The new year has brought a big change at ESPN.com who took the site re-design out of beta yesterday. This comes after a very interesting 2008 for the site when the site made a major move to end their relationships with all their ad networks and declined any new offers. They made the decision because they felt that the networks use of arbitrage and algorithms for ad placement was hurting their brand so they pulled they are now doing it all in house. It is obvious that decision plays a very large role in the redesign as the first thing you see when you get to the site is a home page takeover that is a combination video from ESPN and ad from Ford. An ESPN anchor talks about the site redesign and just as he says the site is “faster” a Ford truck pulls in below him and a Ford spokesman walks onto the screen and picks up with “tougher, stronger and smarter. Introducing the all new ’09 F-150.”. ESPN is saying that this type of ad where the media placement or adjacent content play just as large a role in the creative as the ad itself will be a large part of the site. They also re-worked the site design so the traditional banner ad that has been a staple of the site has been replaced by a large button ad that can run video ads in the adjacent video player. I think it’s a smart move because this type of placement that is more relevant does something new and gets the users attention is appealing.
Looking at the usability and visual design, the first thing you will see is the main navigation and that they finally simplified and consolidated the navigation in better drop down menus and they hide the inactive sports. This means that right now NFL, MLB, NBA, Soccer College Football, College Basketball and NHL appear at the top of the page and everything else falls into an ‘All Sports’ menu. This has been a long time coming a makes a huge difference to the usability of the site.
They have also done a nice job by adding the ability for you to personalize site with the “My Headlines.” feature where you can adjust the information you see and making it much easier to get the news you want. The placement of the functionality on the right side of the main nav will get more people to sign up and that will drive longer site sessions.
Overall there is a good balance of design and layout improvements that make going through all the content easier as well as new functionality and usability improvements that will keep you on the site longer. All of that combined with fewer but smarter ads makes it one of the best and most successful major re-designs I have seen in a long time.