I wonder sometimes if the people who run news organizations actually look at their own Web sites.
I mean, look at them the way readers do. Use them to find out what's going on, to get the news, to search for needed information. I ask because a lot of big-name news Web sites occasionally seem designed to frustrate readers as much as possible.
I'm not just talking about bad design, endless lists of small-type headlines or site searches that simply don't work, often in comical ways. Those are all sins, of course, and they're chronic. Brad Colbrow added a few more in an excellent post last week, including missing links, incredibly jumbled templates and photo thumbnails that click through to…photo thumbnails. There are other good gripes in the comments on his post.
I'll add a few myself: Pages that load incredibly slowly and/or erratically—you know, so that when you click on the link you want, items jumping around on the still-building page cause you to accidentally click something else. Or how about those maddening 30-second pre-roll ads, not just on videos, but even on slideshows, for crying out loud (I'll bet the stats triumphantly show the item was clicked, but fail to note that many readers are long gone three seconds into the commercial.) Or how about faulty Flash-laden ads or content packages that unfailingly crash the visitor's browser?
There's a good one in Colbrow's post that drives me nuts: random links to vaguely related stories or galleries, inserted into body text every couple of grafs to break up story flow (magazine sites, never the brightest examples of digital thinking, are principal offenders here). How did anybody think this was a good idea? I saw one today that's a really unfortunate howler:
(That's from a Time story that ran on Yahoo, but Yahoo added the oddly juxtaposed link, which wasn't in Time's original.)
These things aren't just embarrassing. They all make news sites harder to read and harder to want to come back to. Readers are smart. They know when they're seeing sloppy work, and with unlimited choices in the digital world, they'll take their eyeballs elsewhere.
News sites don't seem to understand that user interface and user experience are critically important online. Instead, they're rife with this sort of sloppy stuff. That's why I wonder whether the people who run news sites read them regularly. Then they'd notice these things that drives readers away and exert a little more quality control.