Magazine publishers: please fix your websites
As a newbie, there is still so much I want to learn from people publishing and editing magazines. I said it many times before, I’m in awe of some of the publishers, editors and art directors working in this industry. Coming from digital, making mistakes is a lot more unforgiving in the world of ink and paper. It’s a huge challenge and I’m
willing eager to learn.
Having said that, there is just as much that magazine publishers
can should learn about web design, good user experience and accessibility. I can’t recall the number of websites of magazines I recently came across that are clearly designed by folks that have little or no experience in creating online content and layouts.
Even though we may experience a second Golden Age in print, more and more people will find out about your magazine through a digital channel. Your website is your storefront. It’s where a lot of potential readers either come in first contact with your publication or where existing readers try to find out about new issues and updates. So here are a few tips from a web designer on how to make your website better and your readers happier:
Design and User Experience
Your magazine may be an innovative showcase of playful editorial design where page numbers are reversed, headlines mirrored and articles split across several spreads. Your website doesn’t have to completely break with the visual language of your print publication, but in order for your visitors to be able to use your website, you better stick to some common design and user experience rules. Keep in mind that people access your website with different browsers, different operating systems or even different devices. Your stockist list is of little use to me if I’m on the road in London and your website doesn’t load on my iPhone. Try to be creative, but don’t go over board with ambiguity or playfulness. First and foremost, your visitors want to find what they are looking for. Provide them with an information architecture and navigational structure that can be understood without the need to hover over every inch/pixel of your site.
Offscreen might not be your typical example here, but 90% of all sales come through our website and not a brick ‘n mortar retailer. Don’t make your shop a “nice to have add-on”, make it the core feature. Simplicity and user-friendliness are key! Avoid unnecessary steps in the checkout-process and make sure your cart and payment system work flawlessly. It should integrate well into the rest of your website and give your visitors a feeling of security and professionalism. Nothing puts potential buyers off more than a suspicion that their privacy or payment details are handled carelessly. Don’t be fooled though, there aren’t any perfect e-commerce tools out there that make selling magazines (and subscriptions) online very easy. Whatever system you use for yourself, it will take a bit of manual work and technical knowledge to get it right.
When I shop for new magazines online, I want to know what I’m buying. A simple cover photo won’t tell me anything about what I get for my hard earned money. If your cover price is $10 or more, chances are that you’re addressing a niche of people that appreciates more than just the content. Therefore information on stock, dimensions, page count — these are all details that help turn visitors into buyers. Invest a bit of time in producing high quality images of some sample spreads. Make a press section and let folks download them in high-res to use on their blogs or in another magazine…
News & Updates
Publishing regular news and updates on your blog is a great way to stay in touch with your readers in between issues. Even though I’m not a big fan of this practice, a lot of publications tend to recycle content from their previous print issue and put it online as soon as the newest issue has been published. If you do this, please indicate clearly where the content is coming from. There is nothing more annoying than reading a few articles online just to find out that you’ve just purchased a back issue with the very same content a minute earlier.
We all hate bad service, so be better and lead by example. Try to set aside time every day to answer emails coming in through your website. Try to reply within 48 hours, better even 24 hours, better even within a few hours. Good customer service also means that you’re sympathetic towards customers that made a mistake, such as providing the wrong shipping address. Most of the time they won’t express their appreciation directly, but they will indirectly by leaving with a great experience and talking about it to others. If you identify a pattern of repeat-questions, create a FAQ page and point people to it before they get a chance to email you. Make sure you clearly state the most important facts about ordering, paying and shipping.
Do you have to be on Facebook and Twitter? No. But if you are, don’t let it be a wasteland for fans and readers. The great thing about these social tools is that you can engage in an active dialogue with readers, mag lovers and other publishers. Be responsive. Check in regularly and keep people informed about the process you’re making on that next issue. Be personal, be yourself. Forget what you know about professional PR and marketing. Tell your followers who is behind the account and how they can reach you.
Analytics & Data
Install a simple analytics tool and observe where visitors are coming from, what they click on and where they get stuck. I’m certainly not someone who enjoys analysing statistics and most marketeers will be able to tell you a lot more about how to read these numbers, but it’s worth checking the most basic figures regularly and incorporate your findings in the changes you make to your site.
Let me be clear: I don’t claim to know all the ingredients for the perfect website. I’m simply speaking from my experience with Offscreen and as a former web designer. There are still many ways to improve the “Offscreen online experience” to make it as good as it can be. My point here is that you can really make a difference amongst all the crappy magazine websites out there and get web-savvy folks curious about your publication. At the very least, you’ll make your existing readers come back to your site more often, and in return, become more loyal supporters.
There are millions of free or cheap tools and resources out there to learn about how to make a great website. In many cases you don’t even have to start all over. The great thing about digital is that you can make continuous small steps to improve your site over time. If you can afford it, hire someone (an agency or a freelancer) to help design and develop your website, but keep in mind: you can’t outsource being knowledgable about the basics of good online user experience.