How to Improve Your Website? Think Outside the Box. Literally!

new york times 1996 home page You have plenty of screen real estate. So, use it. Use all of it.

In the early days of the Internet, online news pioneers such as the New York Times were constrained by the average size of a computer screen. Thus, they built very small homepages.  That was okay back then.  It’s all wrong now.

The New York Times changed its design completely to take advantage of bigger and better screens and of changed reader behavior–in which scrolling down the page to scan all the content is the norm.

Effective content marketing depends not only on what you write but by how accessible you make it for those prospective customers who visit your home page. Envision your website as a great publication that will draw in readers just as the New York Times does every day.

In 1996, the New York Times had a tiny screen footprint.

new york times 1996 home page

Thus, the entire home page of the Times from November 1996, would take up less space than a typical column width of an article such as this one. I captured this image of their home page, using the Internet Wayback machine and am showing it’s size relative to the 2009 version below. Amusingly, today, the text at the bottom of the image says “Please open your window to the width of this line of text.” Back then, this homepage must’ve been a pretty big one.

Moreover, they were adhering to the then conventional wisdom that all content should be above the virtual “fold”. Of course, this referred to the literal fold of a newspaper where all the top stories would appear in the top half of the page above that fold.

Even though the old Times home page provided only text links to interior sections, we all knew what a ‘Business’ or ‘Travel’ section was. If it interested us, we would go there. You don’t have that advantage. Most of your visitors won’t know in advance, what you have to offer and why they should care unless you make it really obvious on the home page.

In 2009,the New York Times takes up all of your screen and more.

new york times feb5-2009 home page

Today, the vast majority of visitors to your site will have large screens and this includes even the laptop users who may well have a 15 to 17 inch monitor with high resolution.  This means that you can and should design a website that takes full advantage of the width and height of the monitors that your readers will be using.

You should do more by throwing out the old conventional wisdom that all of your content should be above the “virtual fold.” Every major newspaper site assumes that readers will scroll down the page to find what they’re looking for. Because they consume news this way, users naturally assume that your site will have plenty of information to be found by scrolling down the page, too. It’s much easier for them to scroll than to click on a button which may not tell them enough to motivate them to click.

If you can fit everything that’s really important above the virtual fold, that’s fine. But, if you cannot, don’t rely on one or two word buttons to get your readers were they want to go. Emulate the great online newspapers.  Provide compelling headlines, images, and opening paragraphs, which compel them to head off to your interior content.

Compare the old tiny 20th Century Times superimposed on the big, bold new version

new york times old vs new home page

The New York Times home page of 1996 now seems laughably small and content thin. They abandoned those tiny box constraints long ago. In fact, the 2009 version has much more content below the point where my screen capture stops.

Unfortunately, too many websites are still locked in that same small, circa 1996 format.  That just doesn’t work anymore.  So, think much bigger. Really think outside that bad old box.

This entry was posted in News, Online, Tips & Mini-Guides, Top Posts, Trends, Websites. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 17, 2009 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    An informative article. Thanks for sharing this info post.