Hats off to The Daily Mail

I don’t say this often, but I have to hand it to the Daily Mail. And I’m not being sarcastic! Because their website is really rather good.

Last week some journalists got all excited because the latest ABCe figures came out, telling them just how many people are reading their words. Marcus Warren from The Telegraph (or TCUK as it is apparently now known… Christ) said:

As is always the way with statistics, everyone has something to crow about in last week’s ABC Electronic figures for July, most notably the Daily Mail. Theirs was certainly the headline-grabbing performance , one so impressive that it appeared to shock most of the blogging media pudits into silence. All power to the Mail then.

Telegraph link via Martin Stabe.

The Media Guardian report says that the Daily Mail website was visited by 11,865,039 unique users, over three quarters of whom are visiting from outside the UK. (Insert your own “they come to our country stealing our bandwidth” joke here.) This makes it the most popular newspaper website apart from Guardian Unlimited.

It’s astonishing in one way because just a few years ago the Daily Mail did not even have a website. Now it has one of the most popular in the country. You have to admit that their website is pretty slick compared to a lot of newspaper websites.

This is probably helped by the fact that it is relatively new. A lot of newspaper websites were designed several years ago. In the intervening period they have had to shoehorn in features like RSS feeds, blogs, comment systems, social bookmarking and goodness knows what else. These websites are now cluttered full of stuff that they were not originally designed to accommodate. Sometimes jumping from page to page presents you with jarring differences in style (hello, Guardian Unlimited).

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, produced a slick website that had all of these features from the get-go. Maybe a few years down the line the Mail’s website will also begin to creak heavily due to old age. But there is something else that sets the Daily Mail website apart from the others.

The Mail’s website makes heavy use of images. Each article is full of images, and they are not tiny little ones stuck in the corner. In fact, most of them take up the same width as a paragraph. It looks fantastic.

On many other newspaper websites, all too often you could find yourself reading an article that does not have any images in it, even if the original print version did. This is especially irritating when the article actually makes reference to the image. This is not much use if you are using the website where you can’t see it!

Perhaps for this very reason, whenever I follow a link to the Daily Mail‘s website, I usually find myself exploring one or two more pages before going away. Its design and approach actually encourages me to read further, even though I am the sort of person who would not touch a hard copy of the Daily Mail with a bargepole!

Holyrood Watcher has recently been complaining about newspaper websites. He seems to have been set off by the website of the Sunday Herald. And who could blame him? It is a truly dire website.

I mean, just look at it. If you read the bit in the top right hand corner that says “Est. 1999” you might be tempted to think that this was the last time the website was touched. But no. The Sunday Herald must be one of the few MSM websites that has actually become worse over time.

Compare today’s front page with a few from years gone by that I have found on the Wayback Machine. even better in 2002.

Today? It is almost as if they want to turn visitors away. The older versions hint at masses of content to choose from. Check out the navigation links on the left-hand side of the old sites — nowhere to be seen today. Now there is just a list of three stories from each section, with no images like the old websites. Astonishingly stale and not at all enticing.

I have only spoken about the design so far. There are also the technical problems that Holyrood Watcher mentions. I missed what happened last Sunday, but I know the problem with words running into each other. In fact, it seems to happen on practically every article these days. Check out the first few paragraphs of this week’s main story:

SEVEN PEOPLE, including two girls, were last night being heldoverthekillingof 11-year-old Rhys Jones. Five were arrested in raids yesterdayaroundtheCroxteth area of Liverpool, wheretheschoolboy was shot on Wednesday.

Police were granted an extension to detain the sixth, a boy of 15, who was arrested on Friday.

Theyarresteda seventh teenager last night. The 19-year-old man from the local area is being questioned by detectives on suspicion of murder.

This takes the total of people in custodylastnighttoseven.Nine have been arrested in total, with two currently on bail.

I mean, how does this even happen? Is it not easy to fix? It really is as if nobody checks to make sure the website is working properly. I don’t understand why they do not just move the Sunday Herald‘s content onto The Herald‘s website, which is miles better.

Holyrood Watcher also makes a good point about The Scotsman (which is down at the moment of writing!). In this era of Web 2.0, blogging and all the rest of it, what use is their potentially interesting content doing behind a subscription wall?

I don’t know how much traffic newspaper sites get from blogs, but it must be quite a lot these days. Yet The Scotsman locks away the content that bloggers would be most likely to link to. Newspapers that persist on locking their content away need to look to The Guardian, the most popular newspaper website around. It seems to survive perfectly fine without having to offer any “premium” content.

I have no complaints about the design of The Times website. They recently radically overhauled the design of the website and it looks tip-top now (although a lot of people probably still wonder — why lime green?). And they managed to achieve it all in one go, unlike the uncomfortable bit-by-bit redesign of Guardian Unlimited.

But, as Holyrood Watcher points out, where is Ecosse now? David Farrer complained about it way back in February. He was told that it would come back, but it is still nowhere to be seen.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted Ryan Morrison saying:

BBC News is in need of a major redesign to bring it inline with the web2.0 world. There are so many new concepts, ideas and services surrounding the new web that the old News Template is creaking a bit.

He has a point. As I mentioned before, most of the newspaper websites have been struggling to smoothly integrate Web 2.0 features into their old websites.

But I think the BBC News website is a lot better than its rivals from the press. The pages are not nearly as cluttered and are still pleasant to look at. This is no doubt helped by the fact that they do not contain obtrusive adverts that the other sites have to carry.

Of all of the news sites on the internet, I like BBC News the most by far. At the moment my second port of call is Scotsman.com, but only because the current “under reconstruction” nature of Guardian Unlimited really gets on my nerves.

For more on newspaper websites, check out Martin Belam’s astonishingly in-depth posts at Currybet.

4 comments

  1. I’m not so pleased with the Daily Mail website. The navigation is split, confusing and not well-related, and its layout spacing makes things flow together a bit too much, making it quite difficult to distinguish areas to read. On top of that it’s just a bit too busy as well.

    It’s better than “classic” press sites, though (with the exception of the BBC’s constantly-impressive news site)

    Princess Di *and* Madeline McCann on the frontpage though. CONTENT DELIVERS.

  2. Worth observing that’s for all Mail group sites, which (I think) includes the thisiswherever sites (which have been good for some time and are very carefully interlinked) and also (definitely, same IP) the Metro.

    And of course the Metro site includes Metro Weird. Which is subscribed to by half of my sources of strange stories–the rest haven’t noticed yet.

    It’s not the Mail site that’s good (although it is, you’re right), it’s the large group of sites working together.

  3. […] doctorvee: Hats off to The Daily Mail Duncan Stephen has some thoughts on newspapers web design. Likes the Mail. But: “the Sunday Herald must be one of the few MSM websites that has actually become worse over time.” (tags: daily_mail telegraph guardian sunday_herald scotsman nwespapers online design) […]