Online Newspaper Website

CASE STUDY: Franklin County Free Press

Franklin County Free Press, an independent news website serving Franklin County, Pennsylvania, was launched by founder/editor/reporter Vicky Taylor with the ambitious goal of providing residents with free and easy-to-access local news.

Taylor, who produces and edits the majority of the content, and her small team of contributors post articles several times per day, and the content represents more than 10 primary categories.

If that wasn’t challenging enough, the site also has a secondary goal of developing an advertising platform that empowers small businesses to reach local consumers.

In order to grow, Franklin County Free Press will need more new visitors, more returning visitors, and the site will need those visitors to be reading more articles per session.

In other words:

More inbound traffic with a lower bounce rate.

Overall, the Franklin County Free Press had actually been fairly successful as it strove to please both its readers and its advertisers (two audiences that are notoriously difficult to please).

But there were problems.

And there was room for improvement.

Problems:

1. Franklin County Free Press was plagued by DDOS attacks.

Distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks were overwhelming the server and preventing visitors from accessing the site.

Imagine 250 people trying to walk through a standard doorway – nobody’s going anywhere.

Even the most dedicated reader will eventually stop visiting a site that is frequently down.

This was obviously not a tenable position for a growing, startup news site.

2. Franklin County Free Press had layout and navigation issues.

In terms of design, the site was better than most news sites that we’ve encountered, but it still needed a tune-up to accommodate more advertisers while simultaneously making the site more user-friendly.

Pleasing both advertisers and readers can be a tight-rope act – their interests are often mutually exclusive – and it would require overhauling the site’s functionality.

While the site was already fairly mobile-friendly, there was a lot of work to be done here as well, particularly for tablet users.

Solutions:

1. LaunchUX’s secure web hosting.

First, we migrated the site to LaunchUX’s secure web hosting where our security solutions that we have natively for every client resolved the DDOS issues.

Additionally, LaunchUX’s solution has been saving Franklin County Free Press money from day one.

Previously, they had been paying for more and more hosting to try to keep up with the additional traffic of the attackers. Unfortunately, this strategy just gave the attackers more room to attack – creating a perpetual cycle of ever-increasing costs and attacks.

LaunchUX’s secure web hosting broke the cycle by stopping the DDOS attacks and making the site more stable.

While there have been attempts, they have so far been blocked, and the site hasn’t been down since the switch.

2. Redesign and navigation overhaul.

This was a case where the client didn’t need a new site built from the ground up. Instead, we took what was working and made it better.

We replaced the original box-style layout with one that was more minimalist in nature.

For example, the original homepage had made the mistake – as most online news sites do – of trying to show the visitor too much too soon. The hope is that the more they show you in the few seconds that they have your attention, the more likely you are to find something that interests you.

In the 90s, when visitors found your site on a desktop computer and read the articles on a substantial monitor, it made more sense to feature as many articles as possible as quickly as possible while also including a complex navigation menu down the left-hand side of the screen. Although, even in the 90s, web usability expert Jakob Nielson was harping on visual complexity and clunky navigation.

Today, the majority of site hits come from mobile devices with smaller screens. Mobile visitors don’t want to see everything you have. Instead, they want to see what they were looking for and maybe a few other things that are likely to be of interest.

So we shifted the emphasis from quantity to quality.

The current iteration of Franklin County Free Press’s home page is populated with articles from two primary categories: the most recent stories and the most read stories. This ensures that visitors are presented with the most relevant stories.

Then, we simplified the navigation to make it easier to find articles that didn’t fall within those categories while simultaneously making it more mobile-friendly.

With the new design, the navigation options are hidden until they are needed, and we enabled “reader mode” functionality to make the user experience more pleasant for tablet readers by incorporating e-reader-style options such as changeable fonts, sizes and colors.

The result of these updates is a better user experience for readers and advertisers.

Results:

In the 30 days after the redesign, we discovered that:

  • New users increased by 8%
  • Page views increased by 46% (people are reading nearly double the number of stories)
  • Bounce rate has dropped by 37% (people are more likely to view more stories after initial story referred through Facebook)
  • Time spent on each page increased by 48 seconds (people are spending more time on the site)

And since the start of the project, the average monthly page views have more than doubled from 60,092 views to 130,326.

Findings:

Here are two additional takeaways from this experience:

1. First, you won’t hear many web building companies say this, but the truth is that you might not need a new website. The results listed above were achieved by migrating the site to our secure servers and then modifying and optimizing the existing website to make it more access device agnostic (with an emphasis on mobile).

A few changes to Franklin County Free Press’s website boosted the overall user experience and made a significant difference.

It’s possible that your existing site just needs a few hours of our time and a general upgrade of the overall user experience.

Save the new site (and your budget) for a larger rebranding project down the road.

2. Second, “user flow” – how the user moves through your website and how easy it is for them to do so – is an ever-widening cycle for better or for worse.  

For worse?

Bad design makes for a poor user experience, which makes people less likely to return while spending less time on the site when they do go there. And they are unlikely to share it and invite others to share in this bad experience with them.

For better?

The opposite is true of good design. Good design makes for a better user experience so people are more likely to spend more time on the site, return more frequently, and they are more likely to share the experience with others.

We’ll dig deeper into the concept of “user flow” in future blog entries, but for now, you can use the example of a restaurant: the better the experience, the more people will return more frequently and get more people spreading the word online.

Conclusion:

We are very excited and honored to take on a project like this to support the community and the mission of Franklin County Free Press.

It all starts with a simple consultation, and our initial consultations are always free – whether you decide to work with us or not.

LaunchUX’s secure web hosting is backed with a 100% guarantee. If your site is attacked or negatively affected by malware, we will correct the issue and you don’t get billed for that. We stand behind our solutions, and if something happens, we cover it.

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