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Volume 24 No. 156
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ESPN.com's Redesign Has Been Successful Thanks To "Now," Customization, Scrolling

Twelve weeks have passed since ESPN.com launched its redesigned site, and comScore data shows that response thus far has been favorable. Last month’s figure of 56.3 million unique visitors is up 16% from a year ago, and the nearly 733 million visits per month in April and May are up 31% from the two months in ’14. ESPN.com VP/Editorial Digital & Print Media Patrick Stiegman said the new three-column layout has been a “tremendous change” in terms of content presentation, enabling them to “surface more content and not be locked into fixed places” on the homepage. “It’s allowed our editors to focus a lot more on content creation and not so much on moving items around from module to module,” he said.

WE’RE GOING DOWN, DOWN: ESPN Senior VP/Digital Product Management Ryan Spoon’s “biggest concern” going into the redesign was the users’ ability and willingness to adapt from looking primarily above the fold to scrolling, both on the homepage and within stitched-together articles. But he said early indicators show users are in fact scrolling down the content tree, as evidenced by figures measuring audience engagement (26% year-over-year increase for time spent on the site for April and May) and by record numbers for ESPN’s affinity sites. Spoon said, “We are doing a better job of getting people to consume more once they enter into an article.” ESPN VP/Digital Media Research & Analytics David Coletti added the company's “scroll depth” metric shows more than one story is viewed per visit, “meaning they’re not just going into an article, reading and then bouncing out.” Meanwhile, the gateways to Grantland, FiveThirtyEight and espnW can only be seen by scrolling down or clicking on a drop-down menu in the upper-right corner. Yet Grantland in April set its all-time record with 6.7 million unique visitors, only to top it in May with 7.2 million. FiveThirtyEight’s 5.2 million visitors last month trailed only the election-powered results of November ’14, while espnW in April set a record of its own with 8.1 million. “I suspected they would benefit but was surprised to see record traffic right out of the gate,” Coletti said.

PERSONAL SPACE: Spoon said the personalized links along the left side “without question” have been successful at driving people to register accounts, log in and filter their favorite teams. Visitors consequently have gravitated toward team-specific clubhouses, which Stiegman said has created a “nice problem to have” by putting “even more pressure on the quality and quantity of content.” Spoon: “If you ask people to personalize, you have to reward them for that.” He said the clubhouse pages -- which feature scores, stats, schedules, articles, depth charts and more for specific teams -- “currently are good, but we’re going to make them great.” He added, "We're going to focus on bolstering the clubhouses and the content experience around all football -- NFL, college football and soccer -- to make it richer and more robust." Stiegman said users within the calendar year will be able to further refine the filter of their customized content beyond favorite teams, selecting individual players, columnists and ESPN shows.

NOW & LATER: Stiegman said “Now” -- located on the right side of desktops and in one of three main tabs on mobile devices -- has been “particularly well-received.” The continually updated, real-time feed features tweets, video clips, photos, short nuggets and links to full-length articles, among other things. “Now allows us to surface breaking news or live content almost instantaneously rather than relying on a 1,000-word, fully constructed story,” he said. Spoon added, “ESPN Now is the thing I’m most proud of from the redesign because it serves a need for what we do that wasn’t there previously. I think it has a chance to be really powerful and lasting going forward.” The feed during the NBA Finals was utilized as a landing spot for game highlights, and Stiegman said there will be an “aggressive approach” to do more of the same going forward, beginning with college football. He added, “You will literally be able to watch 10, 20 or 30 key plays from games we have the rights to, almost in real time.”