‘Don’t make users work harder, make content more engaging’

Image by Mark Hakansson

News websites can ensure readers had a positive experience and return to their pages by focusing on design that puts their needs first, the news:rewired conference was told today.

Martin Belam, principal consultant at Emblem, told the conference that readers needed to be more important than editors.

Belam said editors often have a view of getting as many pieces on a homepage as possible – so users might read at least one thing – but readers visit a website to achieve a specific goal and a website that was difficult to navigate would be dropped in favour of one that users found more straight-forward.

It was an idea with which Grig Davidovitz, co-founder of RGB Media, agreed. He told delegates it was not good practice to have a homepage containing a considerable number of links, arguing that page design templates should be flexible to allow editors the freedom to change the layout according to the content being uploaded.

He used the example of website front pages on the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. He said websites changed from their normal templates to accommodate the momentous news, but remained reticent to free editors to play with the templates of their front page at other times, limiting their ability to create drama and highlight main stories, popular image galleries and videos.

Kate Ortega, deputy graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, said:

“The best content is going to be relevant, engaging and shareable.”

Amongst a number of examples, Ortega highlighted one piece she said was very successful was their “Exploring Ground Zero, ten years later” interactive graphic where they published 360 degree photographs from Ground Zero. She said that people’s interest in the content meant that they stayed on the site and shared it across social media.

User experience consultant Marc Downer shared statistics from a Poynter study about the length of time users spend on a page before leaving. He said while it takes 90 seconds on average to read a whole article, on average readers were only spending 78.3 seconds on pages before leaving.

How was it best, he asked, to keep readers interested enough to read the entire piece?

He suggested a number of things including adding call out quotes or images embedded at the point readers reach in the text after reading for the sixty seconds.

Users ‘love to touch’, he added, saying that as a result websites needed to ‘keep that finger happy’ by providing content which keeps readers engaged and prevents them leaving the site for an alternative. But he warned against simply making stylistic changes that don’t suit the user.

He said:

“We don’t want the user to work harder, we want the content to be more engaging.”

He added:

“It’s about engaging a user, the longer a user spends reading your story, the better for you and the more likely they are to come back.”

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