6 Simple Web Development Tips for Traditional Media
With all of the excitement surrounding the Apple i-Pad, it seems like a new day for traditional media online. Nobody knows what the true impact will be, but odds are that it will be significant. Many media companies are rushing out i-Pad apps in order to get in on the ground floor.
However, it will be a while before i-Pads and similar devices achieve critical mass so this should also be a time for media companies to revisit their existing web sites, many of which need drastic improvement.
With that in mind, I put together a short guide to the most common mistakes.
Same Brand – New Media
Probably the most common mistake is to try to create a web version of an existing product, rather than focusing on how to best serve the consumer. All too often, creative people try to adapt the medium that they know, without bothering to learn the new one.
Computer screens are not conducive to watching long videos or reading long articles. Good print design is about beauty while good web design is about usability. Traditional media is passive while online media is active.
A new medium requires new skills to engage the audience in new ways. A good web site adapts the brand, not the product.
To give an example, take a look at this excellent Ansel Adams feature on the New York Times site. It is a companion to an article in the travel section that appeared in the newspaper. However, they use the interactive capability of the web to create something new and exciting.
Some of the artists most famous photographs are accompanied by a voice over narrative by a woman who used to work with Adams telling the story behind each picture. The subject is the same, the technology simple, but the result is interesting, informative and impressive.
Make Every Page a Home Page
They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover because that’s what most actually people do (or there wouldn’t be any point in saying it would there?). For that reason, everybody puts a lot of time and effort into their home page, as if it was a magazine cover.
However, on the web, it’s quite likely that 50% of your audience never sees your home page (although this varies widely by site). Search engines and social media generate a lot of traffic to specific content on pages that might not figure prominently into the initial planning process.
So it’s important to treat every page as if it were a home page and make sure that you are selling the site in general and the next click specifically. You need to always be offering links to more content, even if it is outside your own site.
A good web site offers continual discovery. No page should be an end point.
Menu Navigation is for the Lost
Very often, old media people want to treat the menu as if it were a table of contents. That’s a big mistake. The truth is that people usually scan the page in an F-shaped pattern and don’t spend much time with menus.
Most often, people use menus for when they are lost and want to get back to some starting point or if they are loyal users who don’t see any interesting content yet are still willing to explore. So it’s important to keep menus clear and uncluttered. If you need to add more information, feel free to use a drop down menu, where there is little restriction on size.
And for God sakes, always put menu navigation below the top banner. If I have to explain why, just take a look at MTV’s site. The menu, while almost absurdly large, is still hard to find. Those who are lost will most likely stay that way until they leave the site.
Seek Influence Before Audience
The web runs on influence and you do things on the web that you would never do in traditional media. Don’t be shy about providing links to competitor’s content, inviting guest bloggers, etc.
A great example of this is the Atlantic Wire, which is a site run by The Atlantic magazine that directs people to top quality commentary around the web, very little of it from the Atlantic’s own bloggers, (which are excellent, by the way).
It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Atlantic’s web site far outperforms the print edition. While the magazine has roughly 1/10th of the circulation of Time or Newsweek, the web site is increasingly competitive with both.
Original Design is the Original Sin
Very often when people start thinking about making a new web site, they want to think about how they can “break the mold.” This usually leads to an original design that’s so confusing that nobody can figure out how to use it.
This goes especially for using internal brands for menu navigation. A great example is the Runner’s World site, where for some reason they thought putting things like “The Penguin: No Need for Speed” on a sub-menu is a good idea. Who the hell knows what that means?
And don’t even get me started on flash intros. Suffice it to say, that no matter how cool you think it is, while it’s loading users are leaving.
To see how it should be done, take a look at Vogue’s site. Vogue, for those who don’t know, is one of the most beautifully designed magazines in the world. Meanwhile, their web site design is very conventional, although extremely well done.
The site works well because of Vogue’s original and opinion forming content. The design makes all the great stuff easy to find and enjoy.
Test, Re- Test and then Test Again
Probably the biggest mistake that traditional media companies make is to create a web site, walk away and then come back in a few years. Web media is about optimization, there is actually very little strategy involved. You just need to keep constantly improving. Silicon Valley types call this the “perpetual beta.”
In truth, nobody really understands what works all that well. It’s not like anybody has been doing this for very longt long. Besides, the technology changes fast enough that whatever you do know doesn’t have a long shelf life.
The only real solution is to constantly test your site and see how consumers are actually using it rather than how you think they should use it. Here’s a very good guide to usability testing for those who need to get started or would like to improve their efforts.
I hope this has been helpful. Let me know your comments.