This One Simple Change Will Vastly Improve Every Radio Station's Website Homepage
January 20, 2015
When I test a company's website to see how easy it is for visitors to use, I always begin by asking my test subjects the same question: "What does the organization behind this website do?"
I have never seen a company do well on this question in its first test.
But radio station websites inevitably perform even worse than those of other companies. That's because radio station websites must convey a lot of information within the first few seconds of a visitor's arrival. Users should be able to immediately tell these things:
- That this website is run by a radio station
- What city the radio station is in
- What the dial position of the radio station is
- What type of the music or talk the radio station broadcasts
- What artists or talk topics can be heard on the station
I am willing to bet money that 90% of today's radio station websites in America fail on most — if not all — of these counts. This is a particular problem for radio stations that hope to use their online presence as a tool for building their cume. When people who do not regularly listen to your station come to your website, it is imperative that they can glean this information.
So why can't people figure these things out when they come to your station's site? Most radio stations suffer from the presence of a common culprit on the homepage: a photo slideshow.
The photo slideshow is a popular feature. You can find it on thousands of websites. It's a great way for websites to display their latest content. So why is it a problem for radio stations?
Because it's misused.
When a slideshow is used on a homepage, it is usually the dominant feature, which means it is the thing that first captures the attention of visitors. The slideshow is meant to feature an assortment of your most recent images. This is useful if you're running a news website or a blog, where people come for the latest information. But that's not what your radio station is trying to do (unless it is a news station). Your radio station is trying to convey the station's location and format. And the slideshow actually prevents that. How?
Design by committee.
According to Wikipedia, the term design by committee "is used to refer to suboptimal traits that such a process may produce as a result of having to compromise between the requirements and viewpoints of the participants." In other words, instead of designing your website's homepage to please your listeners, you've designed it to please various members of your staff.
You probably sit in a weekly meeting where staff members jostle to get their project on top of the station's agenda. The Program Director wants his million dollar giveaway to be the dominant item on the website. A salesperson wants his clients' car dealership remote to get lots of mentions. The morning show wants its Dane Cook interview to get top billing. And the music director wants to shine a spotlight on a budding new artist that was just added to the playlist.
How do you balance the competing desires of the station's staff? You add a rotating slideshow to your homepage and give them all a space in it. And everybody's happy, right?
The listeners are not happy.
And the listeners are the ones that matter.
I have run usability tests on many radio station websites, and inevitably I find that users are confused by the homepages. After spending a few minutes on a radio station's homepage, they are unable to answer basic questions about the station, like what type of artists they can expect to hear on it or what city it is in. In extreme cases, they can't even tell that the website belongs to a radio station.
This is due in large part to the photo slideshow. When people first come to a website, they look for visual clues to tell them what the site is all about. Because the slideshow is usually the dominant image on the homepage, this is what grabs people's attention. But instead of an image conveying the type of music (or talk) that can be heard on the station, it inevitably highlights timely but less important features of the station.
Fortunately, there's an easy fix: Remove the slideshow. Replace it with a static image similar to what you would use on a billboard advertising your station. The goal is to quickly and cleanly convey to people exactly what your station is all about.
Of course, doing this will make your weekly staff meeting a little more difficult. But your listeners — and potential listeners — will have a much easier time figuring out what your site is about.