As my previous post illustrates, ESPN.com is doing a lot right. Its web traffic is booming, both domestically and abroad. Readers stay on the site for a long time. ESPN.com is, in many ways, a model 21st-century news organization. The site embraces multiplatform journalism and encourages users to connect via their computers, tablets and phones. The site seamlessly mixes video, audio and print, and it provides so much content on a daily basis that readers want to come back for more.
But that doesn’t mean ESPN.com can’t improve its reach and provide users with a better navigation experience. The following is a list of the five things ESPN.com can do to better positive itself for the future:
1. Be more like Facebook, less like MySpace when it comes to site design.
Facebook built its reputation in part on its clean and simple design — the antidote to the chaotic, sensory overload pages of MySpace. ESPN.com has veered more toward the MySpace design look. There’s so much content spread throughout the home page, and so little organization (especially at the bottom of the page) that it can be overwhelming for users to find what they want.
ESPN.com has the great problem of figuring out where to fit its glut of content — the videos, columns, rankings, user-generated content, etc. Instead of scattering this information throughout the page in a disorganized fashion, the site should consider using blocking and other design tricks to improve the user experience. Users should know where to find content; it shouldn’t be a guessing game.
2. Better promote its blog network on the home page.
ESPN.com’s bloggers attract large audiences and cover sports in a novel way. But the home page largely ignores their work and often does not provide an easy way for users to find their content. Why not add a permanent section to the home page that highlights the best of the blogs? Users shouldn’t have to stumble upon blogger content; there should be easy access.
3. Expand its regional sites to include mid-sized markets.
ESPN.com already has five regional sites. The idea of challenging local newspapers and television stations by using the resources of ESPN.com to break local news and write about teams in a different way (largely through blogs) is a winning strategy, particularly at a time when local news outlets are laying off staff and local sports reporters are looking for more steady employment. ESPN.com regional sites would likely find audiences in mid-sized markets such as Seattle and Denver, both of which have lost a major metropolitan newspaper within the last five years and are hungry for more sports coverage. There’s already plenty of sports coverage in New York and Chicago; the dearth of coverage in mid-sized cities provides ESPN.com an opportunity to increase its market share.
4. Highlight the social media presence on the home page.
While Facebook has a presence on the home page, Twitter does not. At a time when tweeting has become a necessity for journalists, there’s no excuse for ESPN not to highlight its Twitter presence and play up even more its Facebook presence. This can be done by showing a rotating list of top SportsCenter anchor tweets, or ESPN reader tweets about big sports stories. It could also be done by highlighting some of the content posted on the ESPN.com Facebook page on the main site as a teaser or posting trending sports stories on the page.
5. Include more interactive elements — especially at the top.
ESPN.com has its SportsNation daily poll question, and it asks readers to pick a winner of a selected game under its “ESPN Fantasy Games” section. But both of these interactive elements are toward the bottom of the page and are easily lost amid the chaotic layout. Why not move up the poll question and add more interactivity toward the top with, perhaps, a game that invites users to select who they think will win the NBA playoffs or what team they would least like to coach. ESPN does a great job presenting the major news stories at the top of its home page, but more interactivity would be a welcome addition.