Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A better home page

It was nice to see some of the news stories scheduled for Wednesday's newspaper on theorion.com this morning, but seeing the updated home page reminded me that the site is not rewarding readers who pay a visit once a day or more.

Here's what the home page look like when it loads on my screen at school, which is about average for desktop computers.

It's a little hard to read, but the stories in the top right corner are a list of most popular stories, based on a count kept by the site's content management system and automatically updated. The lead story was posted last March. The sex column is from last spring, too. Because this is what most everyone sees when they first come to the home page, a better strategy would be to put the latest stories posted in this position. Those stories now appear just below the big photo at the top of the page, making it impossible for a visitor to see what's new unless he or she scrolls down the page.

Another suggestion: Sometimes an ad appears in all that red space above The Orion flag but not today. It should be possible to collapse that banner module if nothing is scheduled to appear there, bringing more content onto the screen that visitors first see.

 Some of those just-posted stories also appear farther down the
page in News or Sports, an unnecessary redundancy
that doesn't serve the reader at all. If the idea is to
fill up space, it works. But readers don't really like
to scroll down to read stories. They'd rather click
a button, tab or link, which are plentiful elsewhere
on the page.

Better to keep the page short and sweet and let the menus
at the top of the page do their work. (Research shows most
people use those menus to navigate a website.)

Finally, it should be possible to shorten up the list of Tweets
and Facebook posts that fill the second and third positions
on the right side of the screen. Limiting those to three posts
and giving readers the option to click to read more
(on The Orion Twitter and Facebook pages) keeps the page
short and, most of all, fresh. The staff is doing a great job of
tweeting the news as it happens, and having something new
and different on the home page here reinforces the
impression that it's worth the effort to check theorion.com
several times a day.
Which builds traffic.
Which is what you want, right?

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