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Top 5 Improvements of ESPN.com Redesign

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Today, ESPN launched a beta version of their redesigned website.  The New York Times wrote about the site and the main goals behind it.

The new site is aimed at simplifying a visitor's experience by reducing the amount of clutter on the homepage.  The goal is to encourage visitors to delve deeper into the site and view more pages. ESPN was concerned that the overflow of information on the old homepage led people to bounce off and not necessarily delve into the site.

The new beta site feels like a definite improvement over the previous version.  Here are the 5 best things that ESPN did differently.

  1. Removed Automatic Playing Video - On the old site, a video of highlights in the top right would start automatically playing upon your arrival to the site - this was counter-internet.  We use the internet to seek information, not have information pushed on us like television does.  The video that played was not one that a visitor was likely to be looking for. Instead it stole attention from looking for the information actually desired. Also, even though it was a minor graphical element of the design in the top right corner, by playing media, it stole attention from the most important news highlighted in the middle of the page.
  2. Personalization of Information - Immediately available on the new site is an option for "My Headlines."  This feature allows visitors to personalize the information they see, making it much easier to get the news they find important.  By making this a prominent feature of the homepage, it entices visitors to click through to more interior pages and spend more time on the site.
  3. Simpler Navigation - The new site has streamlined the main navigation by hiding the inactive sports.  The previous site had 36 links on the top block of the homepage; that number has now been reduced to 19, and the links have been cleaned up to better fit the design.  It makes it easier to find and click on the news that a visitor cares the most about. 
  4. Larger Feature Video - The new video is 16x9 and displayed as a central part of the homepage; this is key. It allows ESPN to editorialize on what is important (which is their purpose) and takes advantage of their audience's faster computers.  They have traditionally been a leader in web technology and also led the way in the migration to compliant browsers.
  5. Cleaner Homepage Layout - Underneath the main video player and headlines, the new site has 3 more main columns and rows of information/ads.  The sections are all lined up nicely and each content area in a given row is the same size.  This makes it much easier to scan the homepage and find information than it was on the old site.  Previously, the homepage was full of content boxes that varied in size and didn't line up to adjacent boxes, making it very hard for the eye to read over the page.

Overall, ESPN did a really great job with the redesign.  Currently, the site is a traffic hub that captures nearly 50 percent of total minutes spent by Internet users watching sports video and the seventh most total video streams, according to Nielsen Video Census.  So, you can be sure that other media companies will be taking close notes of the design and eagerly awaiting ESPN to report the new traffic data from the redesign.

In addition to improving the user experience on the site, there is also a more corporate goal - the new design gives advertisers eight options to purchase ads on the most popular pages rather than the three that the old site had.  This increase in ads was one of the motivating factors for the redesign, as the NY Times points out that Disney, ESPN's parent company, was disappointed in soft ad sales by the channel in the most recent quarter.  However, it seems that ESPN did not sacrifice tact for revenue, as the new ad placements are not distracting, and they even eliminated the distracting banner ad up top.

What are your thoughts on the design?  Where does this design put the ESPN site relative to other media company sites such as the NYT or WSJ?

Comments

 Dan B's avatar
Dan B

Great Analysis! Are they going to have front page recaps of basketball intramurals from schools that boast the #1 team in the country??

Gregg's avatar
Gregg

I think users to go ESPN.com for a breadth of sports information, and that comes from the headlines on the right side on the page. You want to get your fill, not just a bite, of sports news when you visit the site. I know my eye spends the most time on those headlines than anywhere else on ESPN's homepage. So my main problem is that they're even less emphasized and less inviting to read than previously.
And while the website does an excellent job of consistently updating content and keeping fresh topics promoted, two huge space-takers (there's gotta be a more technical term than that) fly in the face of that on the new site: Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly. They only write once a week, at best! That content on the site is going to just sit there, stale, for far too long. Better to do it the way they did with the other Columnists section.
Third beef: Don't make users scroll through the options of stories under the top story graphic. The homepage is a jumpoff point, and all menu options should be up front. Shouldn't have to click twice (or three times) to get to a main story promo'd on the front page.

Overall though, great redesign. Huge positives in getting rid of autoplay video, larger feature video and retooling the scoreboards and menus at the top. I don't know they can get rid of the banner ad at the top (oh that's right, no Christmas party this year for employees), but hopefully the improved ad strategy will match the revenue to the high traffic the site gets.

The competing sites seem to be SI.com, CBSsportsline.com and sports.yahoo.com much more than the NYT or WSJ, and I think the ESPN site takes the sports competitor sites behind the woodshed.

Steve Cohen's avatar
Steve Cohen
I see nothing good about this site. For example, when trying to access the NY Giants page, it sends me by default to the Clubhouse, which is a useless page that I never visit. I had to visit the NFL Nation page, THEN click on the team page to get the information I wanted.

Change for the sake of change is not necessarily a good thing.
Edward's avatar
Edward
There are so many things wrong with the ESPN.com redesign I don't even know where to begin. Seriously, I thought this was just a April Fool prank at first, pushing out a redesign on April 1.

1. The homescreen is way way WAY too cluttered. The "new info first" paradigm has made it basically impossible to find articles relevant to a specific sport or topic. There's no obvious organization; sports stories are scattered with little thought toward grouping them together.
2. It's much more difficult to find specific writers. If I want to find an article by Buster Olney or Jayson Stark or Ryan McGee, I used to be able to just hop to the sport site and find them. Now with the constant scrolling and muddled search functionality, it's an ugly process. SI's writer drop-down is much more user-friendly in this regard.
3. Speaking of SI, the new ESPN site reminds me somewhat of SI and Bleacher Report... and not in a good way. Those sites are difficult to navigate as well, and individual articles have that stupid left column, which is just wasting space and squeezing the main content column, both at ESPN and SI specifically.
4. The never-ending vertical scroll made to feel like a ticker is disconcerting, especially for individual articles. When I read an article, I want an end point; I don't want to feel compelled to keep reading, especially if it's not the same writer. The RSS style of feed is a serious detriment here.
5. Plus just for fun there's a technical issue too. When I read an article and page down, the top couple of lines disappear under the ESPN banner, so I have to use the arrow keys to inch those back down. I don't know if that's just a Chrome problem, but it's annoying as hell.

I'm going to be using mlb.com a lot more now that baseball season has started, and I have a feeling it'll be the same for nfl.com in the fall.
Dave's avatar
Dave
It used to be really good. Now it's terrible.
The Old Ref's avatar
The Old Ref
The site is a disaster. There are no clues as to how to navigate. Football comes up, but it is still baseball season, and there doesn't seem to be a logical way to get there from the opening page. Must go to google to find the baseball link.

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