HGTV Renovates Its Website

Upgrade targets growth of online community for design-minded viewers.

Nonretail websites can deliver more than just pictures and text. When used to create customer communities, they can drive revenue. Yet many corporate sites haven't organized their content to encourage customers to explore it, share their opinions or converse with each other about the products and services they use.

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Scripps Networks redesigned its HGTV.com site to incorporate community features. Key to the effort: a more effective content management system that ensures visitors can find specific pages they're looking for and related information, says Jen Goforth, Scripps's SVP of operations. The company has also added 2,000 pages to HGTV.com since December, providing more space for advertisers (the site's primary revenue source) and a wider range of topics around which to place their ads.

Media companies are leading the development of online communities, says Oliver Young, a Forrester analyst. However, Young says, most business websites aren't equipped to handle the extra content posted by visitors that a community-focused website would bring. Most companies, he says, will have to rethink their content-related processes to prepare for the influx of information.

Scripps moved ahead with its online community efforts after its digital team researched site metrics and found that the areas on HGTV.com where users interacted with the content and each other had the highest traffic. For example, HGTV.com's "Rate My Space" site, where visitors can post and comment on each other's interior designs, was so popular that Scripps created a TV show based on it.

As part of the redesign, HGTV.com set up new sections, such "Share My Craft," where users comment on each others' designs and can talk about whatever piques their interest. Before the upgrade, HGTV.com gave users decorating tips and other advice based on its cable shows, but visitors couldn't share their opinions.

To make the site more interactive, Sarah Cottay, VP of software engineering, and her team had to make changes on the back end. One area that got a makeover was the site search. In the past, finding a specific topic on HGTV.com meant digging through many articles. The data wasn't classified in a taxonomy so that, for example, information on living rooms was in a living room section. Cottay's team had to tag each page with keywords in order to serve up relevant content next to articles that readers find themselves. They also added a sitewide comment capability.

Now users can find the exact green living room that they saw on TV and also be able to see other green living rooms on the same page of the site. Topic-oriented pages are also important for advertisers, who are looking for the best spot for their ads, says Goforth.

Focusing on how visitors use your content is important, advises Cottay. "Make sure your classification is specific enough that it can drive what you want, but flexible enough that it could grow as you understand more about your content," she says. In February, two months after the relaunch of HGTV.com, Cottay says visitor metrics are showing that users are spending more time on the site. "Rate My Space" page views are up 75 percent since February 2008, making it one of the most active areas of the site.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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