Website Analysis Comparison
In this post I shall be examining two competing news websites: The Sun and The Guardian. The features I shall take a look at will be usability, design and content features. It is important for websites to be designed well, leading to greater useability and with up-to-date content to attract a wider audience.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Firstly, I shall look at SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation. This is a crucial aspect for any website, as it is one of the first methods that users try when attempting to locate a website. Both the Sun and the Guardian’ websites are fully optimised for search engines. Typing the word “sun” into Google brought up the Sun’s website as the top link, whilst typing “guardian” into Google also brought up their website first. Even typing the word “newspaper” into Google brought up the Guardian’s and the Sun’s website as the top two links, respectively. There was also options to link to specific categories or pages under the description, for example: “Football”, “Jobs”, “UK News”. This shows that both websites are equally well-adjusted to SEO.
Usability – Navigation
The usability of the two websites will be examined. Navigation is an important aspect of usability. Nielson and Tahir (2001) deconstructed the usability of 50 websites and gave important information on how to improve usability. For navigation, they recommend locating “the primary navigation are in a highly noticeable area” (pg.2). The Guardian follows this to great effect. In a “highly noticeable” area, the Guardian has placed a long strip of links covering various categories ranging from “News” to “Sport” to “Travel”, with varying colours. Nielson and Tahir (2001) state that “Categories need to be immediately differentiable from each other”, whilst also being “scannable” (pg.2) which is evident on the Guardian’s website. The links are clear and differentiable from one another and placed in a visible, clear location making scanning easy and effective. The Sun also uses a navigation bar, however instead of being horizontal, this bar is vertical and situated on the left of the page. This means that users have to scroll down to read many of the links/categories.
Nielson (2010) writes that “Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold”. This means that the Sun is losing potential user attention by placing primary navigation “below the fold”. The Sun also uses expandable boxes to hide some of the sub-categories. For example, the “Sport” category shows a couple of sub-categories such as “Football” but hides further links such as “Boxing” under an expandable box. This further hampers useability. The Guardian places all sub-categories on another horizontal navigation bar, for example under “News” there is a strip of categories such as “UK”, “World”, etc. Clicking on a primary category updates the sub-categories to match the primary link. This makes navigation more efficient and usability is increased, whilst the Sun’s navigation is not as desirable.
Still on the subject of navigation, Nielson and Tahir (2001) state that websites should not include “an active link on the homepage on the homepage” (pg.2). Both the Sun and the Guardian use their logo as the link to the homepage, however the Guardian’s logo link is inactive on the main homepage. It is also much larger on the homepage, whilst the logo shrinks on other pages to allow more room and not to distract attention. This is very effective and beneficial to navigation. The Sun has an active link to the homepage on the homepage itself, contrasting to Nielson and Tahir’s (2001) advice. Clicking the active link simply brings the user to the same page. Strangely, there is also a “Home” link underneath the logo, meaning that there are two links to the same page grouped together. This hampers usability, and disregards Nielson and Tahir’s (2001) criteria for usability: “Don’t provide multiple navigation areas for the same type of links” (pg.2).
An important part of navigation is the “Search” bar. Nielson and Tahir (2001) recommend giving “users and input box on the homepage to enter queries” (pg.2) – these search bars should be approximately “25-30 characters”. Both websites utilise a search bar, however the Sun’s search bar allows for 28 characters whilst the Guardian only allows for 18. The Guardian’s search bar is therefore slightly smaller, although it does add space to the page meaning that it does not look too cluttered. However, this could hamper usability slightly. Nielson and Tahir (2001) state that websites should not “label the area with a heading; instead use a “Search” button to the right of the box” (pg.2). Both websites follow this recommendation. Nielson and Tahir (2001) also warn against offering a feature to “Search the Web” from the search bar – here the Guardian stumbles as there is a dropdown box with the option to search “guardian.co.uk” or “the web”.
Design and Layout
Website design and layout is an important feature of any website, and contributes to overall useability as well. Nielson and Tahir (2001) recommend avoiding “Watermark graphics” (images with text overlayed). The Guardian follows this advice, and when text is overlayed over images, a semi-transparent strip of colour is used to “set” the text on – thus the image is not hampered and the text is clearly readable. The Sun does not follow this advice and images are used much like they are in the company’s print versions. Text is overlayed in bold over images which, whilst keeping with the “newspaper” theme, does compromise the design somewhat. Nielson and Tahir (2001) also warn against using animation “for the sole purpose of drawing attention to an item on the homepage”. The Sun uses animation on the “Just Published” box on the right of the homepage. Text is constantly animated to draw attention and this distracts attention needlessly. The animation also affects the images and advertisments below the box – every time the text is animated the images are unintentionally “pushed” off-centre, thus making the design seem very distracting and unnecessary. Main body images are also animated in a “slide-show”, which is used effectively although it can be argued that this, too, is a distraction. The Guardian does not use animation, save for updating the “Breaking News” navigation link, however this is used effectively and is not distracting to the user.
Content and Interactivity
Content and interactivity is a key aspect of any website. Both websites use various forms of media, from audio loops to video clips. The ability to comment on articles is also present. The Guardian also has a “Community” section where users can get involved and share information and content. The Sun also has a similar section, entitled “My Sun”, where users can engage with one another and share information, engage in polls, etc. These aspects are very important to a functioning website and both the Sun and the Guardian use these effectively. However, it must be noted that once in the Sun’s “My Sun” section it is not very easy to return to the homepage. Unlike the Guardian, which maintains a static navigation bar and hompage link on every page, the Sun’s navigation area changes and to return to the homepage, users must first hover over a drop-down box entitled “Sun Online” and then select “Homepage”. This is an unusual and detrimental feature as it hampers usability and navigation.
An aspect of interactivity that is often overlooked is the ability to “Share” content via social networks. Users can share articles on both websites via a number of means, for example Facebook, Reddit, Digg. They can also e-mail and print articles on both websites. It must be noted, however, that the Sun does not appear to have an option to share links via Twitter, which is arguably one of the most popular social media websites at the moment. Instead, it has a Myspace “share” option, despite the fact that Myspace has dropped in popularity since the rise of Facebook and Twitter.
Both the Sun and the Guardian have effective websites with good design and layouts. The Sun’s website, however, could be improved through a variety of means. The Guardian’s usability and design is much more clear and spacious, and as such the Sun is not really a competitor in this regard. The Sun could improve usability, design and layout by updating the navigation bar, removing unnecessary animations, limiting “watermark graphics”, editing the Community section to allow easier navigation to the homepage, and also adding a “Share” function for Twitter. At present, the website is fully functional albeit somewhat cluttered, with unnecessary animation and unintuitive navigation. For example, it is already optimised for SEO and has multi-media content – with a few updates and clearer layouts, the Sun could markedly improve its usability and design and compete more fully with the Guardian’s (currently) superior design.
The winner = The Guardian
The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk
The Sun: www.thesun.co.uk
Nielson, J., Tahir, M. 2001. Homepage Usability 50 Websites Deconstructed. New
Nielson, J. 2010.Scrolling and Attention. “Alertbox”. http://www.useit.com
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