Ozzie Winner: Best Site Design, Consumer

In September 2010, Surfer staff decided the time had arrived for a website change. “We decided to simplify and strip away, keeping things that we thought are important to our readers,” says Brendon Thomas, editor of Surfer. “We didn’t have to fit as much information on the page.”

After abandoning the “antiquated” CMS Krang, Surfer moved to WordPress. “We wanted to control the homepage like a page in the magazine,” says Thomas. By discarding a large portion of navigation options and assets on the home page, as well as using bigger pictures, Surfer staffers are able to more precisely direct traffic to specific content.

Thomas attributes much of the site’s design success to Mike Noe, Surfer’s art director. “He was able to look outside what everyone else was doing. Especially in our industry, every website was following a very formulaic strategy to putting content online,” says Thomas.

Surfer’s in-house staff is comprised of four editors and two photo editors. Each morning, a “group think” commences, in which the staff meets to discuss web stories, social media strategies and the print property. Thomas estimates 40 to 60 percent of staff time is spent on Surfer’s web presence.
The site is updated every three to five hours. “Not every story is brand new, as we have a lot of legacy content,” says Thomas. Surfer has been in operation for 52 years, and archived content is utilized for the web.

Print and web crossover is kept to a minimum. Shorter news stories are reserved for the web, while print content consists of evergreen material.

“We’re adding features, like putting magazine content behind a paywall, but that’s still being rolled out,” says Thomas. “I would say this may happen in six months.”

Thomas also attributes the site’s success to Grindmedia’s (a division of parent company of Source Interlink) technical team. Senior product manager Rishi Kumar, director of engineering Jeff Kimmel, developer Tito To and VP of digital Greg Morrow “turned the idea into something that was easy to navigate on both the front and back end,” says Thomas.