State of Design ’06 — Online News Sites

Check out Luke Stevens’ post featuring an invaluable collection of screenshots and design stats from newspaper Web sites around the world.

I find the unfortunate placement of ads on some of the U.S. sites to be shameful, at the very least degrading to the integrity of the news content within. For example, I never noticed NYTimes.com‘s mirror image ads on their masthead until seeing the repuslive “Blood Diamond” ads from this distant perspective.

If newspaper’s are hoping I become a print subscriber to escape the onslaught of ads on their home pages, I’ll repeat that there’s no money to be made on my $1 Fri-Sun delivered-to-top-of-hill subscription to the L.A. Times (and before I even take it inside I drop all the inserts in recycling).

If a news Web site’s goal is to have users regularly visit the home page, or even use it as their portal to the Internet, then the advertising is most definitely misplaced. Of course, as far as cost-per-click is concerned, the big money (and the most measurable) ad placement is on the site home page. However, it’s the ads in the actual articles that truly have the most impact, in my opinion (although each days’ paper has a fresh set of unique URLs), especially in this age of RSS and the ubiquitous Google search (leading directly to the article).

I’ve seen many people type the name of a Web site, columnist or publication directly into the Google searchbar as their mode of entry. I believe this is because of the uncluttered and easy-to-use Google homepage. Who wants to try and find a search box at nytimes.com when it’s scrunched between scrolling and animated ads? Personally, I default with Yahoo! News and digress with their full coverage links or news search engine. My other go-to is Google Reader, stocked with the latest from the hundreds of sites and blogs I track (see my opml). New York Times’ home page has a whopping 15 paid, graphic-based ads (not including a handful of self-referential ads) to only 9 legitimate (content-based) images.

As Yahoo’s news site proves, it’s better to be content heavy up front and keep the ads on the inside. Houston Chronicle is another example of this at chron.com. The home page is much shorter (lengthwise) than many of the others drawn upon in Stevens’ post but Yahoo’s cover presents at least twice as many hyperlinks (opportunities for deeper browsing — leading to a platform to better target ads based on content and the fact that the reader has already linked through).

I think the most effective news Web site home pages should be clean, content-heavy, customizeable and hyper-local — if not geographically, at least unique to the users preferences. Readers demand and deserve control of their content — why set your home page for news if the first thing that pops is going to be multimedia ad content?

And, yeah, those Scandinavian news sites (coming in at up to 9400 pixels in length!) are really something else.

Check out these sites / blogs about Online News Web site design: NewsDesigner.com, Editors’ Weblog, Paid Content, Press Time, poynter.

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