Yesterday, Trinity Mirror unveiled an overhaul for the online presence of The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror - Mirror Online featuring a new design and upgrades for various technological elements of the site, the first since the publisher formalised a partnership with digital technology company Rummble Labs. Duncan Parry, COO of Steak Digital, casts his eye over the relaunched site and seems to be pleased with most of what he sees.
I'm not a regular reader of the Mirror, but I remember the old site being heavily influenced by the newspaper's look in terms of colour, font and overall feel. The new site is cleaner and fresher - the old one did look tired. Straight away that's an improvement.
Looks are nothing without usability, however. The use of a rotating content unit on the right of the homepage showcases content efficiently above the fold; but it does take up a lot of space, especially on a laptop screen. Useful info like the weather and most read stories are well below the fold after adverts, the site's own social profile links and other items. They feel in the way. Their mobile site was down, with a message stating they had "ran into some unexpected technical glitches". Launch days are always stressful; no doubt it'll soon be active.
Social buttons are present as expected on each article page, but Google+ is missing - whilst that's a young platform, I'd have expected to see it integrated as a bit of future proofing. The articles I read didn't have many shares or comments by mid-afternoon; surprising as they were above the fold on the homepage. I'd have expected Harry Redknapp's acquittal to receive more than one comment by 4PM. That's an area I'd work on - other news sites have actively engaged audiences who comment and share, and that brings obvious benefits in terms of repeat visits and in the social and SEO spaces.
An interesting approach to news is BusinessInsider.com in the US. Whilst BI serves a completely different audience, there are some interesting ideas here for The Mirror and other news sites. BI use slideshow-style content as part of articles, which allows them to feature photos easily and generate extra page impressions, as well as shares of individual "slides" on social networks. They also re-post articles from partner blogs (sometimes with deliberately controversial headlines) and show in realtime how popular individual pieces are using Chartbeat.
This sort of multiple-source, social, fast-paced journalism feels to me like what online news should be, with a strong editorial stance to keep the focus right for the target audience. The Mirror re-design definitely moves the site forward, but my wider question would be, is the organisation adapting behind the scenes to the demands of a digital, social, mobile, search-aware journalistic landscape – and how does that compare to the efforts of their competitors? Website redesigns are often only the tip of the iceberg, with wider organisation changes required to enable a business to truly fly online. It'll be interesting to see where their traffic levels and social activity site compared to their peers in six months’ time.