Subscription Website Publishing

5 Signs of Bad Website Design & How to Fix

Websites are not magazines (most of the time). However, magazine content can be the basis of a successful periodical website that follows the basic rules of periodical website design and content management.

Form over function does not apply on the web as it often does in print

Magazine content can be the basis of a successful magazine subscription website, as long as it follows the basic rules of subscription website design and content management.

The trouble some publishers have when designing their site is figuring out where the magazine stops and the website begins. Considering the very different publishing schedule that magazine publishers have online, there are a few popular bad website design mistakes to avoid:

  • Bad Website Design Mistake #1: Burying your frequency
  • Bad Website Design Mistake #2: Hiding your content
  • Bad Website Design Mistake #3: Neglecting keyword phrases
  • Bad Website Design Mistake #4: Hiding social media buttons
  • Bad Website Design Mistake #5: Using intuition over testing

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Bad Website Design Mistake #1: Burying your frequency

When magazine publishers first launched their websites in the early to mid 2000’s, they were updating their lead story once a week or once a month, treating the homepage like a magazine cover. This design, which buries your lead, shows users that you update your entire website at that frequency. It also sends the message that there is no reason to visit more often.

Websites that include their most current posts in a list from newest to oldest are using the homepage properly by showing users what’s new at the website, or new in a given topical section of the site. Good – the dates are big and bold. Bad – not a single date except on the right-hand side in the “most recent” column.

Bad Website Design Mistake #2: Hiding your content

Websites that force users to find content via internal search discourages users from browsing. It also stops external search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing from giving the permalink topic page URLs they need in order to index and show your content by keyword cluster. On MetroParent, you can easily find topics on the right-hand side of the page in order to better navigate the site.

Don’t hide content from search engines, either. Use topic pages, tag pages and author pages, and use appropriate permalink structure. Example: Your website may have dozens of listings for seafood restaurants in the Back Bay area of Boston, but unless you have a permalink topic page with a URL that ends with “.com/boston-restaurants/back-bay/seafood,” you force the search engines to choose between the posts for your individual listings (MIUs).

Bad Website Design Mistake #3: Neglecting keyword phrases

Some publishers use the cleverest headline and navigation terms that make their content hard to find.

If you have a section of your website dedicated to restaurants, don’t label it “Dining Out” or “Places to Eat,” because that’s not how users search for restaurants. Filing a restaurant review post in a topical section called “Places to Eat” is like storing soap in the refrigerator… only you will know where to find it. On Boston Magazine‘s site, their section dedicated to restaurants is named exactly how you’d expect: “Restaurants”.


Use the free Google AdWords Keyword Planner to research how users actually search for the content on your website and use the most popular keyword phrases in your taxonomy, tags, headlines and body copy.

Bad Website Design Mistake #4: Hiding social media buttons

Many publishers are still under the impression that their email list is their only list. Not true! Don’t hide your social media buttons as if you hope people won’t click on them. Your social media followers not only click and read your content (when they see it), but they share it too, which makes those lists even more valuable.

Is it any wonder that is a social media darling? Not only do they place their social media links on the top of their site, but they also have links to share content right in the images.

Bad Website Design Mistake #5: Using intuition over testing

The first versions of most websites often end up being a bust because they’re launched without any usability tests. Designing based on a popular theory won’t always work. Just ask one publisher who recently redesigned their site to look more Pinterest-like and failed miserably as page views and engagement plummeted.

Have anything to add that we haven’t listed? What’s your biggest website annoyance?

Editor’s note: This article was originally written in 2014 and has been updated.

By Don Nicholas

Chief Executive Officer

During his decades long career, Don has worked with colleagues, clients and partners to design digital publishing and marketing systems for more than 300 magazines, newsletters, memberships, clubs, and events. Don currently serves as executive publisher for Cabot Wealth Network, Food Gardening Network, Financial Freedom Federation, I Like Crochet Network, I Like Knitting Network, and Recipe Lion Clubs. His team's Haven WordPress CXMS offers publishers the industry’s most flexible and robust online publishing and marketing platform. Don and his strategy team have served as management advisors for virtually every major niche publishing company in North America including Meredith, Hearst, Trusted Media Brands, and hundreds of independent for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He has managed and led educational events for MPA, SIPA, FIPP and Harvard University. He has authored numerous books and hundreds of articles on journalism, publishing, technology and marketing. Before founding Mequoda in 2004, he served as founder and chief executive officer for Blue Dolphin Magazines and Lighthouse Communications Group. He started his media career as a journalist and producer working for the Armed Forces Network aboard the USS Enterprise. Don holds degrees and certifications in organizational management, journalism and electrical engineering from Capella University, Sacramento State University, and the United States Navy.

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