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This guide offers Best Practices for developing PBS Member Station websites. It is intended to be a collaborative resource for stations undergoing website redesigns and online growth. By presenting this guide in a wiki format, PBS hopes to encourage open conversations and discussions about online best practices for local stations. As PBS continues to strive for a tight integration of local and national Web presences, local feedback and wiki comments will be essential to understanding the evolving needs and goals of stations and their users.  This newly updated guide contains regularly updated information and recommendations, as well as answers to several common questions, such as:

  • “We only have $4k to spend on our site redesign. What can we do with that amount of money?”
  • “How can I make my website more visible to users?”
  • “Why is it important to update Web content regularly?”
  • “What is the best way to incorporate local content?”
  • “Can PBS design our site for us?”
  • “What are some of PBS’s favorite station sites?”

More often than not, questions like these can also be answered by fellow PBS member stations who have unique online experiences to share. PBS continues to help local online efforts by providing powerful tools such as Merlin, COVE, Bento, and PBS.org, making Web development easier for stations. As PBS continues to strive for a tight integration of local and national Web presences, local feedback and wiki comments about this guide will be essential to understanding the evolving needs and goals of stations and their users.

Executive summary

In discussions with member station Web staffs, it quickly became clear that the amount of resources member stations can devote to website development varies widely.

  • Larger stations have sizable dedicated Web staffs.
  • Medium-market stations might have a single full-time Webmaster.
  • Smaller stations often don’t even have that - for them, the website is part of an already overworked employee’s responsibilities.

Still, stations are always facing redesigns to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies and user expectations - at costs ranging from virtually nothing up into six-figure budgets. Yet no matter what size a station is, or how much budget is allocated to interactive initiatives, it’s never quite enough to achieve their goals. Stations consistently reported a lack of resources for online efforts.

Our analysis focused largely on how to empower today’s member station Web staff to build better sites with fewer resources. In the course of our research, we made the following observations: 

  • The practice of having landing pages between local and national sites hinders users from achieving goals. These pages distracted from a unified experience in that many users weren’t aware that full sites existed, and when they were made aware of producer-developed sites, they were confused about why two separate sites would exist on the local and national level. This shows that the time and resources spent developing local versions of national sites may be more effective if used to improve other parts of station sites.
  • Web users understand stations as “PBS in my community" and the idea that they can engage in station-run activities where they live. This reflects well on the local brand and encourages membership when users can connect with both the station and each other.
  • Users want clean, simple design that doesn’t overwhelm or intimidate them. But at the same time, users greatly value sites that feel complete in their reach. Over and over again we heard users saying things like, “Wow there sure is a lot of stuff here. It’s really cool how much I can do here.” while at the same time begging for interfaces that were very, very simple. The Web, after all, is a confusing place, with so much vying for your attention. This is the number one challenge designers face today.
  • Membership support is probably the most important way for you to show the value of your website to your management. Usability problems in this area of your website will represent money left on the table. If a user cannot complete a membership task – the task of giving you financial support – then it must be the most important and immediate thing to fix on your site.
  • Member station sites vary widely in usability, and this also has nothing to do with market size. Some very small stations are highly usable. Some station sites from large markets need improvement. So resource availability and usability don’t necessarily correlate. In other words, you can make a good site cheaply or spend quite a bit and not achieve success.

The visual prototype

This guide provides screenshots of a design prototype that is based on PBS's branding and usability best practices. The goal of the design prototype is to reflect a baseline set of principles that all stations can adopt for their own particular situations, incorporating the "Be More" branding into the look and feel of local sites. Don’t think of these examples as a strict set of templates you need to use as-is. However, the code contained in the design prototype is clean and usable as is. Feel free to take whatever you need for your site and apply cosmetic changes that reflect your station. However, before embarking on a redesign of your station’s site, please contact the Station Products & Innovation team at PBSi_StationServices@pbs.org . In addition, PBS is currently developing Bento, a site-building product that could help streamline your redesign process. Please check back to these Best Practices often to find new updates on Bento development.

Prototype Examples

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

Get help

(big grin) We are here to help!  Contact the Station Products & Innovation team at pbsi_stationservices@pbs.org if you need assistance.


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