Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Radical Website Changes Can Confuse Visitors

Recently our hometown newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, debuted their new website to the public. The site is a radical shift from their previous website which I and many other visitors have become familiar with and have seen many minor, yet progressive changes made to it over the years.

When it comes to websites, change is a good thing. It's one way to keep visitors engaged and interested, however, changes that feel more like a disruption tend to turn off visitors rather than give them a reason to return.

Take a look at the two versions of The Idaho Statesman website - big difference!
















January 14, 2007
















January 16, 2007

In the past couple days I'm sure some visitors had to search around to find the information they were accustomed to finding quickly on the old website. Some have probably voiced their opinions in phone calls or e-mails.

Whenever a change like this is made, it's wise to assemble a panel of end-users that represent your visitors to solicit feedback from. Conduct some user analysis sessions to identify their true needs when it comes to visiting your website and do some usability testing on some mock-ups before a commitment is made to go live. Find out what the user experience is and make your changes based on that. This way, your change is predicated on the needs of the end-user and not done just for the sake of change.

This website is, after all, for the end-users, a means to promote the newspaper, increase subscriptions and do a little advertising online. Still, I wonder if the changes were made to help visitors by keeping them informed and encouraging them to subscribe to the paper or if the changes were in response to a new website launched by a rival paper, The Idaho Business Review. Hard to say.

2 comments:

John Foster said...

Thanks for the plug, Justin. While I'd like to believe our site pushed the Statesman, the reality is that it looks like we had a minimal effect on their approach. Our new site is based around new information, new comment, a blog-style of writing and -- most important -- reader interaction.

The Statesman site has zero opportunity for readers to comment directly on stories or editorials. There is no forum. There is no new approach, other than Kevin Richert's "blogs." (Seriously, does no one there understand that term?)

In short, the new Idaho Statesman website is the same thing they had before -- a repackage of what you'll read in the paper -- with a prettier face.

Justin Beller said...

I normally don't go around critiquing websites unless asked directly by a perspective client, but since this is a big change for the Idaho Statesman I thought it was worth noting and using the change as way to demonstrate something important regarding web usability. Without careful planning and a true understanding of the end-user's needs, you can end up generating frustration rather than interest and excitement.

I may have it entirely wrong and that careful planning was conducted and the changes made are welcomed by the end-users. Also, the overall change could quite possibly be very much business driven as it was about creating a new look for the paper's website. However, the most important thing to note here is that we're dealing with two entirely different publications. The Statesman, a daily newspaper with both world and local news and The Idaho Business Review, a weekly business publication focused on news and events as it relates to business in Idaho - namely the Treasure Valley.

Quite honestly, I'm a fan of The Idaho Business Review – even more now since they made a significant shift from how they used their old website to how they use it now. In the past, the IBR website was no different from the Statesman’s. It was static and had no interaction. Today, it is driven by a blog that readers can comment on. News stories are updated regularly and it reflects the “now” – what is current, and what is relevant. The paper is the vehicle for going in-depth and providing the story behind the news item that was posted on the website.

Sadly, and John is correct, the new Statesman website is merely a face lift. Perhaps there are plans in the works for making it more interactive, but for now it is not and it simply serves as the digital version of the paper that lands on our doorsteps each morning (if you are a subscriber).