Forbes.com image galleries lack basic navigation and functionality, and is riddled with unappealing advertising…
-Justin Davis, UX/IA Expert at Madera Labs
Interface Usability, You’re Doing it Wrong
First, let me get this off of my chest – I love the Forbes website, but have been bothered by their galleries for some time now, so in an effort to examine why some of the UX problems that are commonly pointed out are not so unique to Forbes, but are in fact a common problem with many ‘print gone digital’ publications, I’ve chosen them as the unfortunate target this month. At first look, you’d think that printed publications were continually raising the bar on bad user experience…
Unfortunately it might not be so simple. Most large publications have historically sold their advertising and positioned against competition based on the antiquated model of measuring “impressions”, or how many times an ad is likely to be viewed. This makes sense when you are printing a newspaper or magazine, and sending it out to a defined customer base, but what about taking it online?
I’ll be breaking down what the perceived reasoning is behind the poor usability of their image galleries to help you understand what you or your clients may be expecting to hear the next time you explain why impressions don’t mean much. First, let’s run through the Forbes site…
The Good Things: The Main Forbes.com website is actually a great example of where a brand can get a few things right.
- Beautiful layouts, and use of CSS for responsiveness and adaptation to browser size
- Nice use of Mega Nav Menus and good Navigational structure
- Great basic use of Gigya’s platform for creating a relatively seamless experience. (I’m sure this one was a challenge for Gigya to integrate with)
Problems we noted:
- Poorly designed galleries
- Strange ad placements
- No responsive design or effective mobile layout on gallery pages
- Poor load times and design/brand disconnect from main website (overall sense of “is this left over from Geocities?”)
- Author pages are not leveraging Google’s “Rich Snippets”, or connected to G+ (we’re not fanboys, but understand the need very clearly)
- Site is lacking some basic (and important) microdata such as Facebook Open Graph tag altho
UX/IA and ‘Traditional’ Advertising:
Unfortunately for publications that are transitioning thier ‘offline’ sales model to the online world, even subscriber numbers are not an accurate measure of how many actual, targeted customers will see an online ad, and marketers are become savvy enough to know that. The solution has been introduced in the way of “demand-side” ad platforms, which publications are slow to adopt due to the lower cost for the advertiser (At least Forbes is getting smarter about this as you can see above). Not wanting to lose ad revenue, the obvious solution is to put page views ahead of usability and continue to let your ad space be valued as it always has been, right? Wrong.
How it will Hurt Them
Inadvertently, the entire publishing industry has applied basic “google manipulation” techniques aimed at lowering bounce rates and inflating page views by making the site harder to use. This affects a website negatively in more ways than I can explain in a short UX article, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Google is continually pushing to serve the best USABLE content in their search results, and these techniques will have an increasingly negative affect on the sites that continue to use them. Apparently, frustrating users everywhere seems to not matter as much as hanging onto a KPI like page views for many traditional publishers (or media buyers for that matter).
Usability isn’t the Only Thing that Counts
Fortunately for Forbes, they employ great writers and search engines are looking closely at social indicators as powerful ranking factors, making all of those likes, tweets, and +1′s count for something. As I mentioned before, I don’t think this will last forever, and as algorithms become more sophisticated, publications not following basic principles of usability will start to lose market share to those that do – it’s only a matter of time. We have faith that as they realize the benefit of increasing click conversions over impression numbers, they’ll all come around.
So congratulations, Forbes.com – you are this month’s poster child for print publications in the category of “Online Publishing: You Might be Doing it Wrong“.
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