A website comparative analysis that was completed as part of my Web Communication module.
In order to conduct a website comparative analysis, I will look at two competing websites in the field of journalism; specifically focusing on entertainment/”gossip” journalism. I have chosen Mail Online, which is the online publication of the print newspaper the Daily Mail, in particular their “TV & Showbiz” pages, and Digital Spy, an independent website. I will look at the similarities and differences between the two websites; with particular interest into their layout and design, content, usability, interactivity and user generated content.
Entertainment/”gossip” journalism is mainly associated with females and this stereotype is played on by the Mail Online website. When entering the main Mail Online website, we are taken to a neutral page with calming blue tones used for the banners and headline colours. However, when we go to the “TV and Showbiz” section of the website, there is now a pink banner which features the pictures of popular female celebrities; Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Lily Allen and Coleen Rooney, thus targeting a female user. On the other hand, Digital Spy remains more impartial and uses, again, blue tones in order to appeal to both genders. This is also represented in the types of stories that each website posts. Digital Spy has several different categories that can suit both genders and many interests such as “showbiz,” “movies” and “music”; however the category “gay spy”, which features pictures and stories about attractive men, suggests that the website’s target market is women or homosexual men. Mail Online, however, posts articles on mainly on fashion, reality television and celebrity couples, so is supporting its theme and aiming mostly at a female audience.
The design and layout of a website is extremely important as it will help the website gain regular visitors. “A website should be simple to navigate, easy to understand” (Eberlin, 2006) In order to be seen as a respected website and get several people using the site, it is good to have easily accessible news stories within a well structured theme. The Mail Online website have tried to incorporate the newspaper layout to their website, which allows the page to be filled with several headlines, links and pictures to various articles. They have chosen a three column layout which echoes the columns found in a print newspaper. Despite this, the articles are not written in columns the way they would appear in a newspaper. The columns are used as a method of breaking up different stories in to different sections, and allowing one column to be used as a navigation column. The left and middle columns are used to host a large box with a picture for the top story, and three smaller pictures to its right side indicating other top stories. This large box draws visitors to the website’s main content but also attracts them to view the right hand navigation column where several article’s headlines are listed. Scrolling down the homepage, the layout of the website remains the same; mostly with two columns being used for similar items such as more stories or a gallery, whereas the third, right hand column is used for miscellaneous items such as polls, sponsored links and advertisements. Following this, all three columns are used for the story links; each showing a small picture with a headline and short summary of the article. These columns are categorised in to different areas such as “All the latest showbusiness”, “All the hottest” and “Gossip-Direct from LA”. “Good content organisation creates the foundation for effective navigation and is crucial to the success of the site.” (McCracken et al, 2004) Whilst the layout reflects a print newspaper, having several headlines and pictures can make the pages look quite confusing, making it more difficult for the reader to concentrate on searching for a particular story. The overall layout is fairly easy to use; however the large quantity of stories makes it more complicated to navigate around as there are so many options. This decreases the Mail Online’s usability for its visitors as it may cause readers to visit other competing websites to view their “TV and Showbiz” news.
The Digital Spy website also features a three column layout, however having its main navigation in the centre column, which is uncommon for most websites. Similarly to the Mail Online website, Digital Spy hosts a large picture representing the main article with its headline and a small summary underneath. In the middle navigation section, there are 14 more headlines listed and a “click here for more articles” link, taking visitors to the main headlines from all categories. Following this, there are four small boxes of photos with their headline, indicating the next top stories. Scrolling further down, we can see that the three column layout remains intact, however leaves the third column with white space. This allows the reader to focus on the right and centre columns which show small boxes dedicated to each category; with each having a picture and six headlines inside it. This is good for the layout of the website as having the stories categorised means that the users can find what they are specifically searching for. “On the web, a good visual organisation lets users know what content items are related.” (McCracken, 2004) Much like Mail Online, Digital Spy follows an easy layout as the stories can be seen on the homepage as the most important, or under their respective categories. It is a simple format to follow, however, as the headlines are simply listed, it can make readers confused as to what the article is about. As the headline may not specify in great detail the nature of the article, readers would have to look at the article in order to know if they are interested. This may be purposely done by the website in order to gain more hits, and make their website statistics higher. Both websites follow a similar layout and theme when navigating around the website. “Consistency is one of the most powerful tools for making a website understandable and easy to navigate.” (McCracken, 2004) It is important to do so as it keeps users frequently visiting the site and making it accessible and suitable to people of all ages.
Search Engine Optimisation
In order to see how well the journalism websites have search engine optimisation, it is ideal to search for some of the celebrities featured in the recent Mail Online articles on popular search engine, Google. When searching for the celebrity featured in the top news story at the time, the Mail Online’s articles appear in the “News for” section of the main results page. This happens quite frequently for the Daily Mail articles, this is potentially due to the fact that the website is the online version of a popular print newspaper. On the other hand, the articles featured on Digital Spy do not appear on the Google results when searching for the main person or topic involved in the article.
In terms of interactivity, the Mail Online gives their readers the opportunity to comment on all stories posted. This option does not mean that you have to be a “member” of the website; you can simply leave a quick comment on the story without having to go through a long process of signing up. Readers can then “rate” the comments posted by other readers, as to whether they think they are good or bad comments. However, on the Digital Spy website, users cannot comment on all of the stories published. It is only on certain stories, usually featuring trailers or pictures of upcoming television episodes or films, that users are able to make comments. Instead, Digital Spy leaves their interactivity for the forum pages of their website. There are several categories to choose from each leading to different forum threads on a specific topic within that category. This gives the website a slight “members only” feeling as you have to sign up, which can cost the user. Unlike Mail Online, users must be a member in order to “discuss” their feelings towards certain stories, television shows, and celebrities. Neither of the websites feature any user generated content, an important factor in making a website more personal and more relatable to its audience. The Mail Online website does offer readers to submit their celebrity stories by calling the “showbusiness desk”; however this is the only mention of user generated content. Other than this, the only content from the readers is the comments made on the stories or on the forums.
Due to the rise in popularity of social networks and sharing news and gossip, both websites offer their readers to share the content that they have read with their friends. Digital Spy has icons to the right, and bottom, of their stories which allow users to share the information through social networking websites and via email. Mail Online also allows users to spread information, having the icons appear solely at the bottom of the article. The icons do not appear as prominently as they do on Digital Spy, making their website and content easier to share.
In conclusion, both websites succeed in keeping their websites consistent and attracting a large following. However, Digital Spy would benefit in improving their search engine optimisation which would largely improve their visiting statistics. I would say that there are several aspects in which both websites could improve, perhaps making their layouts feel less claustrophobic and giving users more information to help navigate around the website.
Eberlin, A, 2006. What Makes a Good Website. Wiltshire: eberlin Web Design. Available from: http://www.eberlin.co.uk/whatmakesagoodwebsite.html [Accessed: 29 November 2010]
McCracken, D. D., and Wolfe, R.J., 2004. User-Centered Website Development: A Human-Computer Interaction Approach. New Jersey. Pearson Education, Inc.