If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
If your newspaper website has an awesome blog / article / section / multimedia piece / feature / whatever and no one knows it exists except for the members of your web staff that posted it, does it really exist?
User navigation of news websites is perhaps the biggest problem for the publishing industry since Craig Newmark did what newspapers should have been doing for years.
Lately I’ve noticed four consistent newspaper navigation designs emerging among websites and one solution I really think is a step in the right direction.
First, the two old school models:
There’s still a lot of newspaper sites that use vertical navigation, including all the Tribune-wide site redesigns. The NYTimes shook design trends (that were moving to horizontal nav.) with their redesign last year when they integrated vertical navigation on their homepage. Although their site changes to horizontal navigation whenever you click inside the site, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. The UK Telegraph’s recent redesign also integrates a hybrid horizontal and vertical navigation.
I’m still perplexed by vertical nav. (If you can explain it’s major benefits, please do so!) It may just be a legacy format, but so were animated gifs and we don’t use those anymore because better practices emerged. I just don’t really see the logic here putting a static object like navigation in the area with the hottest views–the F-Shape! And I really don’t understand why you’d want to bury some of your navigation ‘below the fold.’
Perhaps one benefit to vertical nav is there might be a slight SEO boost for having it buit static into the site, rather than as an item in a CSS list. And well, the flip side of the F-shape argument could hold water. (‘Put your static navigation where users are going to look for sure.’)
Overall, I’m a reader that digs big pictures. Big video. Wide views. And any static elements that cut that content well down aren’t cool in my book. It’s like advertising. I just gloss over it. (That is, if I actually had to look at ads and didn’t use Firefox and the greatest invention since the Internet — AdBlock Plus.)
More Vertical Navigation examples:
Horizontal Roll Over Navigation
This decade, as CSS was widely adopted, many sites integrated the roll over navigation offering deep links into their content. This style still persists on many sites and definitely gets the job done.
Traditionally the options for this roll out vertically once the site viewer rolls over the link, but a new version with a second horizontal bar showcasing the second-tier options is making its way around the net.
More Horizontal Roll Over examples:
Now, a new trend that has me puzzled:
Basic Horizontal Navigation
Normally, I’m all for simplicity. Newspaper sites need it. But having a horizontal navigation without roll over limits you to at about only 12 options for deep linking (including advertising’s four — Homes, Jobs, Autos and Classifieds).
Most* of Scripps Newspapers sites are big on this with their corporate template and while I appreciate the cleanliness, we need to offer deep utility. (* = The Rocky Mountain News uses roll overs and is a linked example above)
The logic behind static roll over confuses me less than vertical navigation, but it’s still perplexing that on a website with 10,000+* pages of content, why wouldn’t you want to at least give readers an option to go deep and find that content from the home page? ( * = This would include articles, bridge pages, blogs, section level pages, multimedia, etc. and vastly depends on your company’s content archiving policy, so it could easily flex to hundreds of thousands of pages if you don’t expire articles after 7 – 30 days, as most sites do.)
Or maybe the Simple Horizontal Navigation is really, really brilliant. Brilliant like MySpace’s page inflating site design, which makes people have to click multiple times to get deep into your site. Bean counters love it. Brilliant!
What about the audience though?
I just don’t buy that people are going to work that hard to find your content. I subscribe to Tim Harrower’s old school design belief that anything deeper than 3 clicks and you’ve lost most people (I’d wager my paycheck that by forcing them to click a fourth time you’ve lost 70 percent of the audience. And I’d bet two paychecks that you’ll lose 97 percent for those on slow dsl or dial-up). I’m talking about the casual, daily reader surfing around (not someone not looking for the article that mentions their son by name). They don’t have to wait and dig through your site when the entire Internet is easier, quicker, more entertaining and only click away.
More Basic Horizontal Navigation examples:
The newest solution I’m intrigued by:
Site Map Navigation
The newest newspaper website navigation trend is, what I’m calling (because I haven’t seen a industry term yet), Site Map Navigation.
It’s Horizontal Roll Over Navigation, on steroids.
Using a horizontal roll over navigation, some sites are blowing out that roll over box to really showcase all the content and related sections available deep within the site. This essentially provides sitemap above the fold, on the home page without calling it a “site map” or some other insane jargon word that my mom (or other casual users) wouldn’t understand.
This method also helps combat the challenge of having immense levels of content and only one home page to showcase it on (which must be updated and changed constantly). AND it if done right, it can organize related content together so readers can understand what else is out on your site.0
My favorite live example so far is TampaBay.com and SacBee.com, who both not only get a lot of deep links in there but organize the content in logical chunks under each site sections so readers can logically see how things are organized and how deep it goes. Ohio.com also employs this method and the Sydney Morning Herald’s recent redesign integrated a “show site sections” button that is kind of a half-navigation, half-site map hyrbid.
Site Map Navigation examples:
In conclusion, San Dimas High School football rules!
The Site Map Navigation may not be the ultimate solution, but we need to integrate better logic and utlity into our newspaper site navigation because they’re a jumbled mess. We need to find a way to balance simplicity while also showcasing our vast expanses. This isn’t an ultimate fix by a long shot but it’s a step towards organizing our content — and perhaps more importantly — easily communicating to readers how the site is organized so they can connect with related content and what they want, when they want, as quickly as they want.