Canadian Magazine Industry News
30 June 2009,    
Extreme makeover: Magazine website edition
"The Web is not about shoving a magazine down a wire," St. Joseph Media president Douglas Knight likes to say. That sentiment seems to be spreading through the industry, with publishers, editors, designers and developers investing time and money into redesigning websites that, in some cases, premiered back in the dark days of Web 1.0. To find out what kinds of changes are taking place, we looked into five sites that recently underwent extreme makeovers.

Alberta Venture

Website: albertaventure.com
Debut: September 2008
 
The blemish
: After attending a Folio: magazine conference in New York in September 2007, Venture Publishing president Ruth Kelly decided Alberta Venture’s site needed to change if the magazine wanted to keep up with the digital age. The website had already seen about three redesigns since it launched, but it was built on an outdated content management system that didn’t provide enough flexibility for new content or multimedia features such as audio and video.
The makeover: Kelly hired new staff, recruited some existing staff and by early 2008 had formed Venture Publishing’s digital division. Its first task it was to rebuild Alberta Venture’s website. Rachel Singh, Web editor, recalls that when she joined the digital division at Venture, users could really only find PDFs from the magazine posted on the website and not much else. “We don’t do that anymore,” she laughs. Since the redesign, the Web team has worked closely with the print magazine staff to explore all opportunities for the website. Today, the site features web-exclusive content, audio, video, and extended features from the print magazine.
Finishing results: +310% increase in page views and +36% increase in new visitors per month.
The future: Kelly says the web also presents an opportunity to increase revenue, adding that right now, they’re exploring ways “to develop digital-only activities for our sponsors and advertisers.” Yesterday, the Venture team relaunched the unlimitedmagazine.com site. The company is also planning to update Alberta Oil magazine’s site.

Green Living
Website: greenlivingonline.com
Debut: January 2009
 
The blemish
: Green Living’s magazine and website were being managed separately and the looks didn’t match. Editor Lindsay Borthwick also felt the site was too cluttered and didn’t present information in an organized way.
The makeover: Green Living Enterprises began by re-branding its logo and followed with redesigns for the print and online platforms. The rejuvenated site features live shows, polls and more visuals. The comment section was also moved to the homepage, giving visitors a snapshot of hot button issues. The result is a cleaner, more appealing look, Borthwick says. “People are finding the site more relevant and enjoyable. They’re sticking around longer.” Green Living also decided to increase the site’s functionality with the addition of "green guides;" feature articles taken from the print edition are complemented with green listing suggestions for readers living in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa.
Finishing results: +30% increases in page views and unique visitors per month.
The future: Borthwick hopes to build a community with the improved reader-to-reader interactions, implement more search tools and to extend the green guides to other cities.

This Magazine
Website: this.org 
Debut: May 2009
 
The blemish
: Before the arrival of editor Graham F. Scott in July, the venerable lefty political magazine hadn’t changed its look, in print or online, for years, with the site’s last overhaul having taken place in 2004. The overall appearance was lacking pizzazz and the content management system was clunky, so when Scott and his team decided to revamp the print magazine, they figured it was also time to tune-up the site.
The makeover: After two months of work, This launched a new site with a new URL, This.org. Scott says he wanted the magazine’s online presence to be just as strong as the print one. “One of the big things was just trying to introduce people to new ways to interact with the articles,” Scott says. The new site features RSS feeds, as well as comment sections for stories found in the print version. (Previously, users could only comment on blog posts.) Articles from the current issue are now posted on the website one by one until a new issue comes out. The old URL, Thismagazine.ca, will stay online until all of the old content has been transferred to the new site.
Finishing results: +17% increase in unique visits per month.
The future: Scott says he hopes the website redesign will encourage people to subscribe to the bimonthly magazine, while also fomenting dialogue and creating an “ecosystem of ideas and debate on the Web.” This is also planning to update its presence on Facebook.

Canadian House & Home
Website: houseandhome.com
Debut: May 2009
 
The blemish
: “We had website that was an embarrassment,” recalls Trish Snyder, senior editor and online editorial director for House & Home Media. “It didn’t speak to the vision of the magazine and it was really outdated in terms of its functionality.” Snyder thought the old design buried content and that the visual presentation paled in comparison to the print version of the magazine.
The makeover: The team of 14 House & Home staff got the ball rolling in summer of 2008 and hired a programmer to build a content management system from scratch. After 10 months of labour, it launched a site that prides itself on being the ultimate resource for home renovation information to its readers. House & Home added blogs, photo galleries and a searchable recipe tool. Snyder, who describes the work they put in as “not just a paint job in the same house,” hopes the site will become an extension, rather than a duplication, of the magazine. She thinks complementing features found in print issues with oriignal Web content can be a great way to promote both media. Snyder says, “It serves our audience really well and it also helps us not to cannibalize our brand.”
Finishing results: +48% increase page views and +63% increase in unique visitors.
The future: House & Home wants to do the same thing for its French-language equivalent, Maison & Demeure.

Geist
Website
: geist.com/
Debut
: May 2009

 
 
The blemish
: When Ross Merriam, one of Geist’s Web architects, launched his own magazine and website last year (www.TK.com) he began using the latest version of Geist’s content management system, Drupal, and realized that the site needed an upgrade if it wanted to stay relevant. Drupal 6.0, he found, had some new features that would allow for better organization, easier navigation and quicker updates. So at the beginning of the year, Merriam, Web editor Josh Walleart and a group of volunteers began working on revamping Geist.com. 
The makeover: Geist's web team worked from mid-February until the end of May, upgrading from Drupal 5 to 6 and uploading new content and features. Before the relaunch, visitors to Geist.com would have to fill out a form upon reaching the homepage. Now, Geist.com takes users directly to features, news items, blogs, events, a Twitter feed and more. The site also features much more Web-exclusive content, such as senior editor Mary Schendlinger’s "Writer’s Toolbox," which offers tips and exercises to improve writing skills. The upgrade has also made it easier for the staff to update the website every two or three days, whereas before, the site was only updated once every two weeks, because it took almost a week to upload all the new content from the print edition. 
The future: Merriam says the site is not yet where he’d like it to be. The team is still working on improving the site and regaining traffic after the RSS feeds were broken in the redesign process. “We want to take Geist.com and make it not only an extension of the magazine but its own entity where people will go to get news and information exclusive to online,” he says, adding that each section of the magazine will extend online and expand on stories from the print version, as well as offering more Web-exclusive content. “We’ve been thinking a lot more about what we can offer our readers," says Merriam, "if we can give more to them than just what goes into the magazine.”

— Christal Gardiola And Lora Grady
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