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Helping readers get the most from your journal homepage

October 22, 2021

Here’s how readers interact with our journal homepages – and how you can make yours even more useful to them

For an academic journal, the homepage is an entry point and shop window for all that the journal – and the society behind it – has to offer. Increasingly, journal homepages are featuring a wide variety of elements that can showcase a society’s broader knowledge ecosystem, such as industry developments, continuing education, podcasts or vlogs, guidelines and consensus statements, author blogs and visual abstracts.With all these possibilities, here is some insight into how users interact with your homepage and how you can present these resources to best serve your community.

How homepages are used

Homepages seldom have much information in themselves. Rather, they’re hubs that provide paths to information. Consequently, we could consider all activity on the homepage as some form of search. “Search” means much more than entering terms into a search bar; we’re always searching: seeking, scanning and sorting a sea of information to locate what we care about most. User search can be classified in two ways:

  • Known-item search refers to when site visitors already know what they are looking for. For instance, they may visit a journal with a particular guideline article already in mind, or they may have a manuscript they are seeking to submit.

  • Exploratory search refers to when readers have some uncertainty about what they are looking for or the best way to find it. For instance, a researcher embarking on a literature review will know the topic of their review but not all the articles they’ll discover and include; a regular reader of a journal will peruse the table of contents to see what’s new in their discipline.

Known-item searching tends to be binary, while exploratory search entails ranking and sorting. These modes needn’t be exclusive, and the two search types may overlap or change during the course of search.

Homepage clicks and links: what the data says

Over 200 of our nonprofit publishing partners, including the Mayo Clinicopens in new tab/window, the American Society for Biochemistry and Microbiology, and the American Dental Associationopens in new tab/window, have journals hosted on Elsevier’s Journal-Branded Solutions platform. Each of these journal sites is customized and unique while providing similar options for a number of core elements (current issue, articles in press, etc).Looking across these different sites, some general reading behaviors emerge, which are visualized on the chart at the top of the page:

  • Known-item search accounts for 37% of homepage reader behavior.

    In these instances, readers are using the search bar or looking for submission guidelines or specific information about a journal.

  • Exploratory search, which could be considered equivalent to browsing, accounts for 34%  of reader behavior.

    These are cases where readers are clicking through curated collections, past content, in-press content and the journal’s current issue (in order of least to most popular).

The other 29% of user activity can be attributed to common user behaviors like registration and access or “unknowns” (a vast collection of journal-specific user behavior that accumulates by virtue of hosting so many custom sites). But the salient point is that from what we can observe and infer, the split between known-item and exploratory searching is close to 50/50.

Introducing a new discovery into the user journey

Ultimately, we want to respect both types of users and clearly signpost content for them in a manner that always feels intuitive. To this end, we recommend a couple of tactics to help introduce readers to new content types such as podcasts, author summaries, society news or blogs, and many other new non-article content types.

  1. Place priority content high on the page. We favor site designs that place search and submission options near the top of the page, where they can be discovered quickly by the authors and readers who need them. This is very efficient, but the trade-off is that fewer than half of all readers will scroll down the homepage after it loads (again, about half of all behavior is exploratory).

    For content to be discoverable by a majority of readers, it needs to live “above the fold” and in the screen area immediately visible when the page loads; otherwise, only exploratory readers will discover it.

  2. Place your content in “neighborhoods” for specific audiences. Even if users are looking for specific resources – for instance, submission guidelines – there may be accompanying resources that can help inform their search and their relationship with the journal. Identify the audience your content is most useful to and place it near related content.

What’s ahead

In the coming months, our platform team will be introducing new journal homepage designs and new digital object types, and we’ll be returning to these principles as we share these exciting developments with you. In the meantime, if you’re interested in reviewing options for your homepage, please do let your Publisher know, and we’ll be glad to discuss your needs.