Saturday, February 23, 2013

What FastCompany missed about the MailOnline

As a former photo editor at the +Daily Mail, the Web's most highly-trafficked news website (since Jan. 2012) I was happy to see +Fast Company's take on what makes the site so damn successful [read it here].

But I think they missed the full story.

For FastCo, the MailOnline's success comes down to 4 design choices:

1. The homepage has a million stories and no ads
2. Sidebars on the story level point to a million other stories, eliminating dead ends
3. Stories are organized by category in vertical sections (duh)
4. Content targeted at women is especially successful

While these points are all true, I don't think you can explain the site's success without talking about its use of photos, which goes above and beyond what you see anywhere else on the Web (except for the NYDailyNews, which has basically adopted the Mail's design as its own).

PHOTO COMPOSITES are the MailOnline's killer app.

No photo on the MailOnline is just one photo. All of those stories in the right rail that deal with entertainment and celebrity news and other content targeted at women come with thumbnails that incorporate two or three other images.

The stories on the main page get composites as well, perhaps a crime scene and two mugshots, or a composite of the various main characters, and if the main story is big enough to occupy the entire width of the homepage, you might get a huge panorama that incorporates 5 images or more.

You get so much more content before even clicking on a story than you would on most other sites, which may offer one thumbnail/top image per story. For me this serves as a lure, to let readers know that they have the photos, they have the details, they will SHOW you the news as well as tell you the news.

Once you click in, you are rewarded many times over, as the MailOnline will break up the text every few paragraphs to give you photos of everything and everyone related to the story, and you become a return visitor.

Photo galleries are put together in the same way, as Buzzfeed does, by embedding dozens of images into the body text of a single article. All you have to do is scroll to see the photos, rather thank clicking through each one.

Granted, the use of photos isn't related to the website's design, but it is intimately related to the layout design and the editorial choices that the MailOnline makes, which FastCompany does address in its piece. Unfortunately it left the biggest part of the story out of the story.
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