Tuesday, May 9th, 2006 11:52am UTC
By Luke, Thunder Lounge
Published on Thunder Lounge.
Nascar.com is in dire need of a facelift. Not just visually, but some additional features should be added as well as the code structure reworked. While yes, the site does technically work at the moment, it’s time for Nascar to step up to the plate and help its users out. Let’s dig into it, in depth.
That Auto-Loading Video Has To Go.
This in particular has to be the most annoying feature present on the site. I don’t care how much “revenue” it brings in from displaying a commercial every now and then, it’s not worth it. Not only is it an uh-oh and tattle-tale on someone that might just be doing the occasional surf-on-the-clock while forgetting to turn the sound down, but there is a wide audience that also happens to view the site from a dial-up connection. This really kills their page load times, as well as increasing their general annoyance.
Killing this would not only help out the dial-up folks (yes, people still do use it) but it would also help out on the bandwidth the site has to transfer to someone’s browser. Reducing the bandwidth needed can help offset any revenue generated from the sometimes present commercials in this video block. If there is any, and we’re simply assuming there is.
Regardless of the action taken, at the very least kill the auto-start of the clip and make it a link. This way, a user only uses up bandwidth at their choosing if they decide they would like to stream the clip.
Kill The Nested Tables, Save More Bandwidth.
Tables have their place, as needed. However, there isn’t an excuse for the Nascar.com website to use them as they are for the most part. We’re talking tables that are nested 3 levels deep on average pages, and on a few their even deeper. This alone is killing the amount of data that needs to be sent to a users browser, just from the page source alone. With a target audience such as the one for Nascar.com where a large portion of said audience is still on dial-up, every little bit of data that can be saved to trim down the page size will be much appreciated by them. Broadband users also get the benefit as well, as the page will take up less space on their hard-drives when it’s cached.
In today’s fast growing internet, people want information, and they want it now. The use of RSS readers is increasing at an astonishing rate. By having an RSS feed available not only will it improve the user-friendly side of the site by allowing users to read the headlines and click through to the story, it will also allow other sites to pull in the feeds for their sites as well. With this in mind it only further increases the exposure of Nascar.com while at the same time increasing traffic in the long run. What’s that mean? More viewers for the sponsors, more revenue from advertising, and adding further advertising appeal to potential sponsors as well.
Help A Brother Out.
What happened to the links to the individual tracks website, that used to be part of the tracks profile page on Nascar.com?
It used to exist, and was a wonderful hidden gem. Users could read the profile on Nascar.com, and then also visit the tracks website for even more information if they needed it. Now a user would need to do a search for the tracks website with a search engine, like Google, in order to try and find the tracks website. Sure, it might not pay directly to do this, but it would in the long run for keeping users on the site and making it as friendly as possible.
Kill Any Useless Images.
No matter how small, kill it if it isn’t absolutely necessary.
For example, using a small image for setting the background color of an area. Set it with CSS, the browser will recognize it.
Another example, wide background images. When an image is necessary for the background, for example on a title bar or similar, make it as narrow as possible. Then, using CSS, repeat the image in the direction desired.
Yet another example is using an image to display text. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, as in the case of a logo for example, use plain old text instead and dress it up with CSS.
Implementing this idea will also save bandwidth for the server(s), and the end user as well.
Clean Up The Visual Layout.
This one would most likely succeed if implemented in stages. First, make initial overall changes, but leave some things ordered where they are now. The biggest concern in this area would be navigation. The users need to be comfortable with the layout, and the current navigation structure isn’t too bad. However, as with any site, there is always room for improvement. This even applies to ThunderLounge.com as well as any other site out there. There will always be “something” that could use a tweak.
Currently, how could anything else could fit on the page of Nascar.com. If it doesn’t contain usable content, the space is filled with a sponsor. Granted we all need them, and we’re not talking about not having them, but even reducing a few small ones, or making some into text links would be more beneficial in the long run. In short, let the layout breathe a little bit. It’s a tick on the over-active, or “busy”, side at the moment.
Finally, keep the background light in areas of important content (read as: actual articles and information), and draw focus to other informational areas and boxes (such as the current standings, lead story, etc) with the use of colors contrasting the content background. This will draw users eyes initially to what they came for, and make it stand out, but also subtly let them notice other important areas as well.
In conjunction with killing the video, useless tables, and image reduction, the page size of a current 220+ kb could easily be reduced. At the time of this writing, total page size was 221kb, with 121kb of that being from images. A good target would be 100k-125k, effectively half of the current page size.
Proof Read The Articles And Features.
Granted, we all make mistakes. However, is there someone that actually reads over the content before it is published on the site? If this were a blog, it would be different as they are more off the cuff than a traditional published source. However, does the content on Nascar.com fit this category? Currently it doesn’t seem so. It’s looked to as a respected source of information about Nascar. While not every published article on Nascar.com contains an error, they are fairly common. Maybe we’re being a little picky on this, but given the scope of Nascar.com and that it is a Major Media outlet, a little proofing would go a long way in further adding to that professional image the site creates and demands.
If the current content is being proofed, it might be time to seek a replacement.
Note: we’re not talking about the editing of content, but simply checking for basic errors in spelling and punctuation. We wouldn’t want the material to lose that personal feeling would we?
Adopt Web Standards, And Fast.
Times are changing, and changing fast. Unfortunately, Nascar.com is behind the power curve on this. Far behind, as a matter of fact.
When we’re talking web standards, we’re talking underlying source code that is produced and sent to your browser. This in part reflects back on the whole nested table issues mentioned previously, but also goes further into exactly what is produced.
First and foremost, the main page at the time of this writing failed validation against W3C standards with 51 errors, not including the informational ones. Granted we all make a slip-up now and then, but the amount and type of errors produced are unacceptable.
It used to be a case of having to design for Internet Explorer. While Internet Explorer is still an issue there are methods that work and look great in Internet Explorer, as well as other leading browsers such as FireFox, that are both functional, able to be aesthetically pleasing, and also conform to current web standards. While Internet Explorer 7 isn’t much of an improvement over 6, it is improving and reports show that Internet Explorer 8 will drastically improve it’s gap between it’s competition. Well believe it when it happens, but we won’t rule it out.
Thinking that web standards don’t apply or aren’t used in real world applications? Take a look at Espn.com and see how it looks.
We will note, in all fairness though, that at the time of this writing, Espn.com miserably failed W3C validation with a whopping 1881 errors. While they are on the right track, someone should flip them a bone on the validation problems.
In closing, if Nascar.com is serious about challenging for the throne, they will need to do something about their long outdated website, before it’s too late. The more they alienate their users, the more users will flock to other sites in search of similar information. This will in turn upset sponsors, and lead to a loss of revenue, as users increase the revenue for other sites.
These ideas and examples are not an end all solution, nor meant to provide a perfect guide. They are simply ideas to spark the thoughts of those responsible for the design and development of Nascar.com, and the users as well. Perhaps we here at the ThunderLounge.com website could put together an example page for demonstration purposes in the near future to prove our point. We’ll have to contact Nascar on that one though, as just a general “CYA” to be safe.
In short, everybody benefits. The sponsors, the users, and Nascar as well.