One of the traps far too many newspaper.com sites fall into when redesigning is viewing the site as a newspaper.com site and not a news/community.com site.
Not so, mainetoday.com.
Clean and not overloaded with links. Joe Michaud and his team have put together a site that resists the temptation to put EVERYTHING on the home page. Compare it, for example. with Chron.com.
It’s a tough call for most news sites, because there is just so much important information to point people towards. As wonderful as the new CNN.com is, it’s still a pretty long home page.
The first thing a newspaper.com can do is drop all the section boxes on the home page — those long lists of headlines by sections. You’ve got your section nav. That’s good enough. Next, just be really disciplined about what you allow on the home page. This is more of a internal political issue than anything. Everybody in the organization thinks he deserves some representation on the home page. That’s just not good design or usability. Site managers need to enforce some clear guidelines. Finally, dump some ad positions. Besides text ads, more than two ad positions is way too much. One is ideal. Your advertising will be more valuable on an uncluttered page. (Yes, MainToday.com has three ad positions. Oh, well.)
This is what we’re after at GateHouse Media with our first round of templates. We’ll fill out this look with some more content modules next month. We also have two new sets of templates we’ll unveil in five or six weeks. Again, we’re going after a cleaner look.
Of course, it was also the design style I championed in Bakersfield. That was nearly two years ago, and it’s still an uncommon approach, which is why I find MainToday.com’s redesign noteworthy.
Another thing Michaud is doing that I think is smart is they’re rolling out the redesign over a period of time. Today is the home page. Subsequent sections will follow. A complete site relaunch is a bear and bound to lead to headaches. A slow roll out makes it less stressful to uncover unforeseen issues. Unfortunately, with the site launches we have coming up in August, we have no choice but to do a complete makeover. I envy Joe his more leisurely pace.
UPDATE: So I dashed this off quickly this morning after a first-blush take on the new site, seeing instantly that this wasn’t your typical newspaper site. On closer look, the site is even more of a portal site. It’s very much a community site. There is plenty of good stuff going on here with UGC, blogs and calendar. Mouse over the horizontal navigation. I’m not usually a fan of roll-over navigation, but this is an very interesting take on the concept. It strikes me as a pretty original concept. Given its context-driven nature, I can actually see it working.
Thanks for the kind words, Howard.
A couple of noteworthy items from behind the scenes:
– The new design is part of a repositioning of our online services so that our three daily newspaper-branded sites focus on the needs of the core audience, and the MaineToday.com site focuses on audiences that tend to have different interests.
– The watchwords for the new MT site are “utility and community.” Those are the areas where we see the opportunity to serve new audiences.
– Part of that is a major internal effort to engage the three newsrooms on their respective newspaper sites, which previously the small MT staff produced. The newspaper sites are already more vibrant, and now the MT content staff is freed to focus on those new audiences. New designs for the newspaper sites will come later.
– We’re with you on limiting ad inventory. Given that some of our sections are sold out even with 4 slots, we think 4 is an OK number to stick with.
I’m definitely interested in other viewpoints on all this, so if others want to weigh in, do so here or on the blog I’m running on our home page. Direct link: http://www.mainetoday.com/joemichaud/
Love the blog. Itâ€™s great to hear your thoughts and ideas.
– You are right on target with the simplification of the homepage and streamlining the site. That is a direction in which we need to move.
– The new template is nice. It is clean and clearly displays what you can get INSIDE. I never like long lists of text links. I donâ€™t think I have ever read a list to the bottom.
– There needs to be a tab to easily bring people into multimedia content. The viewers often first want the easy read of photos and video. This is particularly true with breaking news. Our traffic on photo galleries and videos shows this pattern. They key is to cross reference from the multimedia to the story so the true concept of the “web” is realized.
I think Gannett has the right idea, though NOT the right design, with their video player page. The ability to refer from the multimedia content to the story is as important as the more conventional story to multimedia progression. Ideally, we will be able to do this in photo galleries as well.
– I think inside pages still need some dominant art. This captures the readerâ€™s eye and breaks up the feeling of a list of news. Viewers like to see first what is most important. The art does not need to be as large as the homepage but it still needs a presence. I also donâ€™t like to see the main visual on a page come from an ad. (Although, maybe that is just my journalistâ€™s ego talking.)
– Limiting the ads is probably better in the long term. We have struggled with keeping the advertisers happy as their display has been pushed down page by editorial content. Fewer ads with more strict display rules will probably benefit everyone. We want space for our content and advertisers want to know their ads will be seen.
Well, thatâ€™s my 2 cents.
> Not so, mainetoday.com. Clean and not overloaded with links…
well, you’re right about that. And it’s got a ton of white space too, when I visit it:
Bakersfield.com has way more utility for me.
I agree. Break up the lists under those tabs. I think features on those pages would be good too… top Sports story, top Life story, etc…
A couple of years ago, James Brady of Washingtonpost.com spoke to a convergence conference I was at, and one of the things that struck me was that he mentioned how much WaPo.com traffic *didn’t* come through the home page, but through individual article pages, or rss feeds, or search, yet editors still wanted to get their headlines on the front page. You’re right that simplicity would help.
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