Welcome to digital-telepathyâ€™s newest section of our blog where we take well known brands and startups and put them through a User Experience (UX) review. We do these reviews as a way to promote untapped opportunities that these companyâ€™s have that seem to be just beyond their view of sight. We look at 4 main areas for our audit including their online brand strategy, social aspects, implementation of technology and functionality. All in all we hope the companies read our reviews, ask questions, comment and make changes to create a more enriching experience for their web community.
SignOnSanDiego.com is the digital sister of the San Diego Union Tribune. Since its launch almost 11 years ago, SignOnSanDiego.com has been through many redesigns â€“ in fact almost every single year the design was changed completely. But is the functionality and UX farther along today than from their first version launched 11 years ago? Something tells me Iâ€™m headed for an interesting reviewâ€¦
Overall the brand is powerful. The Union Tribune has a very strong resonance with the community of San Diego which infiltrates over to SignOnSanDiegoâ€™s (SOSD) brand and credibility. SOSD has a lot of brand recognition as a reputable news source because of the UT.
Messaging: The SignOnSanDiego brand is not as prominent as it could be â€“ especially on the homepage. The brand should be recognized as the most important part of the site â€“ since it is powered by the UT. Elevate the brand to the level it truly is.
Engagement Value: The Street Blog has a decent brand identity – the posts are light and easy to read. Some other things I noticed were the missing archive area (how do I access a post from last year?), no working RSS feeds for the blogs and a massive form I have to fill out before I can sign up for a site RSS feed.
Fun: All of the interactive and community based features on the site are half way down the page and beneath the fold – it’s hard to find these features theyâ€™re the ones I want to see right away. If I don’t see these right away I am not going to spend a lot of time looking for them â€“ â€˜buh byeâ€™.
Quality of Material: The material is informative and high quality. In my opinion the organization of the homepage makes the quality seem much lower than it really is.
Style: The style blows. The site is pushed over to the left side of the browser – not centered or clean. Tons of ads plastered on the homepage which dilutes the brand. Change the Entertainment Guide to look like SOSD content not an ad!
7 Site Fixes to Do Now:
- Enlarge the logo and push to left margin.
- Do not allow ads and other brands in header space that â€œsandwichâ€ the logo. That space should be reserved for your brand only.
- Include archive section on the weblog
- Create a one click process to sign up for the RSS reader. Get rid of the damn form!
- Rename the â€œforumâ€ tab in the navigation to â€œblogsâ€
- Center the page with the browser
- Make sure content boxes do not resemble ads
Overall, the social aspects of SignOnSanDiego need a face lift. There are hardly any viral components and little to no community management. Here is my review of the social side of SignOnSanDiego…
Viral Components: None of the multimedia blogs and videos (besides The Street Blog) has viral features/components available. Ie: digg, stumble, send to friend, etc. Thereâ€™s no rating system for users to rate videos or blogs. There is a commenting system on blogs â€“ but there is no conversation on these posts. How can we attract readers to comment and generate some rich content on these blogs? I looked at each post and there is no â€œleave a commentâ€ button. This could be a reason why there is little to no activity on these posts.
Community: The Spanish site www.mienlace.com looks nice! The continuity and organization of content is much more inviting than SOSD. The fact that SOSD has included the Hispanic population in their efforts is significant and Iâ€™m very happy to see the commitment to this community. The newsletter offers the option to personalize which is a plus for the choosy reader. SignonRadio offers the ability for live streaming. Thereâ€™s also weekly sports, politics chats which is an interactive way to keep the community engaged and coming back.
Other Social Features: Wiki access – San Diego bands is a really great way for local musicians to keep in touch, promote their tours and answer community questions. The only problem is that NOBODY is using it. There are NO tags listed, no entries, no comments, etc. This area could be a really great resource for locals & bands if it was actually leveraged. Why is nobody editing this?
Side Note: A funny (yet frustrating) note was after I wrote this sectionâ€™s review I realized a day later that I wanted to include a screenshot of the page. Little did I know this would be no simple task. To my surprise I couldnâ€™t find the damn wiki for the life of me. Where is this wiki? Why is it so hard to locate? How did this happen? So many unanswered questionsâ€¦ maybe this is why nobody is contributing content to the wiki section. Needless to say, you all donâ€™t get a screenshot in this section.
