a website acts as a major linking signal for Google and readers alike. Search engine robots begin on the homepage and follow various links to crawl, index and ultimately rank stories for the appropriate keywords.
Just like loyal readers begin on your homepage, so do search engine crawlers when they’re looking for the newest pieces of content to add to its index. Spiders take clues from your homepage on how the piece of content should be indexed and if your coverage serves the reader’s intent.
Jessie took us through how sitemaps help Google determine the important information found on pages. Homepages are the second part of that, and help determine the relationship between pieces of content.
What impact does the homepage have on SEO?
The homepage of a site is the most linked-to page. If properly optimized, every page on your site should have some link back to the homepage. Since links help improve the overall authority of a page, the homepage gives the biggest signal of authority. A link from the homepage, therefore, can help a page’s visibility – crucial in news SEO.
A few years ago, Dan Smullen began a homepage redesign for Independent.ie, which included decreasing the amount of links visible on their homepage by 72 per cent and reducing the most shared and related widgets in pursuit of a cleaner, faster site.
After just a month, there was a 38.79% drop in keywords ranking in position 1. Diving deeper, Dan found that there was a negative correlation in the drop of position 1 rankings with those article sections that were removed from the homepage.
The reason? They vastly limited the crawling, indexing and ranking of the stories found through the homepage.
There are many reasons linking from the homepage helps your search efforts:
Signal to Google and readers alike of fresh, new content;
Re-promoting evergreen articles can get them recrawled;
Improve visibility of big investigations in search;
Boost your organization’s E.A.T signals;
Rank higher. Get more traffic. Get more subscribers. Get more money.
How does this happen? Internal links are a major signal for search engines (and readers). Links help determine the relation between two pieces of content, as well as the authority you as a publication have writing on this subject. The more we properly link our stories to categories, topic pages and related evergreen or enterprise reporting, the more we create signals of topical authority.
Read more: Barry Adams calls internal links an SEO superpower. Find out why
THE HOW TO
Three things to consider optimizing for your homepage
Using your homepage to improve your internal linking strategy is a great approach for news publishers.
The goal is to have the most important pages linked to and from the homepage. This means your contact, location, masthead, subscribe links as well, as these are important to be crawled and found easily. Beyond that, there are some things we can do to better optimize the homepage.
1. Optimize your navigation, sub-navigation
Your navigation immediately provides links to the section pages of your site. This is the first signal to crawlers that these sections – found at the top of the page in an orderly list – are categories or topics you cover regularly.
If you have sections within those sections, or a very robust site architecture that goes down multiple levels – consider having a fully broken out navigation that provides a link to every section from the homepage.
Example: The Globe and Mail does a great job in their flyout navigation, where every section and subsection is listed, as well as quick links to important additional pages (podcast, horoscopes, events). It also provides easy access for readers to get their subscription information – something more UX than SEO, but a great component to have.
Pro tip: As your site builds and develops, consider adding a trending bar or navigation that links to major or trending topic pages/stories.
This does two things:
Provides an additional link to your ongoing stories without taking up too much real estate;
Displays your areas of expertise, authority and evokes trust for topics you cover consistently.
2. Expand your sections
Sometimes you may scroll and scroll on a homepage and wonder why a site would include so many links from each section. You see news, sports, business, life and politics sections with multiple links to old stories.
This is on purpose. Links from the homepage get priority crawl, so even if a story isn’t a homepage “play” – i.e., stories that, for editorial or business reasons, are not to be displayed prominently – it can still be crawled, indexed and hopefully ranked in a timely manner.
These widgets should be expanded as you see fit. Think about which sections (business, sports, politics) align with reporting E.A.T signals, while also considering which sections need more link juice. Are there evergreen pieces you can slide in there too? Alternatively, can you add a topic-specific page (ongoing coronavirus coverage or the Olympics) into your navigation for quick crawling and access?
Below is a great example from The Guardian that shows how they expanded their women’s Euros coverage with a topic section widget (extra points for the “hide” option). The Guardian still provides a window into their regular sports coverage, but a topic-specific section on the homepage provides seven additional links to an event that is of importance to their audience, but may not get regular promotion in their higher widgets.
3. Widgets, sidebars, modules, oh my!
News SEOs all say adding some form of automated sidebar or widget for related news, trending articles or best stories across your site – but especially from your homepage – is critical to ensuring each article receives a link from the homepage.
When I talk about widgets or sidebars, I really am talking about any on-site element that gives you the ability to add additional links to the homepage. There are countless different types, and every site will approach them differently. What’s important is choosing what works best for your search strategy and overall editorial goals.
Look at the structure of your homepage. Do you currently have:
A “latest news” widget for articles to receive a link immediately when published?
A sidebar of trending articles?
Special section or topic widgets for categories, “picked from editors” or “reader favourites”?
A section with a list of evergreens that are always relevant?
These components provide links to stories directly from the homepage. Each can be simply added throughout the site, too, so they can show up on article pages.
The New York Times uses an in case you missed it widget that is filled with the top picks from The Times. This includes links to stories that are older than a few days, but are still relevant to the reader (and someone who may search the topic).
Remember: The homepage is the highest authority page on your site, so any authority passed on from a link is great for visibility on search.
When Dan Smullen and his team re-added important news sections and a latest news sidebar to the homepage, the total articles listed on the homepage improved by 8 per cent, but the article referrer traffic to other related articles increased by 10 per cent.
News SEO means giving visibility to as many stories as possible. Your homepage can be the first major link to do that.
The bottom line: Your homepage is a secret to ranking and improving the overall visibility of the pages on your site. Think critically about the way you link stories and how you can maximize the potential to rank.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Ziff Media Group is hiring an SEO Intern to help with mashable.com and pcmag.com (remote).
Moz: Link relevance versus content relevance in link building
Google now has a list of all search ranking updates. Bookmark and cherish forever.
SiteVisibility Podcast: What is SEO branding with Mordy Oberstein of Wix
Search Engine Land: 11 Google Sheets formulas SEOs should know
SEOTesting: 13 of the best free keyword research tools
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: email@example.com.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley