Web design: speed before content

In a column about the lukewarm ad performance of newspaper sites, Alan Mutter sums up the problems facing news websites pretty well.

“The single most significant digital ad category is search, which consistently has accounted for nearly half of all expenditures since 2008, according to IAB. Notwithstanding the growing desire of advertisers of all stripes to target specifically identifiable customers, transactional search is a format where newspapers never invested and never have been able to compete. By their inaction, publishers have been shut out of nearly half the digital market.

“Now, the same thing appears to be happening again. While the IAB reports that mobile advertising has doubled in each of the last three years, most newspapers have only rudimentary capabilities in this rapidly developing area. Publishers also are weak contenders in video, the next-biggest area of growth after mobile.”

By coincidence — or perhaps providence — my former employer, the News & Record, has unveiled its redesigned website tonight. Its intent is to display photos and videos more prominently and be easier to navigate.

Mutter’s observation that newspapers missed the boat on search has been true at the N&R for years. When I was in charge, it took years to get a working mobile site. In fact, the one the paper uses now came several months after I left the paper. I’m afraid I don’t use the app so I can’t comment on its efficacy. We were just late to the party.

So, I’m hoping that the new site gets Mutter’s next priority – video — right. I’ve always thought the site loaded too slowly. (It is one of the slower loading sites that I go to.) It has been past its expiration date for a while and is cluttered with ads, which take longer to load. I blame no one for this, even though I shoulder some of the blame myself. We couldn’t pry enough money out of the budget to do much about it. But time moves on and I’m delighted a redesign has occurred.

A new report says what I personally find to be true and my students confirmed it earlier this month: “A new study reports that faster internet connections have made viewers more impatient, and that people begin abandoning videos if they don’t load within two seconds. Every second of additional delay results in approximately 6 percent more viewers jumping ship.”

Here’s my thought: Back in the day, when we were having chronic press problems, the publisher moved the newspaper deadlines earlier. I argued about missing good stories and late ball games and how we were cheating readers. As he turned me down, he would say: “It doesn’t matter how good the story is. If we can’t get it to the reader in the morning, it’s worthless.”

It’s too early to tell if the loading speed has improved, but I hope they take the web version of that story to heart: It doesn’t matter how good the content is. If the website doesn’t load immediately, it’s worthless.

One thought on “Web design: speed before content

  1. Coincidentally, we’re discussing mobile design principles in class this week. One of our more recent readings says total file size for a mobile page — the whole page, mind you — should not exceed 20K, even if you presume the bulk of your readers have at least 3G coverage. That is a very small number for most designers to wrap their heads around.

    Mobile users use sites differently from the way people at desktops do; accordingly, there’s no particularly good reason for the mobile site to be the same as the desktop site only smaller. It should be different; it might need to be VERY different. Figure out how your mobile users use your site; structure it accordingly. Target.com does a good job of this (although they’re down at the moment — maybe a hangover from Cyber Tuesday?). Also a good job? Oddly enough, Victoria’s Secret. Lots of pictures (duh), but they’re formatted to load quickly.

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