Last week I heard from one of the McClatchy markets who were updating their navigation. They wanted to see if they could make some changes that would be more search friendly. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to cover a lot of ground relating to one simple question.
Most McClatchy sites, and in fact, most newspaper sites have a very similar navigation bar. The roughly correspond to the sections of a traditional newspaper, News, Business, Sports, Living, Entertainment, Obituaries and Classifieds. The problem is that in most cases those are not always the most popular places on their site. Every market has it’s own speciality.
If you visit the Miami Herald site, they should be highlighting their “Entertainment”ish sections much more than the Charlotte Observer, may be highlighting their Banking or Business sections, and the McClatchy DC Bureau should be highlighting their national and political reach.
The market I’m working with is the Centre Daily Times in State College, PA (home of Penn State University). Their biggest claim to fame is obviously all their Penn State coverage and their insights. There is no reason they shouldn’t be proud of that connection and leverage it. Some of my suggestions seems crazy to traditional newspaper people, but that’s only because I have no newspaper background.
The navigational tweaks I suggested to them, can benefit any site.
1. Be Specific. Instead of plain old “News” as the main link, use “Central PA News”. If that is too restrictive for the main category, make sure you are more specific in the sub-nav below. Instead of a sub-nav pointing at “Local”, change it to “State College News”. Nobody is going to type “local” into a search engine.
2. Make decisions based on hard data. Avinash Kaushik, analytics evangelist at Google, warns against “sites that are so often poorly designed because they rely too heavily on HiPPOs–another acronym that stands for the ‘Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion.'” For Centre Daily, they had 15 sections that attracted more than 1% of their traffic over the past year. Of those top 15 sections, only 3 are in the main navigation.
Check your navigation choices in Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool. Using the keyword tool, I can see “news” is in 45 million searches each month, “local news” is in about 673,000 searches each month, “pa news” is in 90,500 searches and “state college news” averages about 1,900 searches.
If I want to really target State College, PA – I want those 1,900 searchers every month, but I also want as big a chunk of those 90 thousand PA searchers. If we look at March ’09, Centre Daily had 27,000 visits that originated from Google, roughly 16% were searches for “centre daily times”, so we can pretty much throw that out. After that their #2 keyword was “veterans benefits”, which is great, that word gets roughly 165,000 searches each month. Now the follow-up question is, are they trying to do anything with “veteran benefits”?
3. Don’t get stuck on stupid. Just like Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré said to the mainstream media after hurricane Katrina. Make changes if something isn’t working. Don’t let your pride get tied into your design decisions.