This first of a four-part series provides website optimization tips, simple and fast adjustments you can make today.

Designed to better engage and retain readers and advertisers, these tips were compiled by Brad Best, advertising editor of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, and a team of students from the Missouri School of Journalism after weeks of analysis of a major Midwest metro daily newspaper.


LaptopUpcoming tip sheets will include information about e-newsletters, social media and dashboards.

Goals for news site design

To increase usability to retain more visitors, as well as longer and more in-depth visits.

  • Higher profit—the longer a visitor stays, the more pages they visit, the more news and advertising they experience.
  • More page views and higher impressions lead to higher ad income.

To make the site cleaner and easier to use to encourage users to browse the site.

  • Decreases the bounce rate.
  • Increases the number of return visitors, length of the average visit and profits.

Broken layouts can create inconsistent user experience

To avoid broken layouts (where columns may stack on top of one another creating long pages) on your website, make sure to test your site on all browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox (PC and Mac), Safari and Chrome (PC and Mac).

  • A broken layout creates an inconsistent user experience. This type of problem can cause dissonance for your brand in the mind of the consumer, and also directly relates to your analytics.
  • Longer pages may mean readers will give up and not view the content on the lower portion of the website.
  • If this is an issue with your website, do an exhaustive browser testing for your website and work out these kinks. If you don’t have an in-house developer who is capable of this, web development firms have quality assurance teams who contract to do this type of work.

Related contentStrategically place ‘related content’ to keep user reading

Pushing people through to related content from story pages is important because stories are the core of a news operation. Pushing people through also results in more page views, which allows delivery of more ads to the same user.

  • Post links to related content at the end of the article, rather than at the top of a story. If the information is at the bottom of the article, readers will be encouraged to continue reading related content after reading an article.
  • Add photos to the “related content” story links at the bottom of the article. This will help increase engagement.

Newsletter signupPlace e-newsletter signup button in prominent place

  • Place your newsletter signup link in a prominent place on your homepage, not in the footer of the website where it will not get as much attention
  • For example, place a newsletter call to action button in the list of latest/recent stories, which places the link in the most viewed section of the homepage.

Too much white space is distracting to readers

  • White space can result in longer page lengths.
  • Research shows that white space is distracting to readers and can detract from reading, rather than pulling them in.
    • Combine and condense repetitive content, and remove unpopular content.
    • Rearranging advertisements located toward the bottom of the page to the top of the page can cut down on page length.

Video autoplay can be an annoyance to users

Autoplay of videos can be an annoyance to users (especially if they’re viewing the video on a public computer), and major interruption to browsers.

  • Problem — If visitors pause a video, open up a new browser page, and then leave the page with autoplay videos open, the video replays automatically, several minutes later.
  • Possible solution — Use a mimic video on the homepage, and give the viewer the option to play, replay and turn sound off/on the video. You will be able to record more reliable, numerical result analyses in regard to video viewing.
  • Allowing the user to decide whether or not to watch the video will enhance their experience if they encounter less annoyance by interruption. They’ll also feel like they have control over viewing and audio options.

Rearrange your navigation bar based on page views

Navigation bar

Rearranging sections on your homepage tab navigation bar (news, sports, politics, entertainment, lifestyle) and subsections (local, regional, world, etc.) can give users what they want right away without looking further than they need.

  • Rearrange sections according to the amount of page views may improve navigation on your site.
    • Test the order of your sections to see if this improves navigation.
    • Another option would be to combine sections that receive lower traffic into one section. For example, several sections may be geared toward local life. A section such as “Life in Missouri,” could be created to include the classifieds, autos, housing and jobs sections.
    • Combining subjects in your subsections may result in viewers being less overwhelmed with so many different options.

Add blogs as a separate section on your news site

Instead of having your blogs as subsections with each section, try creating a separate blog section on your website.

  • During this analysis project, examining national and local websites showed that many news sites tend to separate blogs and news content as two different parts. This may help build the website’s image as an objective news organization providing various subjective opinions.

Entertainment news deserves a lively layout

  • Entertainment sections should be colorful, lively and not too text heavy. According to Ogilvy’s layout principle, pictures are the first thing that draws the reader’s attention, followed by headline, and then body copy.
  • Videos can be another tool to attract viewers’ attention. Move video news to the top of the page.


Upcoming installments will cover email newsletter opportunities, best practices for social media and dashboards.

Want to know how these tips will affect your bottom line? Each market is different, and each news organization has a unique footprint. Brad Best and RJI can analyze your traffic and other key digital metrics to show you the dollars you are currently leaving on the table, and exactly how and where to grow your digital revenue.

You'll be surprised at the dollars you are currently leaving on the table. Call 573-884-9121.


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