in Design & Dev

Why news media should stop neglecting their website’s design

Do visitors like what they see when they visit your website?

Do visitors like what they see when they visit your website? Photo by Nick Olejniczak on Flickr

Lots of traditional news organizations have just plain bad, often outdated website designs. News sites can not only be hard to look at, but worse, difficult to navigate. Editors who wouldn’t stand for such pathetic looking print pages in their section seem lost when it comes to those same stories’ presentation on the web. In the scope of things, maybe it doesn’t seem all that important compared to producing great content and having a good-looking print product.

However, a study by a Canadian university underscores the importance of good web design for businesses: CMSWire reports that the study discovered it takes users less than a blink of the eye to judge the presentation of a website’s content—as little as 1/20th of a second.

Editors and reporters: Think your website’s bad design isn’t affecting how many people read your stories? Think again.

Nature News explains the study’s significance like this:

For a typical commercial website, 60% of traffic comes from search engines such as Google, says Marc Caudron of London web-design agency Pod1. This makes a user’s first impression even more critical, he explains. “You’ll get a list of sites, click the top one, and then either say ‘I’ve engaged’ and give it a few more seconds, or just go back to Google,” he says.

The lasting effect of first impressions is known to psychologists as the ‘halo effect’: if you can snare people with an attractive design, they are more likely to overlook other minor faults with the site, and may rate its actual content (such as this article, for example) more favourably.

The effects of bad web design will not just leave visitors unimpressed. If readers don’t like how your brand looks online, then why would advertisers want to associate their brand with it or bury their ad in a sea of unnavigable clutter? Bad web design dings credibility, and so it’s an unfathomable irony to me that it happens at so many publications that work hard establishing and maintaining trust with their audience. My guess is that younger readers will be even more judgmental when visiting a website; I know I am.

For a website redesign not really being some novel new concept, lots of news organizations are losing out in winning over readers and advertisers.