A consistent trait among digital products that have withstood the test of time is adaptation. Adapting to new technologies. Adapting to new devices. And adapting to users (essentially user experience research and analysis).
Youthletic began as a repository of youth organization data, targeting both parents and organizations. For parents, the site was intended to be a one-stop-shop to search and register their children for youth organizations. For organizations, the site was supposed to be an easy place for coaches and group leaders to gather registrations, payments and information about the children (ie. allergies). Initially as an afterthought, the site added a collection of articles pertaining to youth sports and relevant topics.
With the initial plan came several challenges:
- The project depended on youth sport organization commitment and this proved to be more difficult than planned. Most youth sport organizations are run by non-profits and volunteers so communication and developing relationships is challenging.
- Organization data is fragmented — gathering and maintaining data is a tedious and time consuming process.
- There were legal hurdles when accepting payments and gathering information about children. Many hurdles would take serious time and financial investment.
- The project depended on several third parties add-ons and services, such as payment processing. Many of these third parties proved to be buggy and problematic.
The site needed change to further justify its existence. Maintaining a local focus would continue to be a priority but widening YL’s reach to a national level through content would be an emphasis moving forward. So here’s where we focused our efforts:
1. A parallel approach towards content
With organization search and registration not gaining as much traction as initially expected, more youth sports articles were published to keep the site active. They say “content is king” and this proved to be evident on Youthletic, as proven by the direct correlation between number of articles published and site traffic.
To cement the change further was the fact that YL’s parent company is a media company at its core so the move to a content focus made even more sense.
2. Becoming agile
Initially, there was a group of four creating the entire project: a business owner, a project manager, a UX/UI designer, and a back end developer. The separation of duties was strictly defined and the project followed a waterfall methodology. This proved to be problematic as the project was meant to be brought to life quickly.
Waterfall methodology is ideal for some companies and products, but the issue with a waterfall process is that the project requires the fulfilment of one phase, before proceeding to the next.
Switching to an agile methodology encouraged collaboration among team members and allowed for the product to evolve quicker.
3. Designing a better user experience
There were four principles that we wanted to make sure to get correct when designing a better user experience:
We knew that a majority of site users were accessing the site on mobile devices (roughly 65%). Mobile usage continues to grow so the design needed to be consistent and beautiful across devices. To accomplish this, we used site-wide, mobile-friendly navigation (a slide-in from the side).
Developing a light site
If users want content, we need to give it to them and do so quickly. Speed matters. Page abandonment goes up dramatically for every second a page takes to load.
To avoid abandonment we implemented a content feed that makes ajax calls to load content at vertical scroll distances. This decreased page load time dramatically (in our case by 400%) and helped drop the site’s bounce rate by 30%.
Making sharing prominent
A social media analysis showed that parents loved sharing Youthletic articles. On the previous design, sharing was enabled but it was only accessible on one area of the story page.
But sharing is caring. With article pages in the new design, parents could share from 3 separate places, and sharing capabilities were omni-present. Chartbeat data suggests that users will share content without reading it, so the new design also allowed users to share without going into an article.
Giving users other means of navigation besides the top nav bar
Through Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, we knew that users were not using the top navigation very often, thus shortening site visit length and increasing bounce rate. To counter this, we added author, sport and category tagging for easier access to information users may be interested in. Not only did this provide additional means for users to travel around the site, it more neatly organized our content in the CMS and made it easier to give users related content.
Tag activity has been used more and more since its implementation and we expect that trend to continue as users become more familiar with the new design.
4. Altering the definition of “success”
Looking at expectations from a higher level, the site’s initial goals were flawed. They were driven by registrations and other bullshit metrics — page views, page visits, pages per visit, etc.
We wanted to measure quality over quantity.
Planning for the future and laying a groundwork for the rest of the Scripps organization (YL’s parent company), we knew that companies buying advertising would soon catch on to the fact that site metrics were often misleading and didn’t measure quality. Modeled after Medium’s Total Time Reading metric we began gathering user data like scroll distance on article pages and visit depth. As we gathered information we were able to establish realistic, relative goals while learning about users’ experiences.
New challenges arise everyday as we continue to build the product out. Local youth sports will continue to be a huge focus and area of opportunity but content will also be a driving force. The roadmap includes new feature implementation, a mobile application and continued growth towards creating a quality user experience, so there may be updates as we go on.