_This article is by Guest Contributor Jon Lax._
It’s no secret that newspapers have had a hard time lately. The financial engine of the newspaper business has for many years been classifieds. Something like $7 billion in classified revenues has just disappeared since 1997 (US stats) and it’s not coming back. People just aren’t looking for cars, jobs or general merchandise in the newspaper like they used to. Sites like “eBay”:http://www.ebay.ca, “craigslist”:http://www.craigslist.com, “Autotrader”:http://www.autotrader.ca, “Monster”:http://www.monster.ca provide a better and cheaper product.
“CanWest”:http://www.canwest.com/ is launching a series of sites to put innovative classifieds products online. We were asked to participate in the redesign/relaunch of the auto classifieds product called “driving.ca”:http://www.driving.ca.
# The *newspaper side of the business is still very important* to CanWest. Even though it has been a declining business it still represents large revenue. The papers are a little threatened by products like driving.ca because they are competitive. But we tried to embrace the print side. We looked at the print classifieds as an advantage we had over Craigslist and EBay. We looked for ways to integrate the newspapers into the site. This includes site content like reviews and news. But it also means cross selling print classifieds and online. People who call the newspaper to place an ad get a basic listing on driving.ca. They can enhance it if they want with photos and more robust information. Sellers listing on driving.ca can easily add a print ad. There are plans to integrate even more with some great features.
# *Dealers are important* as they make up a large portion of the inventory and customers of online classifieds. They are also valued newspaper customers. Dealers want the ability to brand their listings but if you have spent any time on auto classifieds sites you know that dealer areas can look pretty tragic. We needed to find a balance between giving them enough ability to personalize their listings with logos and colours but not have it affect the consistency of the site.
# *Ad sales.* Since driving.ca is part of the “canada.com”:http://www.canada.com/ portal, there is an ad sales business model so templates needed to incorporate banners and buttons. One challenge here was that ad sales had inventory they wanted to sell but driving.ca is a service. Sites need to decide if their money is going to be made as a service or an ad-supported editorial product. The ads proved to be a real distraction to the core business model of bringing car buyers and sellers together. There was friction between the competing business models. To driving.ca’s credit they actually reduced inventory removing banners from many pages. I think it makes for a better user experience. I also think it makes for a more effective advertising product.
Since there were fewer banner spaces we created new advertising products such as the main image on the home page where you select a new or used car. *The background image is actually an ad*. It is getting great response from automotive manufacturers. There are some other ideas we have that will give the ad sales people more inventory but it won’t be conventional banners and buttons.
Another thing that was important to us was breaking out of the user experience standoff. When we looked at car classified sites we kept seeing the same navigational methods. Basically finding a car involved two pull down menus (make & model). We thought there was a better way. We created a make/model browser that allows you to find the right car without committing to a page load like the other car classified sites. This is really important if you don’t know what model you want. Many people may know they want to see a BMW sedan but don’t know if it’s a 3 series or 6 series. This allows them to see a picture of the car and then get results.
This interface mechanism also allows users to winnow the list, so they can just find types of vehicles. For example, if you choose SUV it removes the make and models that aren’t SUVs.
We didn’t do this to be different but because we believe it is a better way. I see in more mature online industries a lot of best practice ruts. Where everyone just copies each other. We wanted to try and bring richer UI models to the site so we use sliders and widgets that are more app like, compared to the competition.
_Jon Lax, co-founder of user experience consultancy “Teehan + Lax”:http://www.teehanlax.com/ has been working in digital media since 1994. He started at Shift Magazine where he helped develop the first ad supported site in Canada._
_Jon was Creative Director at Modem Media Canada from 1998 to 2002. During that time he worked for many Fortune 500 clients, helping them develop applications, marketing initiatives and strategies in the digital channel. Jon has worked with clients like Coca-Cola, Indigo Books, Scotiabank, General Motors, Kraft Canada, Wendy’s, and Maritime Life._