Design Changes on Instructables

As you've noticed, we've been making some design changes to Instructables.  We're trying to accomplish a number of things including making it easier to find content you're interested in, creating more compelling products for advertisers, and supporting and growing what we've already built.  Here, I'll share the details around some specific design changes.

One of my big goals for 2010 is to increase our direct visitors.  A direct visitor might type our URL into their browser, click on a link in a newsletter, come to the site from one of their bookmarks, or search for a phrase that includes "Instructables".  Other types of visitors include searchers, who come to the site from phrases such as "sweet potato fries" but aren't specifically trying to reach, and visitors from blogs or news portals.  My thesis is that more and more brand advertisers will want to reach our true community, and not people who are just passing by.  A pretty good proxy for our true community is direct visitors, and we've already seen the savviest advertisers try to reach only that community by advertising exclusively on our homepage (the recent Apple campaigns, for example).  To grow our business and ensure that Instructables thrives, it's important that we have great opportunities for advertisers, and a stronger community means more great Instructables and more intelligent people seeing and commenting on your Instructables.

To this end, we've been working to increase the likelihood that someone will go deeper into our content, and remember to come back in the future.  Said another way, we want that sweet potato fries Google search to introduce someone to Instructables, and then have them think, "wow this site is amazing, I'll bookmark it, sign up for the newsletter, come back, etc..."  Some of the most dramatic changes are on the homepage and channel homepages.   On the homepage, we've removed the intro text from the links to Instructables.  By making the homepage less cluttered with words, I was hoping to increase the number of people clicking on an Instructable.  Also, I felt that the beginning of the intro text didn't contribute much to my understanding of the Instructable, and often it was no more than a repetition of the title (and at worse a note about how it was someone's first...).  Removing text to increase engagement might seem counter-intuitive, but with too much going on, visitors sometimes just leave rather than decide what to click on.  So far, clicks from the homepage are flat or slightly up, so this change hasn't had a negative effect on deepening visits, and may over time move us in a positive direction.  On the channel homepages, we've drastically changed the layout to be more blog-like.  My theory here was to give people a format they were more familiar with from elsewhere on the web, and results have been dramatic.  The exit-rates (the percentage of visitors that leave Instructables from a particular page) on our channel homepages have been cut in half.  For example, the exit-rate on the home channel homepage has dropped from 12% to 4.5%.  This is really good!  To me, this indicates that on the channel homepages we're giving visitors more compelling content, and they are more likely to dig into that content.

In support of our efforts to deepen visits, we've been doing similar smaller changes all over the site. Most of these are based on our traffic and click analysis, and if my theories are wrong, we change back or try something else.  One particular change that has generated concern is the removal of the Answers link from the header.  This has nothing to do with our support of Answers in general -- it's based on data.  That link was almost completely unused.  Coming again from the perspective of making a slightly cleaner look, we removed it.  As the link wasn't generating any clicks, traffic to Answers has been unaffected.  In fact, as we're highlighting specific answers on the channel homepages, traffic to the Answers section is actually up 7% since we removed the link:  from Feb. 1 - 18 answers did an average of 11.1 K pageviews per day; from Feb. 19 - 28 it's done 11.9 K pageviews per day.  Perhaps that's noise in the data, but removing the link certainly hasn't been the end of answers, and the trend since the change is positive.

So, we do rearrange the furniture from time to time, but it's never without reason.  We're always trying to make Instructables better.  We've messed up in the past, and we'll surely mess up in the future; but I think this is good, because if we're not reaching and striving a little bit beyond our comfort zone, we're not learning and improving. 

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Ninzerbean7 years ago
Call me obtuse but what is a "channel homepage"? I would like to see the change but don't know how to get there or what it is. Also just for a comment on the new look  - it pops but looks a bit pedestrian with Helvetica, Instructables deserves better font.
If you don't like the font, change it in your Preferences.  Issues like font, font size, and framing widths are meant to be under control of the user's browser.  After all, how can I'bles know whether you have good or poor vision, or if you're even looking at the page (as opposed to having it read to you by your computer, or using Braille).
I can't change a website's font. I have my browser set to a different font but things only appear in that font under certain circumstances, not a website. K, I think you are a genius of course and I hate to say it ain't so  to you but I don't see how I can do what you are saying. I use Safari if that matters.
Just because I usually know what I'm talking about doesn't mean I always do :-)  Feel free to tell me I'm wrong (as I am, unfortunately, in this case).

On my version of Firefox (MacOSX), under Preferences -> Content, there's a section to specify font and size, and there's an [Advanced] button.  On that second dialogue box, there's a checkbox labeled "Allow pages to choose their own fonts."  If I uncheck this, then I can force all pages to be displayed in a font that I can read (e.g., Arial).

However...I went through all of Safari's preferences and their help.  They do not provide the same ability to override remote pages for accessibility.  You can set a minimum font size, but not a font family.  The closest you could get would be to write your own cascading style sheet CSS, and tell Safari to use it (under Preferences -> Advanced).  I do not know whether that would override a remote site or not.
As usual you are wonderfully thorough and I really appreciate it. I am probably as stubborn as you are thorough and I love Safari so I guess being that I can't write CSS I will have to stick with looking at Helvetica here. But I am going to open Firefox just to see how it would look in Arial. Thanks K. 
I don't write CSS either, but it is the right way to separate layout/presentation issues from content markup.  There must be nice utilities (maybe even Safari or Firefox themselves?) which let you use menus or something to do the configuration, then write out the CSS text for you.
It's OK, I went to look how it wold look on Firefox and found I actually missed the "regular-for-me" Helvetica look. I think Helvetica is like the word "awesome" - really over used when there are better words and fonts out there just for the sake of variety if nothing else.
Sans-serif fonts (Helvetica, Arial, etc.) are recommended for accessibility.  People with low vision, and machine readers, have difficulty with serif fonts.  Helvetica has the advantage that it's public domain, and available on all platforms.  Of course, that advantage is exactly what makes it over used ;->
 That may be true but serif fonts are indeed easier to read, there was a movement awhile back to change all street and highway signs to serif because they are easier to read especially when you are driving by them very fast. It is why books typically are written in serif too. I can understand about low vision readers I guess but you wouldn't think so. The serifs help keep your eye moving along the lines of type.
Actually, sans serif fonts are much easier to read quickly, which is why they are used in comics and learn-to-read books.  It's to do with cleanness of lines and eye-tracking along the curve of the letters, apparently.

In UK schools, the #1 font for text for poor readers is comic sans.

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