Financial news site 24/7 Wall Street has released a new report grading the top 20 consumer magazine Web sites. The sites are rated "A" through "F" 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).
The listing on 24/7 Wall Street’s site is confusing with the sites ranked 1-20 based not on the Web site grades or even online traffic but the magazine’s print circulation. Below, we’ve reworked the order according to the grading and summarized 24/7 Wall Street’s comments for each site. The results are surprising, with some legacy print brands scoring high marks while others that have made very aggressive online moves not faring so well.
TVGuide.com. The best magazine Web site of the survey, according to 24/7 Wall Street, with "a nearly perfect combination of the best of the print version and contains features that strengthen the product online." Latest news, photos and video run straight across the top while search features allow users to explore the site or the site’s video. Inside sections are extremely simple and functional.
AARP Bulletin. The news site for AARP earns a high grade for easy navigation and an excellent "Ask the Experts Section." However, the site for AARP the Magazine doesn’t fare as well (see Grade: D).
Time.com. Earns a B+ for crisp navigation and uncluttered design while receiving criticism for subsection titles that are poorly identified. The site is highly praised for its social network options and engaging features such as "Most Read" and "Most E-mailed" stories.
Cosmopolitan. The site is lauded for a clean and carefully designed homepage designed to get readers inside the Web site as well as "intelligent use" of quizzes. 24/7 Wall Street says the site makes one big mistake by putting "More from Cosmo" so close to the bottom of the homepage. Minimal social media and Web 2.0 features.
Ladies Home Journal. Receives a B for an "extremely well-designed homepage" and for editors engaging visitors right away with a section called "Everybody’s Talking About." Most pages have search functions to help the reader find other interactive tools on the Web site.
People.com Despite a slick design and intuitive navigation, 24/7 Wall Street says People.com "has been hemorrhaging visitors." Still, the report gives People.com a "B" and says the site is "set up to maximize page views by keeping visitors occupied."
Taste of Home: A Reader’s Digest site, 24/7 Wall Street says, "This is about as ‘plain vanilla’ as a content site can be, which is not all bad." Props are given to the simple and straightforward slide shows and instructional videos, while "Top Recipes" section gets slammed for "text links which look primitive and resemble Google advertising."
Reader’s Digest. Site earns praise for clean navigation that runs across the top of the homepage and a section called "Today’s Digest" that draws visitors to the site. RD.com gets marked down for a hard-to-find Comments section and lack of multimedia.
Better Homes and Gardens. Site gets a B- for a "My BHG" option that allows visitors to become members and customize what they want from the Web site.
National Geographic. The site is "well designed to bring readers to sections beyond the home page and makes state of the art use of multimedia features, especially video."
Woman’s Day. Site has a well designed, clean and easy-to-follow homepage but marked down for hiding important elements such as games, blogs and coupons.
Sports Illustrated. SI.com is praised for the center of its front page which features video but is also "clean and well done." However, photo and video sections at the bottom of the homepage are called "average" in design and quality while type is small and pages are cramped.
Playboy.com. Earns high marks for being visually well done and offering engaging features like a section for downloading free MP3s and a sophisticated entertainment guide but the report takes a shot at Playboy for attempting to put much of the content behind a pay wall. "There may be some evidence that online readers will pay for content but naked women are probably in a different category than world news."
Family Circle. Report calls the homepage "boring" and marks site down for random organization of articles. Family Circle does get credit for a "very clever section" that allows readers to gets specific information on topics of interest via e-mail.
Game Informer Magazine. The report says, "Given the demographic of heavy video game users, it is surprising that the site has so few social media connections."
Prevention.com. Site gets a "D+" for overwhelming the reader "with too much material crowded onto its homepage" and promotions that can be confused with editorial. Bright spots include a robust community site with a visible link to Facebook.
Southern Living. While the design is fine, the Web site offers almost nothing beyond the magazine, according to the report. Props are given to the "home section" for its use of video and 360 degree viewing but the fitness section is lacking much-needed illustrations and the community section is an after-thought.
Newsweek.com. The report takes Newsweek.com to task for an "extremely confusing" homepage that features blog sections with titles that have no meaning to the readers. "Newsweek.com is one of the few sites where the reader has an easier time navigating the site on the inside pages and sections," the report says. "Almost all the major design elements are text and the use of illustrations and video are typically pushed to the bottom of the pages."
AARP the Magazine. Site is marked down for choppy lay-out and confusing copy.
Good Housekeeping. Receives the lowest grade in the survey for an "awkwardly designed homepage," 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."
American Automobile Association. With more than five separate sites tied into parent AAA.com, 24/7 Wall Street doesn’t offer a grading.