Today's first-of-three installments provides website optimization tips, simple and fast adjustments that you can make today. These tips, designed to better engage and retain readers and advertisers, were developed by Brad Best, RJI's advertising editor, and a team of Missouri School of Journalism students after weeks of analysis of a major Midwest metro daily.
Goals for news site design:
To increase usability to retain more visitors, as well as longer and more in-depth visits.
▶ Leads to a higher profit—the longer a visitor stays, the more pages they visit.
▶ More page views & higher impressions lead to higher ad income.
To make the site cleaner and easier to use to encourage users to browse the site.
▶ Decreases the bounce rate.
▶ Increases the number of return visitors, length of the average visit & profits.
How can a news site make design updates to optimize their site?
1. Use a split banner ad at the top of the page, keeping the paper logo centered.
- This has two benefits: advertising space is maintained and space above the fold is increased.
2. Use a three-column grid layout for the site’s design.
- Keeping the design symmetrical makes it easy to read and understand.
- Well-organized pages imply that a paper is trustworthy, responsible and composed. Chaotic layouts can give an impression of sloppiness.
3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the weather widget.
- ClickMap research shows that the weather widget icon is in the top 5 clicks on a news site.
- Update your design to place your weather widget (complete with advertising) under the navigation bar.
- Increasing the prominence of such a popular item on the site can enable the organization to increase rates and earn higher ad dollars.
4. Make your social media buttons uniform and clear—make sure they don’t resemble advertising, so there is no confusion for readers.
5. Ads that appear in the right column should remain symmetrical to the pattern of the news content in the other two columns.
- Symmetry is much more pleasing to the eye for readers.
- Direct Creative research found that ads placed close to popular stories are more noticed and clicked on.
6. Make sure technology is helping, not hurting your site. Slideshows that run too fast on the main page annoy users.
- If you set your videos to automatically buffer when viewers visit your page, it adds loading time that people may not wait for.
- Setting your top navigation bar as a floater allows the visitor to sign in or sign up at any time, and also distinguishes it from advertising.
Research backs up the importance of considering site design
7. Drost Designs found that if the content they seek does not immediately appear on their computer screen, they will click away.
8. Organization is key: Eye Tracking Update found that viewers are good at filtering out the extra “fluff” on a website.
9. Viewers love white space, according to Eye Tracking Update. It makes it easier to scan the page, while cluttered sites are difficult to read and drive viewers away.
Suggestions for analyzing daily score cards
10. “Top Headline” and “Top Story” charts should be reduced from top 15 to top 10 items, saving clutter.
11. Fix “unspecified” links in charts and tables. They are often the highest category, and fixing these broken links will make graphs more accurate for viewers.
12. “Pageview per Visitor” and “Average Time on Site” should be moved to the first page of the report, as they are most telling of the overall health of the site.
13. Remove “Browser Type,” “Record Days,” “Search Engine Traffic,” and “Hip Hops” reports from the daily scorecard, since these categories are static, not daily information.
14. Separate photo albums from editorial—you may even need to separate individual photos, if they each represent a separate impression.
15. Convert URLs to Titles to increase ease of use and readability.
16. Correlate Bylines to Headlines, so that a reporter with a specific story that is doing exceptionally well will stand out, rather than a reporter who writes a mass number of small stories that are each read a few times.
17. Reduce Top headlines in smaller sections to Top 5.
Upcoming installments will cover email newsletter opportunities and best practices for social media.
Want to know how these tips will affect your bottom line? Each market is different, and each news organization has a unique footprint. Brad Best and RJI can analyze your traffic and other key digital metrics to show you the dollars you are currently leaving on the table, and exactly how and where to grow your digital revenue.
You'll be surprised at the dollars you are currently leaving on the table. Call (573) 884-9121.