In an earlier post, where I ranted about the Charlotte Oberserver’s lack of coverage of the local hockey team, I alluded to the fact that I find the sports section of the site done incorrectly.  Or maybe I should just come out and say that I don’t like it. Here is where I’ll give my own personal opinions of what is wrong.

Let me start off by saying I’m not a UI designer or an interface expert.  I’m not even an individual that has a degree in marketing or experience in branding.  My opinions may be completely wrong according to “theory” and may not even be practical.  But, I’m a blogger and i get to have opinions, many of which are probably wrong. Now that I’ve gotten my CYA out of the way let me begin.

I’m choosing to start with the aspect that first drew my ire while researching my previous post.  The individual blogs linked to an separate external sites.

On the left you’ll see a screen shot I grabbed at the time I started this post.  It should be obvious that 6 of the 16 links have been outlined in yellow to draw your attention.  Each of highlighted links actually direct you to a page. One of the principal rules on web development is to try to keep people on your site as long as possible. There are many reasons for this. First of all it doesn’t make users/customers feel like you are trying to get rid of them. Why would you forcibly someone away from your core business?

Another reason this is typically frowned upon is that you lose branding.  The sites can be very nice and very professional looking.  But in the case of these blogs they are using a generic, plain, template with a header at the top containing a simple Charlotte Observer header with links back to the main site.  Between all of these pages there is no consistency.  Some of the sites use google friend connect, while others have facebook connect.  Some contain a way to contact the author via email, or follow them on twitter, while others have absolutely no social media interaction or way of contacting the author at all.  None of this is a problem by itself, but it kills consistency and branding.  On the topic of consistency it drives me crazy that the favico.ico, the tiny little icon that identifies the site with an icon when it’s in a tab, is different than the Observers branded icon.  The sites use the generic “B” icon.

Beyond the aesthetic branding elements that are lost we also lose the entire URL branding that is essential in web development,  The sites are named things like and  If someone happened across one of these sites from a search engine you would have no clue they were tied to the Observer at all or even to each other under a common theme of Charlotte sports.  Yes there are links at the top of this page that link you to the Observer, but on a page this plain and generic, both in URL and graphically, it would be ignored by most surfers as nothing more than advertisements.  The generic look and URL does not give the impression of professional news at all.  Take a look at the next screen shot to see what I’m talking about.

Very little Branding on blog

Where's the branding

The final point to this long winded post is that by taking users to a separate site is that you are losing ad revenue.  After constantly reading how newspapers are failing and struggling to survive I’d think they would like to capitalize on as much revenue as possible.  We’ve all become accustomed to seeing ads, and as long as they are relatively unobtrusive we don’t mind them surrounding our reading material.

There are many other points that could be made about SEO, site taxonomy, and plain old keeping your site fresh, and easily organized, where finding the content you are looking for is easy.  I may try to hit on some of these at a later point.

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