A new study from Engaging News Project found sites with contemporary design have a significant increase in pageviews over sites with a more traditional newspaper layout. That part of the study, released on Tuesday, isn't too surprising. But the study also found that people remembered more (50 percent) from the contemporary sites than they did from the traditional ones.

From the study:

Some of the 2,671 study participants browsed a site with a classic newsprint layout, while others looked at a page with a contemporary modular and image-based layout. The same 20 articles with identical text appeared on both sites.

The Engaging News Project team consistently found that the contemporary site garnered more page views than the classic site. In all three of the experiments, the contemporary site had at least a 90 percent increase in unique page views compared to the classic site. Nearly every article had more page views when it appeared on the contemporary website.

Courtesy Engaging News Project
The classic layout, courtesy Engaging News Project
Courtesy Engaging News Project
The contemporary layout, courtesy Engaging News Project

The report is made up of three studies, which varied things such as article order and length of time required to stay on the site from 90 seconds to no requirement. All three used the same 20 articles.

To Talia Stroud, ENP's director, the study revealed three things:

  1. “This shows how thinking outside of the box might be useful,” she said. Many news websites have layouts reminiscent of a print newspaper. “I think that this research suggests that we should be thinking beyond that in bold ways.”
  2. We should move beyond pageviews as a metric. Stroud pointed out that in the study, retention was low across the board, but people remembered more from the articles on the contemporary site than they did from the classic site.

And 3. Moving things around the page also changed what people remembered, but had less influence on where they clicked.

“I think there’s a lot more to learn about why people gravitate toward certain articles and not others when they see a website.”

Traditional news sites do have some advantages over the ones created for the study, Stroud said, including a built-in audience. And in redesigning their sites and homepages, those organizations have to work with the audience. Stroud sited The Guardian as an example of a transparent, audience-centric redesign.

"I know it's a lot of work, but I think that's a nice way to bring people with you, to build it into the community, to build that new site that helps you and helps the audience as well."

From the study's conclusion:

Layout matters, and it is consequential in terms of page views and what people recall from the news. The results show that people accessed more pages, appreciated, and learned more about the information contained in news articles when browsing a website with a contemporary homepage compared to a website with a classic homepage. These differences did not vary depending on the respondents’ age, education, or level of political knowledge. Broadly, these results support news organizations experimenting with changes to their homepage, and considering a move from a more classic to a more contemporary design.