We’ll add once again that the Boston Globe is our newspaper of choice. Our goal in using its web site — Boston.com — as an example in this series is not to criticize Boston.com specifically, but to discuss how newspaper web sites in general can improve. The series starts here.
Right now Boston.com focuses on providing specific news to each reader. The site actually needs to reach back to its roots – as a newspaper – to encourage people to linger, to browse, to discover.
Think about sites that are excellent at getting people to browse. Amazon.com, for example, has perfected it. The site is so successful because it allows users to actively participate in Amazon.com’s mission – which is to sell things – without them realizing it. Amazon.com has created a community, a destination for those passionate about books, movies, and other areas.
Users can write reviews, create “best-of” lists, see reviews from mainstream critics, see what other products resemble the products purchased. There are discussion boards and forums to interact with other users. Users can create their own profiles.
There’s lots to do and explore on Amazon.com – you can get lost for hours there.
News sites like Boston.com need to think the same way. For the most part Boston.com is still one-way communication. It is telling us what is important and what we should be reading. There are lots of dead-ends and few ways to engage.
To help encourage browsing Boston.com should have every story contain suggestions for other related content. If you liked this – then try this. These suggestions should be based on keywords and tags. But Boston.com should also provide a section that shows that “readers” who read this article also read that article. This allows readers to help showcase the relationships between stories.
The comment section – now located at the bottom – should be moved to a side column, so people can start to read and explore what others are saying immediately. And how about this radical idea? Have editors and reporters react to the content. Have them discuss, engage, and challenge the readers. There is also an enormous opportunity for providing forums to discuss sports, politics, religion, the environment, etc.
Add a ranking system that allows readers to rate each story.
And why aren’t there more links to Boston.com’s blogs with every single article? For example, if you’re reading a book review – allow easy access to Off the Shelf, the Boston.com book blog.
In the same category, if Boston.com is featuring a book review, provide links to the author’s web site, places to buy the book, and previous reviews of the author’s other books. How about showcasing some of the book’s content (if it is allowed). Another example would be an album review. Provide a link to the video the band released on YouTube or snippets of the audio files of the hit song.
Boston.com also needs to fix its search capability — which is terrible. The search function, as discussed previously, needs to be part of the browsing and exploring aspect of the site. Right now, you can’t even use it to find specific stories or sections of the newspaper. When you encourage browsing and participation, readers will stay on Boston.com longer. If you provide the customization options we discussed earlier and create an environment that enables browsing — readers will reward you with more time spent at your site.
Now on to suggestion four: executing a real blogging strategy.