4 Site Fixes to Do Now:
- Add in viral components for videos and blogs (Street blog does include social bookmarks) like digg, stumbleupon, reddit, del.icio.us, and facebook
- Include text or button under each post to â€œleave a commentâ€ â€“ make it obvious for the reader
- If you truly want to stay on MySpace â€“ nurture and grow the community a bit more. Answer comments & messages immediately. Provide some REAL value and uniqueness on this page with an events calendar, VIP announcements, underground band tours, etc.
- Make the wiki an obvious feature on the site. This could take off and become a very important lead generation, seo tactic & community element â€“ but itâ€™ll never get there if nobody can find it.
Web Standards: No. If you validate your code it will make it easier for:
- Search engines to index your web pages
- Pages to load faster
- Make your pages accessible for other devices that surf
- Checking coding errors by running your pages through a
XML/RSS Feeds: No.As stated above you have to fill out a massive form before subscribing to the RSS feed.Iâ€™ve never heard of such a thing and the reader needs to be fixed. And once it is I can bet the RSS subscription conversions will increase substantially.
Analytics: Yes. SignOnSanDiego is using Google Analytics. This is a great way to keep track of who your visitors are, where theyâ€™re coming from, what pages they access the most, how long theyâ€™re staying on the site, where the drop off pages are and what conversion points are failing or thriving.
SEO: SignOnSanDiego has title/meta data but there are way too many keywords. WTF? Keyword tags should contain less than 250 characters. UT is using: 2,300!!! The meta keywords tag allows you to provide additional text for crawler-based search engines to index along with your body copy. However most crawlers now ignore the tag. This means there is no reason to have that many keywords. Itâ€™s wasted space in your code.
Browser Compatibility: Mobile, Firefox, IE
Site Search: SignOnSanDiego offers on-site search which can be categorized into businesses, web, entertainment, etc. – if you spell the keyword wrong UT offers suggestions for the correct spelling, which is nice.
3 Site Fixes to Do Now:
- Correct errors listed on XHTML and CSS errors
- W3schools & W3C are great resources for proper code standards
- Compress the meta data to 6 -10 page specific keywords. Keep it short and get rid of misspelled words
Design: The design looks like a patch work of different styles and is a bit choppy because the background color blends in with the topics â€“ very hard to differentiate the transitions between content, ads and blank space.
Navigation: There are 3 navigation points above the fold of the homepageâ€¦three!? So many navigation points make it extremely confusing for the visitor to figure out the flow & focus of the page (especially first time visitors). Also across various sections of the site there are several different navigation points. I have four shown below. This needs to be cleaned up from a usability standpoint.
Sitemap: SignonSanDiego has a site map. One of the oldest hypertext usability principles is to visualize the structure of the information space to help users understand where they can go. On today’s Web, site maps are a common approach to facilitating navigation.
Features: There are so many sections and features on the homepage – I am so confused when I get to the site…what am I supposed to do first? Nothing is obvious to me.
6 Site Fixes to Do Now:
- Prominently show the user what to do on the homepage (newsletter, rss feed sign up, commenting). These features would also offer a great conversion point which gets a user to an ultimate end goal on the site.
- Create highly visible buttons and points on the site that users automatically know to click
- Darken the background color with lighter boxes to break up the spaces for each topic. This will help create a more stylized and organized feel to the page.
- Update the weblog page to the newest design! The logo/style/template of the site changes from homepage to weblog.signonsandiego.com. The weblog page still uses the old template from 2005! Eek!
- Differentiate between content and ads
- Provide consistent navigation throughout the site. Condense the extra navigation points into one focused navigation. Whatâ€™s the differentiation for the various colors of the navigation?
Overall Score – 2 Stars out of 5
Brand Strategy – 3 Stars
Social – 2 Stars
Technology– 1 Star
Functionality – 1 Stars
Overall the site needs a face-life. It’s great that the site offers content for all varieties of readers – entertainment, blogs, news, sports, etc. However there’s a lot happening on that first page – which is a bit overwhelming! I would recommend cleaning up the space by creating sections for related content. Take a look at CNN.com – even just a simple blocked off section/box on the site for related content keeps it clean and organized. They even have room for ads that aren’t obtrusive or annoying. I can scroll through the homepage and can find, for example, the blog section very easily. Even though it’s below the fold – that’s ok – it’s about keeping these features prominent and cleaned up so anybody can find them.
Another huge issue is the number of varying navigation points the site has. It looks like as SignOnSanDiego.com grew they hired different designers to work on the different sections. This creates a varying design across the site. There is no continuity between pages – a well designed template that can be used site-wide would create a much richer user experience and make many designers happier.