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Websites that work

Websites that work

Jul 1, 2002 12:00 PM, Stephanie P. Snyder

Why do users spend more time on some websites than others? What makes users come back to favorite sites time and time again and pass over others? Is it flashy graphics and animation? Bright colors? Current news? While any of those things can be part of a good website, there are more elusive traits that can transform a good website into a great website.

When designing for the Web, the number one rule is: Keep the user in mind. Every radio station has a target audience, and when planning the site, think of that person. In addition to demographic data about age and sex, a designer should know the type of technology that the target market is using. How does the user connect to the Internet? What browser is he more likely to use? Is there a brand of computer and monitor size that he prefers?

Daily updates keep WOAI San Antonio�s Web content fresh, bringing visitors back.

Designs that work for a CHR audience might not be appropriate for a news/talk station. More importantly, what a Web design firm or consultant finds most exciting to build, may or may not fit the radio station listener’s needs. Great websites put the needs of the users first.

Page layout

Too many websites are victims of poor design, and radio station Web pages are no exception. Placement of images, use of space, choice of type font and colors will determine how well the audience receives the message. If the initial site layout is ineffective, the user will surf away within a few seconds and the message will never be delivered. Make first impressions count. Present the main features of your site in the first one or two screens. Many users dislike scrolling down to view pages, so place important elements above the fold, meaning in a location that is visible when the page first loads.

All websites should be easy to read. Text should be large and clear. Color should be chosen carefully and used to enhance the design of the site. Avoid using background colors in the same shade as the text. Special effects should be used only when they add value to the site and fit your target market. Many Web designers get caught up in the latest fancy additions, even though too many effects at once can overwhelm the user. Complex backgrounds, scrolling text, hidden images, sounds, animations and other features can be effective in Web design, but use them sparingly and only when there is a reason to do so.

Navigation and content

Clarity and consistency are key to a successful website, and nowhere is this more apparent than in navigation. The website visitor always wants to know, �where am I?� The next question will usually be, �where do I go next?� Great websites make it easy for the user to answer these two questions. Buttons or menus to guide the user through the site should be clearly marked and visible at all times. Often these are placed at the top or side of the page. Repeating the appearance, location and function of navigation elements on every page allows the user to learn the rules of the road. A consistent layout also builds a site identity in the mind of the user and he will come to associate the look and feel of the site with the radio station.

Simple navigation and quick-loading images make DC�s WASH page a breeze for the user.

Users need some reason to visit one website vs. another website. A colorful logo is not enough to keep a user on a website or make him return later. What keeps him on a page after the first impression is the site content.

To make the website memorable, give the listener something valuable. This could be advice, information, entertainment or contests depending on the station format. What does the station website offer that the user cannot get anywhere else? Obvious columns for many stations are local weather, news and event or concert calendars. Content must be accurate, fresh, compelling and easy to find. Information on the Web ages quickly, so update regularly to prevent your site from becoming stale.

Creating fresh, original content on a regular basis can be a chore. If station resources do not allow for a team of Web producers to create content, filter and gather interesting information for the listeners instead. If the local newspaper already offers comprehensive news on the Web, don’t duplicate its work, link to it. If there is a popular fan site about music played on the station, link to that. By linking to content that is specific and relevant to station listeners, the website will be current and still offer a valuable service. Avoid becoming nothing but a list of links. Point directly to an article or a specific resource whenever possible, rather than to a home page. Sites that have some useful grouping or sorting stand out and will be revisited more often than a simple list. Regularly check links for accuracy.

Another way to develop original content with minimal time investment is to start a community of users and let them create the content for you. User surveys, chat rooms and online forums allow visitors to share information with others and can help shape your site to better serve their needs. Let the audience talk about the local hot topics. An online forum makes you part of the users’ lives, making your website of more interest to them.

Animation and slick graphics target the younger audience of Chicago�s WBBM.

The Web is an interactive medium and great websites encourage contact. Allow users to contact the station for more information or with comments and suggestions about your site. They will feel more involved with the station and the website manager will learn what is working and what can be improved. At a minimum, include a contact e-mail address for the webmaster. In addition, some stations provide e-mail addresses or feedback forms for one or more departments. Make it a point to respond promptly to all user inquiries.

Back for more

A great website is one that users come back to again and again. Websites aim to create repeat users because more users, more often, means the site can charge more for advertising. In the case of a radio station, more Web users also means more listeners are interacting with the station at times they may not have listened before. By keeping the user in mind when designing a site and by offering current and original content in a clear, consistent format stations can transfer a loyal over-the-air listener into a repeat website user.

Snyder is an independent streaming media consultant based in Australia.