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Creating a Navigable Site

How some publishers are excelling with intuitive visitor design online.



By Vanessa Voltolina
12/09/2009

By now, publishers know enough about online behavior to realize that if users can’t find the content they’re looking for immediately, they’ll turn elsewhere—which can be a major hit for both traffic and revenue numbers.

But when it comes to creating a navigable site, "We don't see hard and fast rules, but doing what maximizes usability for the user,” said Jeff Myers, vice president and general manager of Meredith Corp.’s Special Interest Media. “We do extensive usability lab work on each of our sites to find the right design for each content area and target consumer.  We conduct approximately 50 usability lab studies each year."

Among Meredith’s lab tests and stable of consumer sites, Myers said Recipe.com exemplifies a clear understanding of how consumers go about looking for their content via an easy-to-navigate, intuitive format.

The recipe portal, launched this past August, aggregates Meredith’s (and content partners’) “best of” recipes, and is on track to hit one million unique visitors this month. The site uses functions like an advanced sort, search and explore, which ultimately offers users the next logic step in related and applicable content.

Recipe.com’s search bar offers popular, clickable search suggestions above the search bar, such as chicken, burgers, casseroles and salads, with links that redirect to a sorted secondary page. If a user clicks on “chicken,” they are redirected to a secondary page with three tabs: “category home,” “popular recipes,” and “all recipes.” Each includes a sorted list with ratings, prep time, total time and directions for each dish.

Another Meredith property, KitchenBathIdeas.com, also targets consumers by anticipating their related needs as they undertake a planned renovation of their kitchen or bath. The site, redesigned last August, touts both subscription and free offer buttons above its top search bar. It also relies on a top homepage navigation bar with sub-category drop downs, as well as a side navigation bar that varies depending on the main content area that the user is exploring. For example, exploring Bath Design. According to Myers, this is the largest dedicated kitchen and bath site on the Web.

Big Picture Traffic

Similar to many large consume publishers, Meredith’s Recipe.com and Mixingbowl.com are all about customer experience, said Myers. “You must create a customer experience that is both engaging and whenever possible, able to address an individual customer’s preferences,” said Myers, citing extras like the option for users to start or join groups to talks on Mixingbowl.com.

With regards to this consumer experience and which magazine sites stack up, in July financial new site 24/7 Wall Street has released a report grading the top 20 consumer magazine sites. The ratings, "A" through "F," are based on strength of content; ease of use and navigation; use of technology and online tools including comment sections, message boards and multimedia; layout; a strong advertiser presence and size of audience (based on data from Compete.com and Nielsen Netview).

High marks went to TVGuide.com (A+) as the best magazine Web site of the survey with "a nearly perfect combination of the best of the print version and contains features that strengthen the product online," according to 24/7 Wall Street. Its latest news, photos and video run straight across the top while search features allow users to explore the site or the site's video, with inside sections extremely simple and functional. In contrast, Good Housekeeping (D-) was "awkwardly designed" with a jumble of content mixed with distracting offers for the print magazine and online promotions and "photos so poorly cropped that they are over-layered on top of the text."

While clear, intuitive content placement is key, Myers said the end goal still shouldn’t be driving traffic to one particular piece of content. “This goes back to anticipating consumer needs based on the reasons they come to us in the first place,” he said. “So, if she [the user] is coming to us for Christmas Cookie recipes, she may also want cookie decorating and cookie storage ideas as well. It’s about anticipating the related needs and providing content.” By starting with this, “the traffic and views take care of themselves,” he said.

By Vanessa Voltolina
12/09/2009







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