Homepage Design & Linking Strategy For Publishers [SEO Case Study]

The publisher’s homepage is one of their most important pages for News SEO.

So what happens when the number of internal links to articles from a publisher’s homepage drops dramatically?

We just learned this at a national news publisher in Ireland that I work for, The Independent.

In this column, I will share our experience with the homepage redesign and how the resulting change in internal link structure affected search rankings.

You’ll learn about the different ways a homepage supports a publisher’s SEO goals, find internal linking tips and advice from top SEO professionals at News, and find out what not to do to avoid similar issues when implementing a paywall.

Let’s dig deeper.

Home Redesign SEO Case Study

The implementation of paywalls was a major strategic initiative for

Their business leaders and editors wanted to promote as much premium, paywalled content on the homepage as possible.

The idea was to showcase the best of The Independent’s journalism to its most loyal direct readers.

This initiative was supported by data that showed that non-loyal readers would still be able to access the rest of the free content from search and social networks, as well as other external article referral sources.

However, this data did not reveal how important the homepage is for SEO.

In January 2020, the site’s homepage was redesigned to show only the best paywalled content of the day.

From a structural and technical SEO perspective, this means that the total number of articles linking from the homepage has increased from 174 to 48 – 72% reduction.

Image created by the author, February 2022

but that is not all.

Article detail pages have been redesigned to remove “clutter” – article referral tools such as “most shared” articles, as shown below.

Business Division of Online PublishingScreenshot from, January 2020
Analysis from the data team showed that less than 5% of readers scrolled down to these tools.
This gave the design team enough justification to remove the relevant articles at the bottom of the article.
Below the article in the news bulletinScreenshot from, January 2020

The new design is arguably cleaner, more modern and had less “mess” to it.

A new version of the landing page for a news publicationScreenshot from, February 2020

But for SEO, these changes had serious consequences.

What is the impact of this on search engine optimization?

When comparing February 2020 performance to the previous month, there was a 38.79% decrease in ranking for position 1 keywords.

The first place in the ranking drops after changing the internal link of the home pageScreenshot from, February 2022

As shown below, a negative correlation was detected in % of position 1 rankings from sections of articles that were removed from the homepage.

Position changes table 1Image created by the author, February 2022

Why is a publisher’s website homepage so critical to news SEO?

1. Crawl

News sitemaps help.

However, according to google documentsThe home pages and sections of the news site are very important pages that Google uses to discover the latest news.

By making sure that news articles are found on the publisher’s homepage when they are published, you can help Google detect crawling.

2. Indexing

Most news articles, especially when it comes to big news events, go against the common advice to deal with keyword cannibalization.

For news events, using the targeted keyword in the title is good for SEO.

When two stories are optimized for the same news keyword, I have found on various occasions that search engines will rank the article shown on the homepage instead with the most recent published date (although this is an account of my experience optimizing news stories on Google).

To back up my claim, V.I google documents On how it categorizes news, fame is a key element:

“The primary indication that information is relevant is when an article contains the same keywords as your search.”

How prominently a publisher features a cover on their sites, as well as how popular a story or article is, are important factors.

This is why when optimizing for news events, the latest development in a story should be found on the homepage.

This can help search engines decide who should rank in the top stories for the target keyword.

3. Ranking

The homepage of most news websites has most of the external PageRank.

This, in turn, transmits “importance” or rating signals to other pages on the site.

By removing pages from the homepage, it signals to Google and other search engines that these pages/articles are less important.

How to increase article internal links for a news publisher

1. Latest news, sidebar

to me Barry AdamsNews SEO Consultant The most popular technique is to have a sidebar with the latest articles.

Take this example from Dutch publisher NU:

Article Latest News Widget Internal Linking Case StudyScreenshot from, February 2022

This publisher also has a dedicated page (“”) containing the latest articles linked through high-level navigation.

2. Related Articles

John ShehataGlobal Vice President of Condé Nast, recommends the following strategy for increasing article internal links to publishers based on article popularity:

  • based on popularity (mostly read within x hours).
  • Popularity based on relevance Based on topic (related articles).
  • Personal articles (Based on the user’s reading history on the site).
  • popular editing (Top stories picked by news editors).

Which one offers the highest CTR to your audience will be unique to each site and recommend testing each type.

3. Home section lists articles

Having sections for the most important news sections of the site, with the latest news for each section, is a great way to ensure that the latest news on PageRank is scrolled from the home page.

A solution to increase the internal linking of the article to the publisher

All important news sections have been re-added to the homepage, and the six most recent articles published in those sections are shown chronologically.

The latest news sidebar has been added to the home page, both on desktop and mobile.

Independent news sectionScreenshot from, February 2022

As a result, these two solutions increased the total number of articles listed on the homepage by 8% compared to before the redesign.

Total article listed in home page repairScreenshot created by the author, February 2022

Each news article then recommended relevant articles to the reader and search engine based on topic and popularity.

Readers also have access to the most recent articles published on the site, in chronological order.

Article referer tool on article detail pagesScreenshot from, March 2021

What is the effect of increasing internal linking on search engine optimization?

Search impressions on Google are back to previous levels.

Image drop orderScreenshot taken by the author from, February 2022

Article referral traffic to other related articles increased by 10%.

Traffic back and forthScreenshot created by the author, February 2022

First place rankings have been improved, but have not been reverted to their pre-redesign level.

Relegation change order has not recoveredScreenshot taken by the author from, February 2022

Final thoughts

The main ideas that publishers should take away from this case study are:

  • The homepage of any news site is one of the most important sources of article traffic referral.
  • Although users arrive at a news article from search, the home page plays an important role in that article’s ability to rank.
  • The higher the internal PageRank an article receives, the more important that article will be perceived by Google’s crawling, indexing and ranking systems.
  • Changing a website’s architecture for a cleaner design can have a negative impact on a publisher’s search performance.
  • For News SEO, making sure the article receives a link from the homepage when it is published is crucial. Having an automated sidebar on the homepage with the latest articles posted in chronological order is a great way to achieve this goal.

Finally, the next time you are in a meeting discussing the potential impact of a homepage design change on SEO and need evidence to support your argument that design changes affect SEO – please share this case study with them!

More resources:

  • Internal links as a ranking factor: What you need to know
  • 5 Important SEO Considerations When Optimizing News Sites
  • The Complete Guide to On Page SEO

Featured image: metamorworks/Shutterstock

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