It’s a question that has puzzled parents—and online publishers—for years: What do teens want?

The Media Management Center at Northwestern University and Newspaper
Association of America Foundation recently got 96 teens to stop texting for 20 minutes to find out how online news sites are engaging—or disengaging—them.

Click here for a PDF of the report.

general consensus—if there ever can be one when dealing with fidgety
teens: content engagement, not bombardment, to be key. Said one
16-year-old participant: “I just don’t like how there’s so much stuff
on one page, like it’s so confusing to look at and there’s like, so
many words. I like it simple.”
Here, from the study’s findings,
are the 10 commandments of teen-friendly Web design [above image is a
mock prototype of the results]:

  1. Don’t overload. If
    you jam-pack info onto your site, teens will likely feel overwhelmed.
    Reduce the volume by featuring fewer stories, words and photos,
    spending more time and space explaining the remaining stories.
  2. Enhance the media mix.
    Homepages should provide not only headlines, but brief overviews and
    images that quickly convey the content so they can engage in stories
    that peak their interest.
  3. Make it eye-catching. Draw them in, but be sure to provide more than a teaser—the “why should I care?” editorial motivation and images.
  4. Summarize headlines. Add a 1-sentence dek to Web stories to offer teens a sense of a story’s content; for unfamiliar topics, add a bit more.
  5. Use visuals.
    Both home and secondary pages with art rated higher than those without,
    the survey found. But keep it simple, as teens conveyed too many
    visuals as “clutter.”
  6. Add a hierarchy. Teens need help
    understanding what content is most important. Do this through images
    and stories that are positioned based on importance or relevance.
  7. Ease up on scrolling and clicking.
    Maybe it’s lack of time, maybe it’s laziness, but teens only want to
    click and read full stories that genuinely peak their interest. Mislead
    them with a headline and they’ll feel cheated.
  8. Create multiple entry points. When
    you finally get a teen interested enough to click on a story, provide
    them with a mix of info in one place, which can include images,
    explanation, context and related links.
  9. Make it manageable.
    Use headlines to break up longish stories as well as different elements
    to engage them, like photo galleries, video, pull quotes.
  10. Keep white space. Filling any open spaces with video clips, pictures or ads makes the page cluttered and is a turnoff for teens.