Trash the web sites: What Gawker (probably) said
Ian Lurie Feb 21 2011
Update: Read to the end for a graph that Rishil sent me, courtesy of Sitemeter. The data is hard to ignore: Gawker is literally designing themselves out of existence.
Need I say more?
They launched a new design for all their sites—LifeHacker, Gizmodo, etc.—a few weeks back. In doing so, they reduced their sites from great information sources to a whirling black hole of bad. I started writing a long, technical rant, then realized lots of others have done so.
Instead, I looked at the web site, carefully, and tried to imagine the instructions management sent to the team in the first project memo. Here goes:
To: Design & editorial & development
Re: New site design
- I don’t want to be a blog any more! I’m tired of people calling us a blog. We are a premium online publisher. Remove anything blog-ish, like navigation.
- Show single story on the home page. Conceal other recent stories far below the fold. Show only the ‘hottest’ story, since that’s the one getting the clicks.
- Put an apparently random list of recent stories on the right under ‘latest’.
- Make sure the ‘latest’ bar doesn’t scroll with the window, but the left-hand branding bar does, leaving visitors wondering if two different coders build the left- and right-hand columns. Our users want variety.
- Someone told me our site has RSS. That sounds really bad. If we want to recover, we have to remove all obvious links to RSS. Make it so.
- I want visitors to be able to use the j + k keys on their keyboards to browse. I hear that’s hot.
- Be sure to use AJAX. I hear it’s cool. Not sure when they stopped being a cleanser, but we need it on our site.
- Fire everyone who mentions SEO.
- Follow Google’s instructions on how to set up our site with AJAX. They like us, I’m sure they’d never suggest anything that would hurt our traffic.
- Bigger ads.
- Change the layout between pages. Put the headline at the top about 60% of the time. Put paragraph text at the top, but make it really big, another 20% of the time. You choose the rest.
- Use every inch of space! None of this whitespace crap. I want people’s eyeballs to explode out of their heads, bounce off their monitors and then land back in their sockets. That’s publishing baby!
This is not actually from Gawker. I made it up. Don’t sue me. Or if you do, send me a long letter so I can scan it and post it on my blog.
Why I wrote this
See, this is the kind of thing that drives me up the freaking wall. Gizmodo.com, one of Gawker’s biggest sites, is seeing their pageviews down 15-20% over the last month.
It’s actually likely a lot worse. But since their site no longer loads pages, per se, I’m taking the 30% drop everyone’s reporting and adjusting it for that change.
Pages indexed by Bing? Down 65%. But that’s OK. Bing’s only, what, 20% of search (that’s sarcasm).
Who gets screwed by that?
The writers do.
A: The Gawker redesign is uninformed decision making on a scale we haven’t seen since they decided to use the cheaper rivets on the Titanic; or
B: They are privy to some great mystery of publishing that I’ve missed. Something about how creating a user-unfriendly, search-unfriendly, hard-to-use, overly complex site is the path to publishing success.
Now I’ll probably hear from Gawker staff posing as users telling me they love the site.
Sigh. I’m really, really, really, really tired of watching publishers self-destruct online.
Update: Real numbers
A lot of you have contacted me since I wrote this to tell me you think the design is just fine.
Well, you’re in the minority. Gawker’s Gizmodo.com has seen a 60-70 percent drop in visits since the new design launched.
Change it back, guys. Clamping your hands over your ears and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” while your sites—and your business—go down the tubes isn’t going to help.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More