In the publishing world, looks matter. The way a website is put together indicates the authority and trustworthiness of the news publication. But proper web design goes beyond just aesthetics.
Some of the biggest web design mistakes we see local publishers making involve sending readers toward dead ends and just generally not funneling visitors toward the content they’re most likely to enjoy.
Often eager to sell advertising to businesses, a number of hyperlocal publishers are also guilty of cluttering their websites with large numbers of tiny display ads, which diminishes the value of those very ads.
Here are five of the most common web design mistakes we see hyperlocal publishers making, along with some tips for how to overcome those design challenges.
1. Cluttered web design
The No. 1 web design mistake we see local publishers making is adding too much visual clutter. In order to bring in readers, and keep them coming back for more, we want a clean design and an open and airy feel.
Layout, fonts, and colors all determine whether a website feels cluttered or clean. Websites with clean designs are easier for readers to navigate, even when they’re information-dense.
2. Hiding content
Publishers spend so much time, energy, and financial resources coming up with great content — so why is so much of that content hard to find on their websites?
While it’s important for a homepage design to place emphasis on the top stories of the day, readers shouldn’t have to use internal search tools to discover articles about other topics of interest. Well-designed websites are easy to navigate, with topic pages, tag pages, and author pages that make it easy for readers to find stories without having to rely on search tools.
Grouping like with like, and creating permalink topic pages, doesn’t just make it easier for readers to find the stories they’re looking for. It also improves search engine rankings, which is something that every publisher strives for.
3. Too many display ads
More ads don’t always equal more revenue. Local publishers are hurting their brands and devaluing their content when they fill their homepage with dozens upon dozens of thumbnail-size display ads. Homepages that are over saturated with static display ads can also make it challenging for mobile visitors to navigate a website.
Continuing with the open and airy concept we discussed earlier, publishers generally do better when they decrease the number of ads on their homepages and increase the size (and the cost) of the ads they do sell.
Thumbnail-size display ads can mask good web design, diminish the reading experience on article pages, and generally make it harder for readers to navigate a website. They can also slow site load times, which is an important enough topic to warrant a separate post.
4. Not keeping with tradition
This is a mistake we see more when daily newspapers launch websites, but it’s common enough to mention here, as well.
Many daily print newspapers have been serving their communities for decades, or longer, and readers have grown accustomed to the fonts and layouts of the print edition. It’s a mistake for these publishers to stray too far from the aesthetic of their print editions when they launch their websites.
Local newspapers with strong visual identities should try to reinforce those identities in their websites. That means using similar fonts or color palettes in the design as a way to keep with tradition.
5. Not prominently featuring social media links
Social media and local publishing go hand-in-hand. Publishers who don’t have links to their social media accounts posted prominently on their websites make it harder for readers to follow them elsewhere online.
The ideal web design for a local publisher includes links to social media alongside or near the bottom of every article. Placing social media buttons next to articles encourages readers to share the content with their own friends and helps content go viral.
To a certain degree, web design and layout is a matter of preference. But working with so many top publishers in the industry, we know there are tried-and-true tactics that improve the functionality of websites with requiring massive overhauls. If you’d like an analysis of your own website’s design, feel free to reach out to our team for a one-on-one consultation.