Websites are already a staple in business today. Whether your company is big or small, it is necessary for everyone to have a web presence. That’s why we thought it would be fun to analyze a well-known website every month for you and give you our thoughts on what makes it work, what we like, and some gaps we discovered. Our team of programmers, designers, SEO experts, and Social Media guru’s will be tearing apart a well-known site and sharing our comments and thoughts with you. Our hope is that it will keep you thinking about your own site, what you can be doing better with it, and help give you ideas to make it more successful. And, since its November and still football season, we figured it was as good of time as any to kick off our new series and analyze the NFL’s website (www.nfl.com).
When you first log onto www.nfl.com, you cannot help but notice all that is going on! They have scrolling articles, vivid pictures, up-to-date scores, navigation bar, a list of latest news, search box, and even a banner with all the NFL teams. All of that and I haven’t even scrolled down on the page yet! When you scroll down, you see a few ads, some highlighted blogs and articles, video features, fantasy football trends, schedule for the NFL network programming, a spot for the NFL shop, a poll, call to action to be an official fan, to buy tickets, and- oh wait, I think I got it all! Wow- it’s exhausting just to write that all, let alone look at it. There is so much going on in this site right now!
Rebecca Blanchard, one of our project managers, made the following remarks about the navigation on the site and the overall feel when she logged on:“From first glance the site works really well for me. Schedules and fantasy are easily found. I like that they use a lot of video as I think it’s very important to their audience. I found an issue with their advertising in that if the banner was open on the home page, it overrode the drop down navigation, which you never want. “
From a content management perspective, I’m sure the people in charge of posting are working overtime right now! Every day there is new stuff to post, refresh, archive, and file based on the current news around the league. I am impressed at how quickly blog posts are updated and made available, especially as someone who counts on the expert advice for my fantasy football team.
One of our programmers, Bryce, also noticed that ESPN.com actually has multilingual support (at least for Spanish) built right in to their main site. However NFL.com’s Spanish version just links to Univision’s NFL news section. There is currently a lot of discussion in the industry about the cost/benefit of supporting multilingual sites. If NFL.com is not supporting multilingual, either for technical or content reasons, it must be because of its high costs and low return value. This could very well be because the NFL is the most popular in the US and has not drawn in a large Hispanic following yet. Still, without using something automatic like Google Translate, this is a tough and expensive problem for both developers and content creators.
From the Programming Perspective:
There is a lot of programming that goes into putting such a large site like the NFL.com together. Our hacker extraordinaire, John Leitch, took a look at the site, the programming, and analyzed some of the bugs and glitches he came across. Here are his thoughts:
Writing a 100% bug free application of reasonable complexity is effectively impossible. Programmers fix the bugs as they’re discovered and release when they’re confident in the application’s stability, but they can never say it is completely free of issues. Third party code serves only to compound this issue, potentially introducing new bugs or poorly designed, easy to misuse components. And where there is a bug, there could be vulnerability.
The aforementioned scenario appears to be what the web developers of NFL.com have encountered. From the perspective of an external observer it’s hard to tell if the third party script directly introduced the vulnerability, but at a minimum it created the circumstances where simple misuse lead to the existence of a reflected cross-site scripting vulnerability.
What does this mean for NFL.com? At a minimum an attacker could exploit the vulnerability to set up a phishing page that appears to be hosted by the NFL. Depending on other factors it may also be able to compromise the accounts of other users, including those with more permissions than a regular user. Fortunately things are not as bad as they could be; relative to the consequences of other vulnerabilities cross-site scripting is a minor threat. However, that doesn’t mean that leaving such a hole unpatched is appropriate, especially when the fix is as simple as HTML encoding data before it is rendered to the page.
Are you a code junkie too? What did you find when looking through the site?
From the designer perspective:
Our designers spend hours working out the tiniest design issues. They fuss with font, color, texture, gradient, and other items to make sure our sites are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Every detail is carefully considered and thought through before the site actually appears live.
In the case of the nfl.com, a team of designers most likely went through a similar process. Given the vast variety of content they need to incorporate into this site, the designers were certainly challenged to create a functional, easy-to-use page that encouraged interaction, provided information, and enabled the user to find what they were looking for. The result was a multi-media, web 2.0 site that incorporates rotating images, articles, scores, and a variety of other information on their homepage. One of our designers, Amy Snell, was very impressed with the homepage. “Overall I like the look of the site. I think they did a good job with organizing a ton of content on the homepage. I like the way they have tabs filtering the news, and paging/arrows in the video and spotlight section. There are some very nice animations on the site that make it feel easy to use—like the way the videos scroll through and the way that the navigation animates in. “
However, Amy also remarked that she was a bit overwhelmed with so much going on. She felt that the navigation was overwhelming because there is so much going on. She thought the logos and schedule were distracting from finding what you are looking for and the top level navigationhad a lot of items. When asked about how she would navigate the site again, she said “I’ll skip over everything in the header and go straight down to the main banner.”
What do you think? With as much as they need to pack on their website, do you think the designers for the NFL.com did a good job at designing the page to include everything?
Social Media/ SMO (Social Media Optimization)
Social Media is all the rage on the internet today. Most sites are incorporating their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and calls to action on their home pages. However, in the case of the NFL.com, they are forcing the user to look for them. As one of our programmers Bryce pointed out “I could not find any calls to action on their homepage for Facebook or Twitter. After searching around, I finally found under the tiny Fans menu drop down in the upper right hand corner some text links to Facebook and Twitter.”
Although it is difficult to find any calls to action for social media, I would argue that the NFL does not need to change this. Most users would rather connect with their team on social media to receive updates about team related activities, injuries, practices, and schedules over connecting with the NFL as a whole. Plus, they are a very well known brand, so it is likely they are being searched for in social media channels. They also seem to manage multiple social media accounts on Twitter, such as their NFL Network account and Fantasy football account. Having all these twitter feeds in one place would be confusing to the user and only add to the already overloaded page content.
The NFL.com does integrate social media for the end user, though. They have incorporated the capability for the user to share content on their site by incorporating tweet and like buttons on all of their videos. Bryce also noted that they have a plethora of nice custom social features on their site too such as blogs, comments and social sharing icons. He also thought their use of likes on news articles, comments and recommendations on videos, and the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds for individual teams enhanced their site and ensured they were integrated.
Overall, in the area of SMO I would give the NFL.com an A-, based on their social integration and ability for the user to share content easily. Given their limitations on creating a social media presence that incorporates the whole league, I think they have done a great job at providing non-biased content for all the fans.
Well, it’s the NFL.com. They have a HUGE brand image. If you search the NFL, you get the NFL. (Think the commercials “if you want the NFL, go to the NFL”). Because the NFL has such a strong brand, the discussion around SEO seems a bit trivial. The only area they could benefit from focusing on would be to increase membership in their Fantasy Sports leagues. With fierce completion from Yahoo, CBS, and ESPN, the NFL.com probably provides the most benefit by providing the users with analysis and tips from their experts. However, if they wanted or needed to increase the amount of traffic to their site, boosting membership to their fantasy football program using SEO would be an excellent way to encourage consistant and repeated visits to their site.
~ Christina Torri, Social Media Coordinator, with contributions from the Mindscape team.