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We can learn something from the Daily Mail. Yes really!
Recently I looked at the Mail Online for the first time in a long time (honest) and while I would like to say I was immediately sucked in by fantastic site design, I was in fact drawn to a story about two students putting their haunted mirror on EBay (and selling the story to a national newspaper in the process).
But I suppose that was the point. One nil Mail Online, one nil. But I ignored all the ‘crime, crime, crime’ and the celebrity stories reputably sourced from someone who once knew Kate Middleton’s cousin, and actually looked at the functionality and features behind the always controversial site.
Because that functionality and web design has helped the Mail Online become the world’s most popular online newspaper website. This has meant that the Mail Online has taught us two things in one day. Firstly, how to top the market through spectacular web design and secondly, all those people who claim they never read it are probably lying. Come out of your closet Mail Online fans, you are not alone.
If you really want the maths behind how popular the Mail Online really is, get ready for the cold hard facts; in 2008 the site was attracting 18.7 million unique monthly browsers. This figure rose to 91.6 million in 2012.
We know better than anyone that behind every online success there’s an even better team of developers and designers grafting away. In this case, London based creative agency Brand42 were the particular genius behind the Mail Online’s huge increase in traffic. Just like the briefs our design team are used to handling, Brand42 was commissioned to review design and user experience with an aim to make the Mail Online the UK’s number one website.
Love or loath the Mail Online, but there’s no denying design brilliance… Here’s a heart-warming tale of how their fortunes were turned around through engaging and user-friendly design.
Designing for the target audience and utilising digital
One of the primary considerations of the new Mail Online design was to appeal to a younger audience clued up with online interaction. While the previous site was primarily a half-hearted extension of the print version, the new site was designed to become a comprehensive news site in its own right.
Fully linking up with all those social networks the kids are into was to be an integral feature of the Mail Online facelift. Including clear and ‘clickable’ icons to a range of social networks meant that the Mail Online could successfully tap into a whole range of audiences that usually wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. Even the most dedicated of Daily Mail snobs couldn’t fail to be enticed by a ‘giant twins’ story.
Freshly branding the new site as the ‘Mail Online’ was additionally designed to appeal to the young ‘uns and inject a new lease of life into the site whilst retaining the old loyalty for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Extending the out with the old, in with the funky principle meant that each page of the site was given a contemporary new banner that would additionally be useful for navigation purposes.
Good front, good back
When a bit of horse is found in a strawberry yogurt or David Cameron says something silly, waiting around to deliver such juicy content to the public just isn’t an option for those media types. We want our breaking news as soon as it’s been fitted with scare mongering as standard and the Mail Online recognised this.
Creating a new content management system allowed editors and journalists to be flexible with content layout and modify text quickly and efficiently compared to their old clunky system. Great for removing things quickly should any ‘unpleasantness’ occur…
The site underwent a pilot period 2 months before it was scheduled to go live to allow staff to familiarise themselves with the new design and the new CMS as well as allowing the public to comment. During this beta period, real-time heat mapping was also utilised and came to the grand conclusion that readers would continue to scroll down the home page and maintain engagement with articles lower down. This led to the Mail Online creating a homepage with a depth of 5.16 metres. It just goes on and on…
Phew. If you’ve ever had any trouble making the analogy between the Daily Mail and toilet paper, they’ve made it even easier for you.
Good use of linking
Taking into account that over half of site visitors weren’t landing on the Mail Online home page and would instead enter via an article, a new information architecture was required to allow flexible entry and flow throughout the site. A comprehensive set of fully optimised page templates were additionally created to eradicate dead ends and make a nice little SEO trail around the site.
The article page design was set up to encourage comments and social interaction to boost article ranking and content awareness. So when the Mail Online includes a sensitive article with an award-winning author being less than polite about the Royals, you can guarantee ‘healthy’ discussion will ensue both on and offsite.
Innovation through discovery
They’ve found the public’s Achilles Heel so it seems and knowing what will suck us in has stood the Mail Online in good stead. Including celebrity tit bits down the right hand side seem to entice even the most high brow readers and using long headlines (20 words or more) and larger images have helped make articles more ‘clickable’ according to those in the biz at Pocket- Lint. Featuring larger images was also a key consideration of the new site both for reader engagement and because higher broadband take up was anticipated.
Why shell out for marketing when the public can be your drones? Fully utilising social media platforms has allowed readers to promote content for them, leading to a nice relationship of content spread, people given something to gas about. Keeping up with the people pleasing philosophy also led to the realisation that no one like being bombarded with adverts and the Mail Online rather cleverly doubled the amount of advertising through the site while keeping the homepage as clean as a nun’s tabard.
Universally mocked but universally on top through the power of design and strategy. A little bit of kudos is is order for the Mail Online on this occasion.