Web site and computer interface guru Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini offers tips on how to give your online audience what it wants when they want it–and some free advice to the webmasters at KPIX San Francisco, WXIX Cincinnati and WZMY Boston.
On-air clutter is anathema to TV stations. TV marketers were masters of audience flow before Bill Gates realized that this Internet thing had legs. So how come so many stations’ Web sites seem clunky and bloated when compared to their broadcast day? I decided to ask an expert.
Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini is a principal with the high-tech design firm Nielsen Norman Group. Famous for founding Apple Computer’s Human Interface Group, Tog is a legend in human/computer interaction design. He won acclaim as the lead designer of the user-friendly WebMD site and for the futuristic computer control concepts he created for Sun Microsystems, some of which are just now coming to market. These days Tog is a much sought-after lecturer and consultant on Web site design. His chief focus is functionality.
“What’s the customer’s motivation for visiting?” asks Tog. “What are their fears or frustrations? We encourage user-centered design.”
Clearly the cardinal sin is wasting people’s time. “People are used to instant gratification online. Often they come to your site via Google looking for something specific. You want to reward them with good information on every page. Any page that fails to satisfy should be removed.”
Some obstacles are obvious, says Tog. “One client couldn’t understand why people weren’t buying their product on their site so I tested it. When I hit ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“check out,’ I received two screens full of legal disclaimers. They were scaring away customers at the point of sale.”
Another insight: Web site failures can reflect a shortsighted corporate culture. Check out Canon’s Web site . The home page “is arranged by Canon’s notion of geographic organization,” Tog points out. “You have to specify the right corporate division. First, the Americas, then Canon USA. Now let’s say I want to buy a printer for my home office. Next they make me choose between industrial, home or office. This is not how customers think of Canon’s world of products.”
Clearly Tog has little patience for badly-designed Web sites, even though he sympathizes with their creators. “Web designers must function as architect, designer, decorator and structural engineer. And the tools inside Web browsers have been stuck in place for almost a decade. Developers don’t even have access to the menu bar, which we built into the Mac toolkit back in 1985.”
Tog blames this on the lack of competition since the 2003 collapse of Netscape. Despite the emergence of Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer retains an 80% market share, making compatibility a top priority, even at the expense of innovation.
I asked Tog to comment on a cross-section of TV station Web sites—a major-market site developed in-house by the group owner, a medium-market site subcontracted to a station design specialist and an ambitious smaller-market site custom-designed by a boutique design shop.
Up first: KPIX San Francisco’s CBS5 site, which follows the template built by CBS Televisions Stations Digital Media. Overall, Tog was impressed, calling it “a good site, something I don’t say very often. When you follow the news links, real articles come up as opposed to just one paragraph from the [prompter] script.” Tog notes that competitor KTVU goes a step further, offering four or five links to related articles and videos.
“News is a really good way to bring people to the site, but I wonder if everyone can find it. I don’t call the station CBS5. I watched KPIX from the day it went on the air and that’s what I expect to find. At least make the call letters visible.”
The call letters appear just once on the home page, tucked under the CBS5 logo on the top of the page, and they were just recently added.
“Program listings are something you’d expect to find at the top of the home page. In fact, why not display the whole five-network broadcast schedule and make this the go-to site for ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“what’s on TV?’ That’s been a great strategy for Progressive Insurance. They quote their own rates alongside competitors, so that’s the first place people stop.”
Tog was impressed by the timeliness of KPIX’s online news “They owned a local murder story for several hours before it showed up on competing newspaper sites. But that’s still not fast enough. The Web provides an opportunity for really instant news. They should create almost-live news blogs for viewers’ cell phone videos, or maybe pre-register participants the way radio stations recruit listener traffic reports.”
As for programming, Tog sees an opportunity in yesterday’s news. “I would love to be able to find out what I missed on last night’s show. Stations should offer plot summaries the next morning so viewers can tune in the next time” without feeling lost. “That’s also a great discussion-starter for building local fan groups around popular shows, which creates additional ad opportunities.”
Next, Tog reviewed the Web site belonging to Cincinnati’s WXIX built for the Raycom Fox affiliate by WorldNow, whose clients include hundreds of stations. “One of the things I really liked,” says Tog, “was how they displayed their local stars in a banner right across the top. The anchors identify the location and literally put a human face on the brand.”
Tog says the site is further personalized at the bottom of the page with links to features by anchor Jack Atherton, reporter Regina Russo and others. “They’re building them up as celebrity brands people will want to see.” Tog would go a step further with local personalities. “The Web site gives you a chance to take viewers behind the scenes, the same way DVDs are boosting sales with bonus material. The more content-rich your site, the better you’ll hold your audience.”
Tog found news story length satisfying, but was discouraged by several bad links. “This is inexcusable,” he said. “Every link must be tested.”
Tog had high praise for Fox19’s program guide, which is built right into the home page banner—until I mentioned that it was invisible on my Apple Safari browser. A little trial-and-error revealed that it displays just fine on the Mac versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox.
“Not good enough,” says Tog. “Safari may have only 10% of the market but that share is growing. Right now 100% of those users are disappointed.”
Some of Tog’s most pointed comments were reserved for the third and least typical Web site, belonging to WZMY in Derry, N.H., which branded itself as “MyTV” back in mid-2005, well before My Network TV was a gleam in Roger Ailes’s eye. Thanks to extensive cable carriage, the innovative Shooting Star station serves Greater Boston and much of New England with a mixture of original local shows and syndicated fare, abetted by the aforementioned Fox weblet. The site was designed by Stamford-based Sharktooth Creative.
Note that WZMY is in the middle of a Web site upgrade, so some of Tog’s concerns are already being addressed. For example, the home page, which Tog described as “content-free. It requires extra clicks to get any information at all. This is one of the best ways to drive traffic away from your site.” (Apparently WZMY agreed. The home page now features rotating billboards for its primetime lineup.)
While “MyTV” may be good branding, it left Tog with some practical concerns. “Nowhere do they display the call letters, which is probably how they show up in people’s cable listings. In too many cases, they only display links to information rather than providing the information itself.”
Tog also objected to the size and placement of the station logo, which occupies “a third of the screen instead of more useful content. After the home page, the logo should be smaller.”
Although Tog praised the graphic design and basic functionality (“no blind alleys”), he worried that too much of the copy sounded “written on the fourth grade level,” which viewers “might find insulting or patronizing. They need to review their actual and targeted demographics and develop content to attract that audience.”
Tog had similar concerns about repeating the “My” theme for every topic on the site, even when that makes no literal sense. “I couldn’t figure out ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“My Pictures’ or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“My Calendar’ which aren’t user-modified and contain nothing personal. [That contradiction] undermines the branding.”
Information under those headings also required multiple clicks before displaying the actual content, Tog says.
Tog was adamant that not producing a local newscast was no excuse for WZMY to deny visitors that important service. “Even if they just set up a link to Google to pre-screen local stories, they could provide some local news” at no added cost. Finally, Tog felt the MyTV site would be especially well-served by displaying all local broadcast listings on the home page.
If you’d like to learn more about Tog’s regional seminars on interactive design, click here. Other resources include his free occasional blog Ask Tog and the Nielsen Norman Group’s archive page, which includes several of Tog’s most memorable lectures and columns about human interface design in both the online and physical world.
Market Share by Arthur Greenwald is a series on successful station promotions that appears every Monday. We’re on the lookout for other good ideas for increasing local audience and revenue. If you have one (or more) to share, please write to [email protected].