Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reader: New website design lowers, slows traffic

Regarding Democrat and Chronicle Publisher Michael Kane's recent appointment as new publisher at The Indianapolis Star, a reader says in an especially smart comment about the new GO4 website design for Gannett's community newspapers:

"GO4's templates and structure and technology approach is horrible for innovation. While part of the concept was to foster innovation and flexibility by allowing sites to leverage content and presentation assets from other sites, achieving that is as much a fantasy as sites being able to share content seamlessly through Saxotech. GO4 is a clusterfuck, and the reason why is execution, not intent. There is a fundamental lack of the right skills in the right places at GMTI, Gannett Digital and throughout local markets. The new GO4 code is a mess. Gannett Digital and GMTI made some bad founding decisions early on. Resources have been too strained to implement, debug, support or improve the GO4 deployment.

"Virtually every site's traffic growth has seen slowed, diminished or even reversed since launching the GO4 redesign. While some blame is correctly to be laid at the fact that redesigns upset usage habits, especially of older users, this excuse is way too often cited, especially by folks at Gannett Digital. A good redesign should boost traffic, not decrease it. Tons of experiences throughout the Web industry prove this. I cannot underscore the cost being felt throughout Gannett local markets in terms of lost opportunity, declining audience growth, staff demoralization and eventually potential slowed gains in market share -- all as a result of the new GO4 sites being generally slow, hard to navigate and harder to use."

Good news is only news
The comment continues: "Keeping the extent of the problem from being fully realized is the fact that Gannett's competitive culture means local markets tend to report their successess, not their failures, up to corporate. Monthly reports to corporate are filled with good news about the GO4 impact -- the negative realities, obvious to users and employees in local markets -- is downplayed or not presented to Digital at all. And so, we cling to the tiniest shreds of good news, such as diminutive changes in demographic and dwelltime trendlines, while site after site whose traffic has grown 25%-50% year-over-year for years on end suddenly find themselves below or flat with last year's traffic."

Join the debate, in the original post.

Earlier: With more at stake, we know less about Pluck

[Image: a screenshot of a recent Democrat and Chronicle homepage]


  1. All redesigns result in lower traffic over the first couple of months or so.

    Part of it is -- hopefully -- improved navigation decreases page views as people more easily find what they're looking for; part of it is, people don't like change and it takes them a while to adjust.

    Every redesign I've ever been involved with (and I've been through quite a few) followed the same pattern ... lower traffic at first, bigger than ever later.

  2. Our traffic is down significantly (25-35%) since the spring redesign. That's suicide in this day and age.

    Readers keep telling us the site is too jumbled and complicated to navigate. I concur.

  3. The redesigns have NOTHING to do with GO4 Multimedia. GO4 stands for Gannett Online version 4, which succeeded GO3, which was the rollout of Publicus/Saxotech.

    The redesign was done by the AKQA group and tweaked by Gannett at the not-so-twin towers.

  4. OMG, we lost so many online readers because of the slow page loads after redesign and screwup after screwup with each upgrade. Our content keeps raising our numbers anyway, but those fewer and fewer people providing unique content are like a dwindling force of sailors trying to keep a ship with a busted hull afloat just bailing water.

    I wish the $311 million being lavished on investor dividends (and why do we never see them in our 401k match portfolios?), would instead be invested in reporters and editors and ad reps who can draw more consumers to our products.

    Another rant: I think the corporation sees ads as gratuitous, but advertisements for local businesses are a local service, same as news content. I read the paper just for ads before I go out shopping. It's a public service.

  5. The web will save us... NOT!

  6. I agree with Howard on this one. There's always a significant drop in the metrics after every redesign, and it takes a while before you can figure out exactly what happened. Was it a drop in page views because people can find things in fewer clicks? Is it a drop in visits because a lot of readers dislike the site now? Year-over-year comparisons help, but not if there was an unusual story or traffic pattern the previous year. In any case it could take a while before you have enough data to really determine whether the design was good or bad.

