PRWeb Changes: A Few Suggestions, Questions, and Gripes
I don’t visit PRWeb often these days, since I don’t work in release distribution and media relations anymore. Today I stopped by to look for an archived version of a client’s release that was distributed there, and to say I was turned off by the recent design changes would be a serious understatement. Since a PRWeb employee asked what I didn’t like about it, I decided to answer that here (and hopefully some of you will chime in with your thoughts, whether you agree or not).
The Overall Design
Look. I wasn’t an early PRWeb fan. You can find out why from my past posts. I was eventually won over by Joe Beaulaurier (no longer with them) and his responsiveness in addressing problems on the site (like the previous lack of transparency about pricing until you were actually in the order process — thankfully at least they kept that transparency with the new design).
If there’s one thing PRWeb got right, it was putting function before aesthetics. PRWeb was never an “ugly” site. And it got the job done. You could find what you wanted easily as soon as you got to the site. There wasn’t wasted space. Now most things above the fold on the homepage are just unnecessary. Did they really have to use a graphic taking up about a quarter of the page just to promote their tour of the site? No. And you can’t even make the argument that it’s needed because of the registration form there. Why? Because just above that is a separate button taking you to the registration page. Can anyone say “redundant?”
What was sacrificed because of this newly wasted space? Well, paying customers for starters. I remember having clients want a top five or top ten spot there. Those wanting top placements generally did it because they expected their listing to appear above the fold for a better chance of conversion. Given that the graphic and signup form now pushes down those paid positions significantly (on a basic widescreen laptop monitor I see only three above the fold now), they’re not giving those paying customers as much bang for their buck. Is that how most people are going to find a release? Probably not. But I have seen the stats on releases from clients who paid for #1 spots, top tens, and much lower packages putting them mid page one or page two. There is definitely a traffic difference.
Essentially it looks like PRWeb is putting far too much focus on trying to suck in new customers and not enough on their existing customers. Might seem like a simple design change to some. Seems like a customer service snafu to me.
Again, I’ll give them kudos for keeping the pricing packages available in the main navigation. But the convenience factor just isn’t there anymore. Rather than a link to search the archives being right up front, for example, there’s a search form embedded on the site. Normally, I’d say that’s great–it cuts out a click for the user. But if you’re going to do that, then don’t tuck the search form quietly into the mix. Make it easier to find. It does nothing to jump out at you as it is, it’s not in a location where most people would look for a search form (generally in a segregated sidebar or the header), and the washed out look makes it practically fade into the background.
Other navigation issues include the fact that news sorting options are now buried well below the fold on the left, and you have to scroll all the way to the footer just to get to the About page (which as a standard should be pretty easily accessible). Basically, for most things you’d want to find, you’ll now spend more time tracking down or scrolling to the link. The previous navigational structure wasn’t perfect (while I can’t see it cached anymore, I do remember thinking at times that a few things could probably be removed). Maybe not perfect, but absolutely better than the current incarnation.
Again, I can’t view a cache, so maybe I’m wrong about this. But didn’t PRWeb used to be a fluid-width site? I’m not completely anti fixed-width (this blog is a fixed-width site), but PRWeb has far too much information on a page to be cramming anything into fixed width designs. Just another case of aesthetics being put before function (and I can’t even say the new site is more aesthetically pleasing, at all).
The red elements of PRWeb’s site worked very well with their branding — like the logo, which still sports it. The washed out blue look does nothing for the site. They had a great color combination with the red and blue before. They periodically tweaked things without major overhauls, and it kept improving over time. This looks like a generic Web template you’d find for sale on a webmaster forum – nothing tying into the established image on a visual level. The old design was, well, PRWeb. This design could be tossed on just about any site out there. Not a winner.
There’s more (like a lack of popular release tags from a site that was involved in social media releases before anyone even coined the term or concept of a social media release!). But again, since I can’t pull up a copy of the most recent design pre-change, I can only go from memory for now. I haven’t even tried playing around on the backend yet, so I don’t know if it’s been changed as well — I’d imagine so for the sake of consistency, but I don’t have time to fiddle with it right now. From a quick peek, it does look like it.
I really had high hopes that PRWeb was going to keep improving, but coming across this new design was a huge disappointment. I’d beg and plead for them to go back to the old design — one that made sense and worked rather well for what they are. But I doubt it’s worth the effort. Unfortunately Joe’s no longer there for me to simply drop him an email asking what the hell they were thinking. So to whoever makes those calls there these days, let me ask you, “What the hell were you thinking?”