SB Nation Preps for Mobile Era

Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media, believes publishers shouldn’t be hiding their heads in the sand when it comes to mobile. Bankoff is facing the coming storm head on and has revamped Vox’s sports blog network, SB Nation, to reflect the shift to mobile.

In a sense, he has little choice. Mobile traffic for SB Nation jumped from 10 percent last year to 35 percent this year, according to Bankoff, who believes tablet and smartphones might eat up half its traffic at some point in the next year. Noticing this upward trend, Vox is planting its feet in responsive design. The goal: help readers surface relevant content across different parts of the platform. For example, if you’re a Jets fan, you probably visit Gang Green Nation. However, you may not know there’s a great feature of the Patriots across the network. SBNU ties together the various communities both visually and from a content-relevancy perspective. Where content was once siloed, it’s now brought together.

The new design is spare, with plenty of white space, hewing closely to the recent trend in Web aesthetics.

“You need to empower people with the best possible tools; you need to tell stories in an impactful way,” Bankoff said. “Across all of that, you’ll find a much cleaner design, taking out the clutter. It’s a more intuitive layout across the different sites.”

A cleaner, crisper layout not only benefits content creators and readers but also advertisers — both on a desktop and in mobile. Mobile is the key here, as a clean design allows for better ways to advertise than those pesky tiny banners.

“On the advertiser front, we talk about innovations there, to not only have the best looking sites but sites where advertising can be native and integrated into the full editorial product,” Bankoff said.

While there’s some debate surrounding native ads, Bankoff has put a lot of effort and thought into making sure the vehicles for the site’s ads — takeovers or sponsored content — are “really optimized for potency across the various sizes as the browsers get smaller.” And with an eye on closing the mobile revenue gap, Bankoff’s gambit is that a site using responsive design will make working with advertisers an easier proposition.

“First of all, we’re not asking (advertisers) to make any real changes to their creative,” Bankoff said. “We’re making sure creative is optimized across platforms. Whether it’s that or our standard banner advertising or our integrated sponsorship units, we put a lot of thought into ensuring they are all very pronounced and visible and integrated in a native way.”

While advertisers may welcome a responsive design, users are already complaining. Commenting on the site’s introductory post, DJ Cahill posted, “Can you make some settings where we can reduce all this fucking whitespace by 75 percent or so? It is atrocious how few comments fit on a page now, and how much of that page is wasted.”

Another, Provelt, wrote, “Your new format sucks. WAY too much white space. Not enough blog preview. The width to show the blogs is too narrow and comment text is WAY too narrow. More clicks to get to comments section. More clicks to get to my team’s site. IT personnel are evil.” 

Bankoff, in an interview before the site went live, predicted there would be a negative response, saying, “It’s going to take some getting used to; the design is different. Any redesign, there’s angst. Once people settle in, they’ll appreciate it.”

Image via Shutterstock

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