    But redesigns should really be more about function, and the imperative for a good design is whether it helps you deliver the content in a way that readers want. Whether the new Gannett redesign does so or not is obviously grist for discussion.

    I'd be more worried about the financial end of this business. All this emphasis on page views and visits and assorted other metrics originates from the hope that increased traffic leads to increased revenue. I'm not convinced that's necessarily true, or that it correlates in the way that Gannett and other news organizations need it to. It might be a linear relationship, it might be logarithmic, but what they need right now is something more like exponential. I don't see that happening.

  7. Technology is moving much too fast for newspapers. The Holy Grail is now wireless/portable -- services people actually pay for. The web is only as good as it can be delivered to people on the move. If you require people to be at a stationary terminal, you're missing more than 30 percent of your audience -- especially before and after work! Websites have to wait for commuters to come in, and by then they've already seen the local news on morning TV and radio in the car (if they even care about local news at all).

  8. Lavishing dividends on shareholders! Silly me I thought that they were the owners of the company? OMG I would suggest that the shareholders who have money invested in Gannett deserve to get paid for the investment. What you are suggesting is a form of corporate/employee welfare. "Lend us/invest your money with us but we won't return anything to you for the use of your money and , oh BTW we are going to give it to a bunch of overpaid senior exec's and uninformed employees who think that they deserve more in their 401k. If Gannett needs to eliminate the dividend to survive fine. But to cut it back just to give it to another group is transfer of wealth/welfare at it's worst. Over and over again the solution to a declining industry is to spend more money when its most likely that spending an additional dollar isn't going to pay for itself.
    BTW the reason for the cuts is at the higher staffing levels the newspapers had a few years ago (or even a few weeks or month ago)didn't stop the circulation losses ,the advertising losses or the drop in profits. WOuld they result in a better product.. probably, but I doubt they would result in a large enough change in financial fortunes to pay for them selves.

  9. Folks - stop showing your ignorance of basic stock knowledge when you complain. You DO get dividends in your 401K. You get the same amount as everyone else paid quarterly, like everyone else. Whatever the dividend is, multiply it by the number of shares in your 401K. That's what you get.

    Typically, dividends are reinvested in the same stock that produces them. With a traditional brokerage, I know you can chose to get the dividends in cash. I'm not sure if that's possible in the 401K.

  10. I'm in Indy and can't even get the page to load at home. It's humiliating when I'm at a party and all every gripes to me about is how freaking slow our Web site is.

  11. More interesting comments about the redesign herre, see the 7/19/2008 12:58 PM post: http://gannettblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/as-more-rides-on-pluck-what-do-you-know.html

  12. Trying loading up a GO4 site in YSlow. It's an add-on for Firefox that uses various metrics to evaluate a web site's performance.


    You'll also need Firebug for YSlow to work:


    To me the front pages are so cluttered it's like a kid in a candy store for your eyes.

  13. Hahahahaha! The traffic is down because the sites make it "easier" to find information! Oh my, that's a good one! Will this industry ever get rid of its denial?

  14. To 7/22/2008 4:57 PM

    Shareholders buy stock betting that a company will do weel and they will profit from it.

    Workers trade their time and skills for what they think is a fair wage.

    If you bet at the craps table and the dice don't work your way, the casino doesn't say "Well here are your winnings, we'll take it out of the croupier's salary."

    You buy stock, you take a chance.

    Just ask the shareholders over at Wachovia who may have their dividend cut by 90%.

  15. This change has slaughtered traffic. Just look at the monthly reports. New designs often do cause traffic adjustments, but will that adjustment end after six months, 12 months? Does anyone find this new design easier to navigate? It's not just customers who can't find their way around it. It's people in the newsroom as well. How long are we going to stick with this design, with social networking tools that were launched without the ability to actually search for people to network with. Does someone have hard facts on how long the redesign traffic dip is supposed to last and then tell us what Plan B is if we have to deem this design a failure? Heck, we'll adapt and overcome the traffic but my newspaper's web site traffic was a on fast-rising trajectory before we switched to this design.


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