Redesigning the BBC Online homepage
Last three BBC homepage designs, with the new beta
Come for the things you need, come back for things you discover
I’m James Thornett, Head of the BBC Homepage product, and I want to tell you a bit about the new homepage we’ve launched in beta mode for public use and feedback today. The beta is accessible from a promo at the top of the current homepage (or directly at beta.bbc.co.uk), and demonstrates a new ‘visual-first’ approach to showcasing the breadth of our content on the web.
My colleague Phil Fearnley has written about the re-launch from a strategy perspective over on the About the BBC blog, situating the BBC Homepage product within the context of a reshaped BBC Online.
As Phil suggests, a homepage by definition should bind all of the other products together and has an important editorial role to play.
But showcasing the breadth of BBC Online content within a single page has been our constant challenge. To date we’ve made tweaks to a relatively static page to better fulfil this purpose; with the move to a new technical platform, we’ve the opportunity to rebuild the page from the first principles to provide a more effective solution.
The BBC Homepage today
To the left of the picture you can see the evolution of the page over recent years, from 2005 to 2010. The first thing you’ll notice is that the page hasn’t changed very much in this time – column-based, modular, with an evident hierarchy of information reflecting the primacy of news and sport.
There have been few new features since January 2008 when we introduced customizable and movable widgets to enable users to determine page layout, and the ability to listen live to BBC radio directly from the homepage and to browse BBC TV schedules.
The BBC Homepage is the most visited product within BBC Online behind BBC News and BBC Sport. There was a weekly average of 9.1 million unique browsers across all devices in July this year [source: BBC iStats] – impressive for a page typically considered more a site entry point, than a destination in itself.
But:- the trend since 2008 has been one of gradual decline, and more recently a plateau in visits. There could be various reasons for this – we’ve learned:
- The homepage is too narrow in focus. It refers a significant proportion of traffic to the BBC News and BBC Sport products – 44% and 35% to each respectively during July this year. The primacy of links to these products has attracted an audience skewed more towards ‘male’ and ‘ABC1’ demographics than BBC Online as a whole.
- The page lacks distinctiveness. Research groups show that the homepage is often confused with the BBC News front page. This could be a testimony to the profile of other BBC Online products – for instance, we know thatover 70% of users arriving at the BBC News front page come direct rather than via the homepage (another reason why the homepage needn’t serve as a conduit for BBC News stories exclusively).
Clearly, there’s scope to make the page a better referrer to the other products of BBC Online. Further:
- Users want to be able to filter content, not customize. The homepage has historically enabled a measure of customization but the majority of users haven’t taken advantage of this. When customization features are highlighted, the perceived value is mixed; instead users tell us they place a higher value on being able to easily filter content, than re-order what’s already there.
The new BBC Homepage – a ‘beta’ version
And so we arrived at a vision for the new BBC Homepage. By showing less of more, we’ve the opportunity to make the page more relevant for a broader audience.
In doing this we enable the sort of ‘serendipitous’ discovery that Director of Future Media Ralph Rivera has talked about – if someone comes to the BBC to be informed, why shouldn’t they encounter content that will educate and entertain them also? Enabling these connections will become an increasingly important part of our public-service mission in a digital age and the new BBC Homepage is proof of our commitment in this respect.
We think the idea of audiences coming to the page for the things they need, and coming back for the things they discover is very compelling, and we’ve kept this front of mind during the redesign.
We’ve created an interactive guide to the new BBC Homepage, accessible from a link at the top of the beta page, or directly here. The BBC Homepage beta will be released in stages, and includes a raft of functional improvements for audiences:
- Visual-first design with carousel featuring colour coding to denote categories and icons to depict content type.
- Simple filters enabling users to simply tailor the page based on interests.
- Sliding ‘drawers’ to reveal more or less detail across showcases of most popular content across BBC Online at any time and real-time listings for BBC TV and Radio.
- At-a-glance aspects – news and sport headlines, weather forecasts with lottery and travel news updates to follow, plus traditional index-based navigation for quick look-up.
- In time, separate nations’ homepages united into a single product to provide relevant local and national information based on a user’s choice of location.
We’re particularly pleased with the carousel – it feels like an intuitive way to navigate content which test groups have said feels “just like flicking through a magazine”. There’s a general sense too that the dynamic page does a better job of showing the breadth BBC web content than a static page could.
We think the carousel could find feet in the other products of BBC Online, and lend itself to screens beyond the web: in time we’ll look to optimise the homepage across mobile (the page receives 15-25% of traffic from handsets), tablet, and connected TV devices.
Tell us what you think
As with any beta, this release is very much work in progress and will run alongside the current homepage for the time being. We’ve built the foundations and are now keen to start to get feedback from users in order to refine the page further before replacing the existing page with this version.
In the coming weeks we’ll be rounding up key themes and addressing these on this blog so watch this space. You’ll also hear from others who worked on the project – from a detailed ‘under the bonnet’ tech view to the user experience and design story.
In summary, we’ve been making improvements progressively to the BBC Homepage since BBC Online launched in 1997. The beta version launched today represents a real step change – we’ve rebuilt to deliver an intuitive, location- and time-aware experience which makes it easier for users to explore the wealth of BBC content on the web than ever before.
James Thornett is Head of the BBC Homepage Product, BBC Future Media