updated: March 4th, 2011 / Ross Johnson / 8 Comments

The Truth About Your News Section

You may be limiting the effectiveness of your homepage through the design treatment of your news section. It might be hard to believe but many company websites have been designed in such a way that their latest news actually interferes with the success of the site (or alternatively this could be blog posts, announcements, etc…). Having worked with clients through this issue I have discovered many of the reasons why, how to avoid them as well as how they can be designed to improve website results. Let’s start by examining the history of company news on the web.

Looking at News in Days Past

The news section of a website has always been the source of design controversy. It used to be that websites were difficult to update. One had to know HTML if not other programing languages like PHP. As a result most news sections never stayed up to date after a of the site’s launch. These outdated news sections screamed “We don’t care about updating our website, this information is old.”

Now that we have cost-effective content management systems that are easy to use, keeping a site updated is less of an issue. This easy of posting has evolved into a completely opposite issue where there is too much focus put into the news section of a website.

Identifying the Common News Problem

Many companies need to communicate their important news to their target market and customer base. To communicate this information you could use a significant amount of homepage real estate to showcase the news. The idea here is that anyone coming to the site can’t help but see it. It means they will be aware of your important announcements right? This “hit the user on the head” approach is ineffective.

Very few people go to a website with the intention of checking the companies news. They actually have very specific tasks that they want to accomplish, typically focused around finding information. These are tasks that you could make effortless by using homepage real estate. Rather than finding a link that points users toward what they are looking for they are instead presented with giant news section that says “We care about us, not you.”

Who Are The Engaged vs Disengaged Users?

Having monitored the click-through rates of news items on over one hundred websites over the past few years the average click-through rate is less than 1%. This is data that shows that the average “disengaged” user doesn’t care about what your latest news, and why should they? They have very little idea of who you are.

While the average user doesn’t care about your news there are some users that do. These are the “engaged” users that are building a relationship with your company. They are more valuable as they will become customers if they are not already. If they want to hear your news, it means the news section is valuable right? Not so fast. These people want to hear about your news are you are going to make them randomly check your website to do so? Why would you make it so difficult?

These more valuable users want direct updates. You are already asking a lot in hoping people care enough to read your news, it is even more to make them go to your website to get it. They rather sign up for an e-mail newsletter or follow you on Twitter. Trying to communicate to them through your homepage is one of the least effective ways to do so, not to mention it ignores the needs of the other who come to your site.

There is a way to use news effectively, let’s explore further.

Doing News The Right Way

I will say that there is actual value in having news on your homepage. It shows that you are keeping the site updated and demonstrates activity,  both which are credibility indicators that users notice. It just shouldn’t take any more real estate than it absolutely needs to. At 3.7 DESIGNS we recommend limiting the section to 3 – 5 small news items (headlines only).

Real Value, Just Not Much

When planning your redesign there are plenty of good reasons to have a news section on the homepage. Keeping it to a minimum will ensure that users can find what they are looking for and end up wanting to know more about your company. Putting too much focus on the news leads to bad user experiences and doesn’t reach the people who want the information anyways. Instead give users who want a stronger relationship a better way to get the information such as e-mail or through social media.

8 thoughts The Truth About Your News Section

  1. I agree with the ‘valuable information’ but not a lot of it – it’s such a true statement. It overwhelms people when there’s too much of a good thing so to speak. Great post.

  2. Your blog and this article in particular has been very interesting for me. The truth is that it makes me short and very pleasant reading. I will back soon. I need to read good blogs, It enrich the soul.

    Diseño Web Tarragona

  3. Great post. I just like to say that you have figured out one of the reason for websites less effectiveness.

  4. I agree with the ‘valuable information’ but not a lot of it – it’s such a true statement. It overwhelms people when there’s too much of a good thing so to speak. thanks for Great post.

  5. That’s a very good article. I often discourage the use of the “News Section”, unless it is for the website of a very large organisation with a full time PR, busy building up a relationship between the organisation and the press. Coming from a media background, to call news something that might be weeks old, is wrong terminology. I have mentioned your article in my blog http://lifeasapixelpusher.blogspot.com/2011/05/does-your-website-really-needs-news.html and I hope that’s ok with you.

  6. Great write-up! So often I deal with clients that put such an emphasis on having a news section on their home page that it almost moves toward a blog structure. I often questioned how important this really was, but never quite had a good reason. Your article motivates me to ask this question next time.

    Tony

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