Nora Paul and Laura Ruel have been conducting eye-tracking research on online news design to try to figure out how to pull in readers and make them stay.
They didn't claim to have a perfect formula for designing a successful news website, but they did agree that a lack of attention paid to web-page design can be detrimental to even the most well-written and reported stories.
"Utility testing can make or break a story," said Paul. Paul and Ruel have developed a short do it yourself usability test, which they said can solve many major design problems in a short amount of time.
"We don't have awnsers, we just have observations," said Ruel.
While Paul and Ruel didn't offer a one-size fits all approach to designing the perfect story page, they did present research that strongly suggests a number of effective design techniques:
When moving through a series of images viewers tend to choose the "next" button.
Viewers tend to fixate on large images of peoples' faces, especially when the person is associated with a surrounding story.
Short paragraph blocks creating more white space on a page tends to keep people reading longer.
Viewers often retain more information from and enjoy stories more when told with multimedia components. Ruel said, however, not all stories lend themselves to multimedia. Read the report.
People tend to look at advertisements more when there are less embedded links within the text.
More people tend to notice links when they are embedded within text than when they are placed outside of the story.
The most popular online story features are "email story to a friend" and filling in polls.
Insider language (RSS Feed, thumbs, ect.) tends to confuse people.
-- Lagan Sebert