Improving Boston.com: Suggestion #1 – Clean up the Clutter


Before we dive in, I want to reiterate that our goal is not to pick on Boston.com. We are big fans of the Boston Globe at HighTalk (and loyal subscribers). The goal is to use Boston.com as an example that all newspaper web sites can follow. So with that said, let’s talk about clutter.

boston2Boston.com has a simple layout philosophy: cram it all in. Every time I go to the site, I feel like I’ve been mugged by all the images and content assaulting me for my attention. As a result, Boston.com is difficult to navigate. It’s nearly impossible to find what you are looking for. But worse, it makes browsing and exploring painful.

Boston.com’s front page utilizes a three-column layout that intermixes original content with advertising, and most of the time it’s impossible to distinguish between the two. Where are the boundaries? The front page is like grandma’s attic. Oh, look an old rocking chair! Hey, a box of comic books! And there, in the back corner, the bread making machine we bought her in 1998!

Where’s the order? Where is the logic and flow? What is the overall goal of the layout? How is the site maximizing the content? It doesn’t appear to be interested in doing that.

Boston.com needs a complete redesign. It should begin with the premise that less is more. A few quick hit suggestions:

  • Make the left hand column the news and features column. Stack the stories on top of each other with clear headlines and links at the bottom with related content (editorials, op-eds, sidebars, any blog content).
  • Use the middle column for widgets and lighter fare: The most emailed stories, E&A, BoMoms, Sports, etc. They should all live here.
  • Push the ads all the way to the right – and clearly mark them as such.
  • Now create a navigation bar that actually functions to help find content. The bars should go to custom built splash pages that clearly mark the destination. When you’re at “Sports” make it feel like I’m at “Sports.”
  • Put in a real search function (how about using Endeca?). This will make browsing and searching easier and allow for exploration. Done right the search function can be the most popular and important feature — which is of utmost importance to a site with so much content. Give people a chance to find things they didn’t know they were looking for. It will keep people on the site longer.

Also tag each story – so readers can find similar content easily. These are quick fixes. The real problem with Boston.com is that it embraces the philosophy of newspapers — section heads with content divided in the same way. That’s not how the web works. Content needs to be available by the subject or topic. Give me all the stories about a topic — even if they were from sports, living and business.

But the biggest improvement would be to allow readers to customize. We’ll talk about that next.

Read Part 1 of the Improving Boston.com series.

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