December 24, 2007

Travelvice Realignment: The Home Page
Lima, Peru

It's traditional in many Latin American homes to open gifts on Christmas Eve, and I thought it fun and fitting to take the wrapping off the new Travelvice home page as part of the celebrations…

Background

The redesign/realignment of the home page on this site has been a priority for me of late.

Travelvice was originally designed to be a travelogue first, a photo gallery second, and an expanding collection of 'about' pages as a distant third. And just as my travels have slowly changed me, they too have slowly changed Travelvice since its inception in 2005.

Somewhere along the journey, I realized that I could help others by writing about insights gained, positive or negative experiences encountered, or by simply posting a map or a bus timetable. I was able to feel good about helping and sharing with others. Travelvice enabled me to give back to the travel community that I was a part of.

But, what's truly unfortunate, is that the same platform that allows me to feel good about sharing with others, also keeps my content in the dark. Search engines don't like the 2005 Travelvice—and it's probably because they were actually the last thing on my mind when I was building the site.

A specific example of failed search engine friendliness could be found on the home page. Since Blogger, the blogging engine I (unfortunately) selected in 2005, can't generate introduction excerpts for posts, I opted to place a little code/markup tag in each telling the Travelvice home page what to show as a lead-in, and what to keep hidden. Simply put, the entire content of the five most recent posts were actually on the home page, but hidden from display.

Over two years later, the ugly side effect of this homemade home page excerpt can be found when searching for some of my content. Google's little data-gathering robots that spider the site don't actually know the text is hidden, and seem to like to link posts to the root of Travelvice.com, instead of their unique URLs. The result is someone clicks on a search link and is taken to the home page, where the content they're looking for disappeared days, weeks, or months ago.

The intent of Travelvice has clearly changed. It's no longer a travelogue. It's growing, and that growth necessitates a redesign/realignment.

Brainstorming

People hitting the Travelvice home page can generally be lumped into two groups: New and repeat visitors. I took some time and brainstormed on what each visitor segment wants when they hit the home page, and developed the new iteration from those perspectives.

Visitors new to the site need to understand what the place is within five seconds. They need to be told where they can go, and why they should go there. Steering (funneling) these users into the site, or into popular content with the hope that they become repeat visitors, was a priority.

Repeat visitors already know the structure of the site, and are chiefly interested in new content offerings. Sometimes, this includes telling them of past content they might've missed. Specific to Travelvice's repeat visitors is the desire to know where in the world I'm currently at, and where I've been. These visitors should be able to hit the home page and get a comprehensive snapshot of the happenings on the site, and my life.

It's Dark

Yep. I'd been thinking about a darker template for a long time, but wasn't quite sure it was ready for something as text-heavy as the Travelogue or Compendium.

Many people find light text on a dark background uncomfortable to read. Such things can also cause eye fatigue when reading consecutive paragraphs of text. This is why pages on this site have been traditionally white.

But the home page is now just a portal —a landing page. Since reading on it will be minimal, I was finally able to create the lights-off design that had been tempting me for so long.

Figuring out how to theme the darker home page to match with the rest of the site was an interesting task, but I'm quite happy with the results. The color orange, one of the two primary colors of Travelvice, had to be scaled back considerably, as it gave the page a sort of Halloween feel when used.

I'm strongly considering using a dark theme for the revamped Snapshots gallery, when I get around to updating it. I like the look of white-bordered images on a dark background.

Width

The new Travelvice home page is wider than the format found on the rest of the site.

Looking at the analytics gathered from 2007, I noticed that over 91% of Travelvice visitors were looking at the site with a screen resolution greater than 800×600. Although I've always designed pages with 800×600 users in mind, they are a dwindling group. Mobile devices, gaming platforms, and ancient Internet cafĂ© computers make up the other 8.3% (of people browsing at 800×600 and below).

The content on the site will still be 800×600-friendly, but I needed space on the home page, and opted to design as such.

