The fundamental principles of good website design are well established. Typefaces should be easy to read. Images should be high resolution. Colors should enhance the reader experience. You’ve heard all the basics before. But local publishers have unique considerations when it comes to website design, and a different set of principles apply.
The best websites cater to the needs of the end user. Local news publications have very different users than, say, retail websites or service websites. Visitors come to local news websites in search of information and insights into their own communities. They don’t typically come to local news websites in search of design flourishes or the latest design innovations. It’s because of this reason that the best website design guidelines for local publishers put a primary emphasis on utility.
Local publications should be designed in a way that puts content first. Website design should hold up, or support, the content, not step out in front of it.
Whether local publishers are starting from scratch or just making small adjustments to their existing websites, it’s always a smart idea to keep these website design guidelines in mind.
1. Functional Layout
It’s been mentioned previously, but standard website design guidelines vary depending on the industry. Having a functional layout is key for a local news website. What does that mean? For starters, important articles should receive prominent placement on the homepage, and categories or news departments should be accessible via on-site navigation. More broadly, each page on a publisher’s website should serve a clear purpose. Article pages, events calendars, photo galleries—you name it. With a functional layout, readers will immediately understand what page they are on, what purpose it serves, and how to navigate around that page.
2. Clear Navigation
One of the challenges that local publishers run into when designing their websites is the sheer volume of content. Without clear navigation and labeling, content can easily become undiscoverable. One way to help readers avoid getting lost in a sea of content is with an easily-identifiable navigation bar that stays the same across the entire website. Using the navigation bar, readers should be able to reach all major website sections from any page on the website. Consistency is important here, since a navigation bar that changes from page to page can lead to frustration and cause readers to click away from a site.
3. Clean Typefaces
The ideal typeface for a website varies from industry to industry. Obviously, artistic websites or design websites are going to include more artistic flourishes than news websites. Still, you’d be surprised by how many local publishers are doing their readers a disservice by using overly-decorative fonts in sizes that are too small to clearly read. Generally speaking, publishers should stick to Sans Serif fonts that are easy to see online. Arial and Verdana are two popular examples of this. Font size comes into play here, as well. Readers have the easiest time with fonts that are at least 16px. Finally, in order to keep the design clean and easy-to-navigate, we recommend using no more than three typefaces and three font sizes on a single page.
4. Vibrant Colors
Color palettes are a personal choice for local publishers, however there are some tricks to making the best selection. Vibrant colors like red and orange elicit strong emotions, making these colors well suited for calls-to-actions and buttons. We recommend choosing contrasting colors for the text and background, since this makes it easier for the eyes to adjust when reading content on a webpage. Another tip for increasing the readability of a webpage is to leave plenty of white space or negative space. White space helps give a website a modern look, and it allows the content to stand out.
5. Integrated Social Media
A decade ago, social media didn’t play nearly as big of a role in the design of a local publisher’s website. But today, with Facebook and Twitter driving so much traffic, it’s imperative that publishers integrate top social media platforms into their websites. Integrating social media doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as simple as including a widget that links to the publication’s profile on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn on the corner of the homepage or below each article. This is one of the website design guidelines that publishers can’t afford to ignore. Integrating social media can improve a website’s SEO and help a publication gain followers on other platforms.