Link madness; news will eat itself through poor UX

What’s that? Traditional news media is having a tough time? So everyone keeps saying and yet still (and this happens often) information emerges which seems to demonstrate that they are trying as hard as they can to destroy themselves with very little help from anyone else.

The main problem facing the news media industry right now is how to keep their coffers full (Times paywall anyone?) when their advertising revenue has slipped considerably and print circulation has dropped. So you’d think that they’d be trying to engage users, keep them on their websites for as long as they can to get as many eyeballs (and clicks) on their adverts as possible? So that would mean having a site which is heavily user centric, easy to use, engaging and provides a great experience that makes people want to stick around, right?

Wrong I’m afraid. This article from the Guardian demonstrates just how broken the news industries approach to the online experience is. It seems that news websites are guilty of something the big portals used to suffer from (going back 7 or 8 years here and thinking of Yahoo, Excite and Lycos in particular), linkitis (an overwhelming urge to shoe-horn as many self-referencing links as possible into your homepage). News sites average 450 links on their homepage and some have as many as 5,447 words (The Daily Mail) on a single page. The worst offender it seems in the Mirror which has 94% of the total words on its homepage (1,182) as part of a link. That’s utterly ridiculous!

That’s an astounding amount of linkage. I have no idea how humans are supposed to comprehend or make use of that level of information overload. Visually it looks a mess, hierarchically it makes little sense and usability wise it’s plain madness. How on earth is a user supposed to find what they are looking for in that maze of links and references? Perhaps they’re not. Maybe the people who run these websites believe that by populating pages with self-referential (internal) links they are helping entice (trick) users into clicking just one more page and thus increasing the chances of getting more ad revenue. The value to a user of some of these links is questionable.

Roll on engagement ads. The sooner we get away from page-view and click metrics and start to make publishers accept being paid on engagement (or at least more meaningful metrics) the sooner these sites will have to address their user experience and stop practices such as this. Swamping a page with links helps nobody. It lowers engagement in your site, dilutes traffic down routes you maybe don’t even really want them to go, cheapens your content and destroys the user experience. Stop eating yourself news and start thinking about your users and what they might actually want! Otherwise you’re going to end up losing more of those valuable eyeballs as your users increasingly prefer consuming news through other methods (readers, desktop apps, social networks).

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About Steve Evans

I’ve been working in senior digital & e-commerce roles for 16 years so I’ve got a wealth of experience to share. I specialise in online travel, e-commerce and also have a focus on reinsurance, risk and particularly insurance-linked securities / catastrophe bonds. I live and breathe the internet & risk transfer, am tech savvy, user experience focused, think out-of-the-box, offer design & research driven business consultancy and always keep business goals in mind. Read more about me

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