The Basics Apply Online, Maybe Even More So

By Thomas R. Temin
Media and Government Consulting

In judging for the ASBPE awards, consulting and just noodling around on the internet, I find some things that are just plain annoying.

Here are some of my pet peeves, and I’ll bet they are your readers’ pet peeves, too:

Pricing shell game: What does this research cost to download? How much do you charge for a subscription? Is there even a charge in the first place? Too often, we make visitors click deep into a chain of steps before revealing the price for a product or service offered online. If you are worried that putting a price tag up front will scare people away, then do a bang-up job of writing your sell language.

Take a page from the web site of Business Travel News. At the bottom of its home page the two classes of research available — free and premium or paid — are clearly marked.

Lack of news archive: A reader is thinking, “I know they had a story about XYZ in the last couple of weeks.” But we dish up disappointment, because our online archive of daily web postings only goes back a few days. Readers want a deeper archive, preferably with a robust search function. Heck, our own staff wants it. So why don’t more publications provide it?

Check out this example of a great archive from Government Executive.

Arcade game home page: Rotating lede stories, each with its own compelling illustration, has become popular. Yet some sites lack a way for the visitor to turn the carousel back a notch to a piece that went by before they could click on the link. If you’ve got five or six stories spinning by, each one taking seven or eight seconds, I guarantee you’ll have an impatient reader — presuming he or she sticks around to wait for the story to come around.

The Wall Street Journal figured out this one. Note the clear PREV and NEXT buttons under the rotating feature container.

Who pulled down that window shade? Without doubt, visitors hate what I call window shade ads. You click on a story and – whoops – an ad drapes down over the entire site. There’s a “skip this ad” or similar link, but what a way to frustrate readers! I know the ad climate is difficult, and often publishers lack the leverage they need to refuse this kind of visit-spoiling practice. But has anyone asked an advertiser, maybe they’ll get more clicks with a well positioned, well-written ad that doesn’t frustrate site visitors?

No point in linking to a site that does not have such ads, so root around the Washington Post site and sooner or later you’ll bump your nose into a window shade.

Help, get my sunglasses! As sites grow, they sometimes get cluttered. After a while, it’s time for a little pruning. Not because you are a neat freak, but because your identity and strong branding can get spoiled if the site’s appearance gets out of control.

The famous million dollar home page is the epitome of clutter. That’s what makes it unique and fun. But you don’t want your site to look like that. The trick is finding a balance between dull or generic, and too busy.

From the recent ASBPE contest, I found ALM’s to strike that balance quite well. It’s loaded with information, yet manages to look organized, even dignified while conveying the excitement of new news.

Thomas R. Temin is a consultant with 30 years of publishing experience in media and information technology products and services. He is co-host of “The Federal Drive” with Tom Temin and Jane Norris, a weekday morning news and talk program on Federal News Radio AM 1050 in Washington D.C. You can see his weekly column on the op-ed page at and contact him at

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