My friends down in Fort Worth, Texas are planning a major redesign of the Star-Telegram.com website.
A couple years ago, I helped them move from their old Knight-Ridder platform, to their new McClatchy CMS. The move was major, but the design was kept the same. Then about a year ago, they gave their site a face lift and that’s where they’re at now.
I was talking with Cody at the Star-Telegram this afternoon about some of the design, SEO and core functionality they should consider for their next redesign. When I started thinking about it, it became a pretty long list. Then it dawned on me that many of the suggestions are not limited to Star-Telegram.
So my #1 piece of advice is… Take 1/2 the stuff you currently have on your section fronts OFF, maybe even 2/3 of it. For some reason, there is a perception that visitors will not look any deeper than the homepage. Let me be clear about this one… on a normal site, that may be true, but when someone goes to a newspaper site, they don’t expect everything to be on the front page. The people laying out the print paper certainly understand this, they don’t feel the need to have 300 stories highlighted on the front page.
Today there was 353 links on their homepage, 205 of them internal. That seems like a lot to me. It’s not that far out of the “norm” for a news site, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. The homepage highlights over 20 other sections. That must be reduced. It’s overwhelming, and keeps the visitor from being able to focus on any one thing.
#2. Stop publishing stories to multiple sections. The McClatchy CMs allows you to publish stories to multiple sections, which makes sense in some sense, but it’s actual application makes it a problem. One of the main problems is from the SEO perspective of duplicate content. Having exactly the same article repeated 3 or 4 times is not optimal. Until the CMS can give that story a single url, that is used in multiple sections, it should be avoided.
#3 Cull down you sections. You don’t need 350 different sections. If I were the CMS Czar, all the sites would be limited to 40 sections.
#4 Stop publishing stories that are only 2 paragraphs. This one is certainly not specific to Star-Telegram. There are lots of stories that are “updates” or “breaking” that are just too short. I understand if the story is something important, but that is rarely the case.
#5 Start linking. Another one that plagues all the McClatchy property. Did I miss the memo that said, “don’t ever put a link in a story”? Understand that no one thinks you are the ultimate source on every subject. The heart of the web is that articles are hyperlinked.
#6 Add assets to every story you can. I want to see a picture of the kid that won the contest, or the teacher that was arrested or even the house that was raided. In fact, I also want you to embed a Google map of the crack house that was raided so I know where it is.
#7 Work with bloggers. Bloggers are not the enemy. They want exposure, you could use their content/photos/podcasts or whatever your people are failing to get you.
A couple weeks ago, I was adding some assets to a high school football story for The Fresno Bee, and ran across a fantatsic collection high school football photos by John Canton who had a couple of kids playing for the team. He had hundreds thousands of fantastic photos available, and he made them available to anyone. I added one of his photos (with attribution) and a link back to his site. I’m sure he liked the exposure, and The Bee got to use a great picture.
#8 Leverage social media, without being boring. We have tried to use Facebook and Twitter for a couple of sites, but just dumping headlines into the social media stream is not only useless, but seen as rather offensive to the majority of users who make an actual effort to be part of the community.
What I’ve talked to DC about is actually using an app like Twitter to engage the community. The political news junkies are very plugged in, and want to know everything. Why not pull them into the conversation earlier. How about a tweet like, “Harry Reid’s office refuses to say if Roland Burris will be seated today”… and actually put that out in the wild BEFORE you have the story written.
#9 Stop accepting takeover ads, flyover ads and autoplay talking ads. You do not make your users love you when you force things on them.
#10. Strip your main navigation down to bare minimum. This one is like the homepage argument, you don’t need to show everything you have every time someone mouses over a link. Most people are smart enough to find what they are looking for. For example, if I want the score of last nights game, I already figure I’m gonna need to go through “Sports” to get it, and I won’t complain if I actually have to click on Sports. Oh, and don’t stick flash ads in your drop down navigation, it makes you seem a bit desperate.
#11 Can you explain, in one sentencee, what the object of the site is? If you can’t, you need to figure it out. Once you do, tape it to the monitor and make sure everything you do is leading to that goal.
If the goal is to keep the locals of Fort Worth, Texas informed about the Cowboys, why are you spending money on covering the City Hall meetings? If your goal is to cover all the news in Ft. Worth better than anyone else… you need to define what that means.
Really think hard about your goal. Can you reach your goal with your current team? If not, why not? What if you asked for help from a community that would probably love to help?