Interestingly, yesterday I found a solution that might implement one of these days. It's a little script that runs when the page is loaded and resizes elements on the page accordingly. You can see it in action on this photographer's Web site: leonneal.com. Load the page, then make your browser window smaller, and refresh. Neat, huh? I might one day use the same strategy site-wide, to accommodate larger text for visitors with higher screen resolutions.

Where to Go & What's New

Since Travelvice has expanded past the travelogue-level, the site home page needed to quickly explain what the areas of the site are all about.

The three primary site sections are above the fold, just after some brief text introducing me, and Travelvice. Folks should find that their eyes gravitate to these three headers, with new visitors likely skimming the site description above them in an attempt to better understand where they.

Topics contained within these headers are the most recently posted from their respective sections: The latest three from the Travelogue, and the last five from the Compendium.

I was interested in bringing the search page to attention, but decided not to highlight it, as I'm hunching that folks will look to search for content after they're already inside the site. The search page is, of course, still a link in the new footer that I've rolled out for the 2008 redesign.

Ultimately, I'll be transitioning all the content from the 'about' section over to the Compendium, and tweaking the title of the link to something creatively wild, like "help/about".

Last Known Location

I took the initial concept of my "last known location" and tweaked it a bit. Now instead of just saying where I am, it also displays how long I've been there. Repeat visitors can still stay apprised of my location, and new site visitors should be able to better understand my path/location history without looking at the off-site record.

In May of this year, I added a snapshot of the local weather at my last known location to the sidebar of the travelogue. Friends and family seemed pleased, so I've taken the concept and matured it. Additional space allows me to add a longer description and the time of temperature reading, as well as larger, prettier graphics.

Internal Advertising

As listed above, one of the goals for the Travelvice home page portal was to highlight old content, as well as funnel people into popular articles. I did this by selecting a handful of topics and stories that I thought would be interesting for a first-time reader, as well as set the tone for the kind of content that can be found in the site.

There are (currently) 21 different internal advertising banners set to rotate on the home page. Banners won't rotate every time the page is hit. Instead, I've opted to display a single random advert each day, which will change automatically, around midnight (U.S. Eastern Time).

Perhaps one of these days I'll attract an advertising sponsor, and insert their advert in this spot (or simply add an additional row to the page for it). …All in good time.

For those super-curious regular readers out there, I've put up a compilation of all the adverts so that you don't have to wait a month or two to see all the designs. If you have any additional article/story suggestions that you've enjoyed on the site and think I should create a banner for, feel free say so in the comments.

A Peruvian Christmas

This December I'm celebrating my fourth Christmas abroad.

This time last year I was in a hostel in Buenos Aires, watching a Swedish girl give a Greek girl an oil massage in my dorm room, and dealing with the crippling fallout of Blogger's new system switch. This year I'm happily making changes to Travelvice by choice, and waiting for my girlfriend to tell me she's in labor—which is bound to happen this week.

So, raise a glass of Puerto Rican eggnog with me, and toast to the unexpected twists and turns of life—may yours be entertaining as mine.

Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays, all!

Comments:

Erik

December 24th, 2007

I like the redesign but frankly feel the gray home page is not really that enticing. If I weren't a regular reader, I believe I'd not be pulled in to read further. The stark contrast from dark gray to white for the content articles is unpleasant. Hopefully I'm the odd man out on this and everyone else raves about the layout.

Gray or white, the travelvice blue/cloud header being slightly larger on the home page than on the content page should probably be changed to match - or at least I would change it because it would (and does) midly bother me.

Beyond that, I like the compendium idea and move to WordPress, knowing what your goals with the site are.

kris

December 25th, 2007

Like the new entry page, looks real slick now..
been a regular lurker for a long time now, this new chapter as a father is gonna be interesting mixed with travels..
happy new year to you and your new family

Lisa

December 26th, 2007

Merry Christmas Craig! Best of luck bringing your little one into the world. Hope everything goes great with the delivery. Happy new year too!

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