graphicpush

Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Blog Influence

On most sites, “Company News” means a list of press releases, each one a long, plain page of text copied directly from the Word file. This is clearly an area in need of improvement, and one where we could really one-up other companies.

At my day job, I am responsible for the client side of the corporate website. Not only does this mean I have to think about design-related things (colors, photography, typography) and markup (XHTML and CSS), but also usability, navigation and the user experience. The site is rather large, with a mix of static and dynamically driven content, so keeping everything “together” can be a challenge.

One area currently under focus is company news. On most sites (especially our competitors), “Company News” means a list of press releases, each one a long, plain page of text copied directly from the Word file. Often, they do not even link their media contact e-mail addresses. This is clearly an area in need of improvement, and one where we could really one-up other companies.

I’ve always liked how blogs handled individual entries. Since many entries are directly linked to, it’s common for a visitor to land cold in the middle of a site they’ve never seen before. The user has to take time to orient themselves with the content, navigation and contextual information they’re given on the individual entry’s page, which is often not nearly as comprehensive as the home page.

Many blogs solve this by providing contextual site information on the archive page. For instance, inside the archived entries, Kottke.org clearly tells the user where they are, what they’re reading and where they can go. This is usability at its finest. This is what corporate press release pages are missing.

So we sat down and laid out some Strategery®. First order of business, get an RSS feed for the news. This now brings us into the 21st Century. We chose RSS 2.0 over the less extensible 1.0 version.

Then we laid out contextual information. In the left column, there are now three mini-sections. First, an article summary. This is a one or two sentence description that sums up what the release is about; it is also exactly the same content from the description in the Meta, so those coming from search engines will immediately know they’re in the right place. Second, media contact info. This replaces the same information buried at the end of the press releases, and is now controlled from a database for adding additional contacts. And third, a list of relevant links. Since the releases often talk about our products, we now link directly to pages describing those products.

The press release page is now less of a flat, linear blob of content and more of a miniature portal page. Since many of our first-time visitors land directly on them from external sources (like our e-mailed newsletter), we can better help them dig deeper into our site instead of clicking away.

commentary + criticism

DutchCorpWebmanager

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Hi Kevin, nice point you make notice of. But.. i’m curious, wich corp. company do you working for??

Christian Watson

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

We use Movable Type for the news section on our hospital web site, complete with an RSS feed.

Our strategy has been to rewrite press releases into more readable news items. This way, we keep our press releases for the media and the news page for everyone else.

Kevin

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Unfortunately, I have made it a point not to diseminate what company I work for, as I don’t wish to bring them any unwanted attention. Only a few coworkers know about this site.