Turkey’s media ecosystem has seen an upsurge in the number of online news sites established with relatively low costs and minimum technical know-how. The subject scope and motivations that these sites are serving equally diversified with emerging news outlets focusing on varying exclusive topics. Meanwhile, news consumption patterns are also subjected to certain changes, partially due to the transformation of the communication technologies and partially by virtue of political and social dynamics within the country. Like any other website, news sites are expected to follow these pertinent trends to keep their audience, attract more traffic and improve Google visibility. In other words, to be successful and lasting, in an ever expanding market. So prominent questions stand out: are people really interested in reading the content published by a whole raft of news sites and what differentiates them from each other? Design, certainly, is one way to do so.
Although usually not sparking much interest among scholars and media professionals, news site design is indeed a very significant element in news production. It is also a rather complex area of employment as some people are designing news sites on a freelance basis while others are working under companies selling “news site softwares” that incorporates the so-called fundamentals of news site design. Regardless of distinct business conducts and approaches, those involved in the design process of news sites need to take into account a great number of factors, from income generating applications such as search engine optimization and advertising placement to main page layout. This also goes to say that they in fact are the ones that decide how the audience is to read the news from whatever screen they are using.
So the purpose of this research is primarily to identify the influential design elements of news websites in Turkey. The reason why certain design components such as the sliding gallery news are vastly used, how the decision-making process is operationalized among different actors involved, and the impact of design on news consumption in general were among the questions we sought to answer. Over the course of the research we did 7 interviews; among them SEO and digital marketing specialists conversing about their own experiences in news site design. We conducted a randomly sampled audience survey to see any overlaps and conflicts between the results and of what we grasped from the interviews. Finally, in order to be able to understand the design trends and explore categorical, stylistic or technical similarities we also included a part in the report where we thoroughly analyzed both desktop and mobile main pages of the 25 most visited news sites in Turkey as listed by SimilarWeb.
Here are the main findings from our study:
- News sites fall behind following global design trends
- There is no consensus on which of the content management system is more advantageous regarding news site design
- Turkey’s news sites fail to consider alternative design options
- Similarity of news content is regarded as a bigger problem compared to the similarity of design. Having an effective design is not enough in itself, accompanying it with original content is seen as crucial by designers.
- News content and site design is created for the search engine, optimized for the audience.
- News sites can only be successful for as long as they meet SEO criterias like Google News and AMP.
- Ads cover up to 30% of main and content pages of news sites’ mobile versions.
- There is a standardized usage of advertisements in news sites.
- News sites use common top menu categories such as weather forecast, market overview and prayer times.
- A considerable proportion of the audience is disturbed by the amount of ad content in news sites and is using ad blockers.
- Designers prioritize the demands of the news site managers over the user experience.
- Reader comments under news content are not as popular as they used to be. Audiences prefer to comment through social media.
- People want to access news as fast as possible.
- The readers are disturbed by ads placed within the actual news content, as well as news designed as a photo gallery.
- Most of the readers agree that a good design can make the news more appealing.
- Breaking news, weather forecast, market overview and ‘save for later’ are the most commonly used sections among readers.
- Insufficient income sources and high dependency on ad revenues render certain design patterns indispensable.
- The uniformity of news site designs creates a sort of “news fatigue.”