Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A tale of two home pages

Even with so much traffic coming into websites from search engines and social media -- both of which usually send the reader to a specific photo, video or story -- the homepage remains the most important piece of real estate on a news site.

Of course, the most important parcel on the home page is the information that appears on the screen when a user first lands.

Today's typical news website is usually jammed with headlines and summaries and, of course, banner advertisements. The New York Times just redesigned its home page. Here's what the landing screen looked like this morning:

While it's typical, it reminds me of newspaper front pages before offset printing, when a front page might have 15 or 20 stories.

I prefer the Coverage WordPress template The Orion uses for its site, particularly the deplayment of different-sized headlines in the main news area. Its layout does a great job of identifying the most important story on the page. But the editors need to be careful to use the typography and art elements carefully.

This morning's top-of-home-page had a headline and photo that essentially reduced the number of featured stories in the main news window to one. Here it is:

The long headline and typical mugshot crop of the photo means newly arrived readers are invited to read just one story, one photo and one ad.

That's not what the page looks like typically. Here's a screen shot from late last month that makes better use of the space and typography:
While I would have liked to see a little more of the top of President Zingg's head in the first photo, overall this page works much better for readers than the one from this morning.

Specifically, here's what this top-of-page does well:
- Main headline is contained in two lines
- Headshot is cropped into a horizontal rectangle.
- Extra white space below the first tease is used to refer readers to a related story.

The editors should keep those things in mind when posting stories to the screen readers see first when they want to check what's new at theorion.com.

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