Let me begin by saying, I love Yahoo. That is why it makes sense to pick on them, they can handle it.
For a few years now, Yahoo’s news content has been excellent, and I’ve been impressed by how Yahoo will consistently pull interesting stories into their Yahoo.com page that are not easily found elsewhere. I’d say I spend an average of 10-15 minutes per day minimum, reading through their articles. Seeing Marissa Meyer’s emphasis on mobile today at CES 2014, reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a critique on Yahoo because their mobile site could be so much more.
It goes without saying that everyone outside of Microsoft has seen the rise of mobile coming for years, and that whether a retailer or a content provider, mobile needs to be top of mind.
Apps, Apps, Apps, and the Mobile Browser
One of the many master strokes by Apple in recent years has been the creation of the App Store, a marketplace leading to a range of apps easily downloaded to your iPhone or iPad (and then imitated by Google for Android). The problem with ingesting mobile content like Yahoo, is do you really want to download an app for every site you are visiting? That will clog up your mobile device pretty quickly.
If you look right now in the Apple App Store, you’ll find several Yahoo apps: Yahoo, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Finance, etc. My point is, I don’t want to download a zillion different apps, I’d rather use my browser to visit. This doesn’t mean a mobile app isn’t valuable, but it does mean that downloading an app for every site and sub-domain of a site you visit doesn’t make sense, and usually the app doesn’t even offer all of the features of the site. So, for this study, I’ve focused on how Yahoo appears in Safari on my iPhone 5, running iOS 7.
Improving the Experience
My main point in detailing my own experience, is that developers and UI designers should regularly use the sites and content they are building. If you do use regularly, as an end user would, then some improvements start becoming obvious as detailed here. Also, since I spend entirely too much time reading about sports (I’d rather read about a game than actually watch it), I have time to be a user experience expert here.
1. Site Layout: Where is My Image?
When scrolling down and then back up again, many times the main images in the Yahoo scroll bar can not be fully seen. This leads to the image being cropped by the search bar, making it difficult to see exactly what the article is about beyond the title of the article, and thus making me less likely to click on the story.
2. Time Sensitive Content
Some content should be considered immediate relevant, or breaking news, and then the story should be pulled down. Keeping the content up past a short time is just a bad experience and wasted space.
(And yes, I clicked on the Miley Cyrus article. Don’t judge me, this leads to my next point.)
I try to stay positive, but really, I’ve heard enough about the Kardashians.
My issue is, that like millions of others, at some point I clicked on these stories and now I am stuck in a spiral of Kardashian news. To adjust this, Yahoo offers a very hard to find, downward pointing grey arrow to see “fewer like this” option. Press the arrow, and you opt in, or I guess opt out in this case.
That’s great, but I’m not totally sure what ‘like this’ means. Are you picking up my lack of interest in baby gifts, Kardashian stories, holiday pictures, etc.? What is the key element of this story that will be removed in the future from new stories?
You have to trust the algorithm, but my main point is that it’s very difficult to undo what clicking has been down, and remove yourself from a series of articles that don’t interest you. I’ve had stories on the WWE and Brett Favre’s pirate drawings stay stuck on my feed for days.
The way to exclude stories and adjust content should be apparent, and there should be a reference that if a story has appeared, and not been clicked on, then that story gets pushed back eventually, or just disappears.
This scrolling issue is especially an problem in the Safari browser, and an off-shoot of everyone working to make things touchscreen sensitive, but not working on things holistically.
The top news bar for Yahoo scrolls left and right, revealing highlighted stories, usually about 35-40 in total. When clicked, the browser goes to the story, but the issue occurs after hitting the back button to return to the Yahoo site.
After the story is viewed, the browser is now ready to forward to the story page with a rightward swipe, but the scroll bar on the top of Yahoo is set to scroll between highlighted news stories. The net result:
- Scroll exactly horizontal, and you keep scrolling through top stories
- Scroll slightly diagonal, and you scroll to the page you just navigated from
This turns into a back and forth, trying to not go back to stories you already read, so you can see other primary stories. Many times it ends with me closing the browser window in frustration just to reboot the page later.
I’ve seen many instances where a story doesn’t load, instead of displaying an error page. If this was simply a redirect to an affiliated site, I would understand, but these are Yahoo’s own stories which should be present on their services.
Additionally, I’ve seen errors where content doesn’t load as part of they story page, leading to replicating error and possibly never ending page scroll error. Overall, not especially enjoyable when you are trying to see the details.
When navigating to the Yahoo Sports page from the main Yahoo.com page, you are immediately shown sports scores. That’s nice, but hardly engaging content. Do newspapers print all scores on the first page? Scores should be a secondary option as it is on the desktop site, but the mobile site goes here first.
Want more reason why scores shouldn’t be the default landing page? Navigate to the NFL section, and you will see scores from the prior Sunday, but do you really need to know that on Wednesday, 3 days later? Nevermind if you accidentally tap to prior week in the season and get trapped in that area.
Instead the most engaging content, is located in the “News” tab, which must be clicked on to get to current sports content. The most engaging and summary content should be first, and the secondary and detailed content should be next in terms of click path.
7. Drill Down Options That Make Sense: Navigating to Sports Pages and Leagues
Let’s say you want to look at NFL content only. Then you chose from a drill down option at the upper left corner of the page. Sounds simple, unless you want to look at “Other Sports”, where something like UFC is not included as one of the top tier options.
When pressing “Other Sports”, the screen goes…blank.
The reason is because the “Other Sports” menu is shorter than the main navigation menu, so you must know to scroll back up the page, to eventually find the flyout menu tab actually contains the other sports back up on the top of the page.
So looking for additional content, just like here on my site, you need to keep scrolling…
And there it is…now I can read about my UFC news, because you know, that Anderson Silva leg break was nasty.
8. Where’s My Story?
I don’t have a screen shot for this, because it’s not really viewable. When clicking back from a page after viewing a story in the vertical infinite scroll of stories (below the main horizontal scroll bar on the Yahoo main page) many times I saw another story I wanted to read, but the page will refresh, thus reordering and making my secondary preference disappear. The order of the stories in the scroll bar should stay the same, at least in the short term and not reload differently each page visit so I have to research the infinite scroll list. Allow your user to a second chance at the content.
Next, many times I’ve wanted to go back to find and reference a story I read on Yahoo days or even weeks later, and it’s impossible to find with any reference to Yahoo, even via the Yahoo search engine. In Yahoo’s search engine, there should be some type of tag or marker that shows a story has come up on Yahoo, so then it can be found more easily. Otherwise, guess what I do? I use Google to try and find the story instead.
End All and Be All
So this small sample study is based on Yahoo, but the same principles could be used with any mobile content site, including retail. I could have easily discussed CNN and how the James Earl Jones announcement of “This is CNN” playing every time I opened their app caused me to uninstall, because I didn’t need to constantly hear that (yes, you have a cool voice and I know I am looking at CNN). Or, I could also discuss how poor the Amazon drill down options are in their Apple app when compared to their desktop site.
I’ve chosen Yahoo because I have a ton of respect and appreciation for Yahoo has down in the last couple of years. When hearing Marissa Meyer’s emphasis on mobile, it seemed a perfect time to think about this. Mobile site developers, webmasters, designers, and marketers need to spend quality time on their own sites. I know this from experience, it’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers and cool projects coming down the pipeline, but unless you are using something everyday, it’s very easy to miss the trees for the forest, or in this case, the news for the scores.
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