As Time.com‘s Managing Editor Edward Felsenthal, and Daniel Bernard, head of product, prepared to preview the newly redesigned Time.com for me, I expected one of two types of popular overhauls: a spacious, minimalist approach a la NPR, or a grid-based explosion of images a la NBC News and Bloomberg View.
But Felsenthal and Bernard emphasized neither of the two buzzwords I expected: “visual” and “white space.” Instead, the site in its second major redesign in 18 months unabashedly embraces density — text-based density!
“I think the homepage draws on visuals, which of course have always been a part of Time’s history,” Felsenthal said. “But it’s pretty dense, there’s a lot of text, and that’s intentional.”
That doesn’t mean the site is cluttered or overwhelming, just that it isn’t afraid to present visitors with lots of choices. At the same time, it maintains visual hierarchy — no visitor to the Time homepage will wonder what the top story of the moment is:
The aim, Felsenthal said, is for Time.com to “do for the minute what Time has always done for the week since it began, to bring you up to date in an extremely smart and readable fashion, quickly. The very name Time is a recognition of the fact that people don’t have enough of it.”
To that end, the site’s navigation is built around a curated, independently scrolling selection of top stories, always present in a left rail on large screens and expandable with a tap on small screens. When you reach the bottom of a story, it automatically transitions into the next story in the list, much like Quartz. (Another influence from the Atlantic’s mobile-first business site: native advertising included in the left rail and in the main stream of stories; it’s labeled “content from” at Time.)
Where Time’s strategy meshes with strategies at nearly every other news organization is in its focus on article pages, increasingly important as readers arrive at sites through side doors like Facebook. In January, 22 percent of visits to Time.com arrived via social media, according to Omniture, Time said.
The site’s navigation is based on Time data that suggests offering related stories isn’t always the best way to keep visitors engaged and bounce rates down, which is why Taboola’s eclectic — and sometimes tasteless — collections of stories from “Around the Web” seem to work. Visitors entering a technology-related story won’t be prompted to view other tech stories on Time; instead, they’ll be prompted to view the stories hand-selected by Time editors and deemed to be the top stories of the moment.
The homepage is divided into three columns: the latest stories on the left, the most important stories in the middle, and columns, videos and longform magazine pieces (still behind a paywall) on the right. There are no traditional topic index pages, just streams of stories grouped by topic — accessible by clicking or tapping the hamburger menu button adopted in nearly every news site redesign.
Felsenthal said the new site was a sign of Time Inc.’s commitment to fast digital growth (Time launched its first responsive site not all that long ago, in October 2012). Time.com has hired 35 people across editorial, product, tech and sales, Felsenthal said, with editorial hires coming from new media brands like BuzzFeed, Gawker, Mashable and Business Insider. (Still, Time Inc. announced 500 layoffs earlier this month as the company prepares for its IPO.)
Time has numbers to back up the claim that the investment in digital is paying off. Unique visitors have more than doubled, from 10.2 million in January 2013 to 23 million in January 2014, according to comScore. The site published an average of 122 pieces of content per day in January (some of which, it must be said, falls under the category of clickbait), up from 72 earlier last year.
Meanwhile, Facebook likes have increased 250 percent year over year, and traffic from social has nearly tripled, the company said. In January, mobile accounted for 45 percent of Time’s traffic.