publishing, Web design

Thoughts on “The psychology of engagement” and the importance of user experience

User experience is so important to those creating content and the delivery device that surrounds it, yet so misunderstood and/or ignored, yet it is all around us.

In everything we read, every website we browse, every shop we wander round and even the mode of transport we got there in there is  an experience, whether we realised it or not, and the fact that a user noticed a journey maybe the clue to whether it’s working or needs some changes.

For news websites, it’s the journey a user takes through the site to their desired piece of content, and the importance of “removing friction from processes to get users to their end goal faster” as Martin Belam puts it, read Martin Belam’s full post: “The psychology of engagement” – Mo Syed at UX People.

What things are called, the size, shape, colour and location all have an effect on user’s interaction with a web page “as humans we make associations between different pieces of information just due to their proximity” as Martin adds. The success of a site’s user experience can be of great value in terms of reaching a site’s objective of highlight new articles or signposting revenue-related content.

Interaction is a key goal for new websites, so knowing the best way to get users to the content they want and inviting them seamlessly to interact and engage are vital. Having an understanding of why users do what they do, aka the psychology of engagement, and how to subtly guide them around a site should be a key part of any ongoing strategy, leading you in to other areas like usability studies and information architecture.

As Irene Pereyra says in her .netmagazine post ’10 steps to an engaging interactive user experience’: “1. Design for the user, really”, it’s easy to forget you’re publishing and broadcasting for the benefit of others not yourselves and your own personal enjoyment. A bit of homework on your audience and some user experience best practices in your design can make a huge difference to your traffic and level of engagement.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the subject and am by no means an expert, but here are some related articles:
The UX of Learning – alistapart.com
How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?  – Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox
Business Objectives vs. User Experience – smashingmagazine.com
A Web Designers Guide to Information Architecture – inspiredm.com
What is ‘Information Architecture’? by Martin Belam at guardian.co.uk
More advanced thinking: Subliminal User Experience – 24ways.org
‘User experience design’ as defined on Wikipedia

publishing, Web design

Thoughts on local news Websites

Homepages are where a site sells itself to its audience. A showcase of the best and most potentially interesting content on offer, and like the front page of any website it should be a good indicator of the content within.

Too many commercial elements are likely to distract the visitor (particularly animated/flash adverts) whereas the homepage should be the shop window, showing off all the best and freshest content, pulling them deeper into the site.  Advert overload will dilute the effect of each ad anyway, not so appealing to potential advertisers.

Relevance is the next key: is the content relevant and of interest to the visitor, the content is far more likely to gain further page views, time spent on site and engagement. Play to your strengths, don’t concentrate on areas where competitors are stronger. Do what you do best and link to the rest.

The website needs to make money for it’s owners but bombarding visitors with too many commercials on home or landing pages (and technically every page could be a landing page) is just distracting the visitor from what they came for, and therefore annoying.

Contextual (i.e. relevant) ads on articles or deep content pages are more likely to get noticed partly because visitors will spend more time focussed on those pages, whereas on homepages they will be scanning for their next link.

The power of choice lies with the audience as with so many media/leisure options (like on demand TV, radio, games), therefore Web users are used to being in control or voting with their feet and clicking off somewhere else – the Web after all is built on links.

Local news sites need to keep their focus on their strength – quality and depth of  local content, based on their knowledge and established brand. They should know their market and be in the best position to deliver.