CNN is one of the world's leading news organizations and it's website is arguably one of its most valuable assets today. In an effort to make it even more valuable, CNN has launched a new design for CNN.com over the weekend for both its U.S. and International versions.
According to Nick Wrenn, Vice President of Digital Services for CNN International, "We had a look on how our users use the site, and put a lot of thought and research behind it". The finding: "Breaking news is our core brand and will continue to have a prominent spot. But we wanted to showcase a lot more of the deep, rich content we have. It was falling off the main page too quickly and people couldn't find it".
So will the new CNN.com help CNN build a better online presence? I decided to take a look at the new design and provide my thoughts.
CNN's new website sports an attractive, modern design. It's clean and there's a bit more color and contrast, especially thanks to the new red header, which makes the design a little more impactful.
One of the most notable changes is that the homepage is more visual. Whereas the old design had one major photo above-the-fold for the top news story and three video thumbnails in a panel on the right, the new design sports two large photos for top stories and also has above-the-fold photos in the Highlights section that's front-and-center in the very important midsection of the page.
There are also a few nice little touches. For instance: collapsible panels for hot news, local weather and news, sports and stock quotes.
All of the visuals come at a price: the text is smaller and for anyone who liked reading the latest headlines, that task is a bit more challenging now. While the old homepage was less visual, it was easy to read the description text for the top story. The list of Latest News stories was also positioned more prominently and easier to read. Now, I practically have to squint when looking to read the headlines.
The new homepage also strikes me as being a bit overwhelming. While there was a lot of content on the old homepage too, my first impression with the new homepage is that a lot has been 'crammed' into a small space.
The 300x250 above-the-fold rectangle ad unit that occupies the top right portion of the main content area is a real eyesore.
While I'm all for making sure that valuable real estate is being used appropriately when it comes to monetization, this ad placement falls flat for me because the ad is so similar in shape and size to the news photos that appear to the left of it. That's probably good for CNN and its advertisers (the ad is very visible) but I'm a fan of striking a balance between ads and content. The way this ad unit interacts with the overall design is a little bit too in-your-face for my taste.
CNN probably needed to refresh CNN.com's design and there's a lot to like about the direction they've gone in. But in my opinion there's still plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to visuals, the volume of content and ad placement. Some multivariate testing could be just what the doctor ordered.