A couple of months ago, I gave my fanfic website a real overhaul. I got myself a domain name, entered all of my stories into Movable Type (and it took hours, like 30 or so), added categories and plain text versions, did up a new design, and did cross-browser testing until my eyes were bleeding.
What I ended up with was a highly organized and somewhat plain site. It's searchable. It's categorized. You can sign up for updates. And you can add feedback right to the story pages, like LJ comments.
I like it.
When I began the project, I had three goals for the new site:
- It should be easy for me to update
- Readers should be able to quickly find stories they want to read.
- New readers should want to stick around and read more.
I'm fairly confident that I've met goals one and two. Movable Type, while actually blogging software, is very useful for archiving fanfiction. And the categorization, navigation, and layout I have is, I think, quite easy to use.
Each story also has an HTML and a plain text version, which makes it handy when someone wants a clean copy for an archive or if someone wants to print out a story. All in all, the usability geek in me is satisfied. (I tried to make it fairly accessible too, but it's hard to say how successful I was.)
But I'm not sure how attractive my site is to casual visitors. Of course, if you don't like my fic, you won't stick around, regardless of the site design. But we all know that packaging counts in making purchasing decisions. And website design counts in seducing readers to stick around.
I've met a lot of pretty standard web usability goals. The header includes my name, my URL, and the words "fanfiction" so you always know what the site is about, no matter which page you come in on. The nav, as I've said, is good. But I made a deliberate decision to be image-free (aside from the covers gallery) and that's what I'm wondering if I should rethink.
Images are attractive. They draw the viewer's attention. I was reading a book on DTP and print layout which suggested if you could lay a $5 dollar bill (I'm Canadian -- that's the smallest denom of bill we have) on a page and not have it touch an image or other graphic element, you should add one.
I wouldn't go that far with a fanfic site, but the point is well made.
Here's what's important to me on a fanfic site:
- I can easily find my way to different fandoms, categories, and individual stories. And then find my way back again.
- The layout is clear, clean, and attractive. (But it doesn't have to be amazing.)
- The pages have enough contrast to read easily. I'm not likely to read fic that's not in black text on a white background.
- Links don't open up new windows.
- I can tell who the author is and easily contact them if I want to send feedback.
- The page width on stories is adjustable so I can change the line lengths if I want to. Or at least it's not wider than 750px or so.
- A consistent look and feel so that as I move from page to page, I can tell I'm on the same site.
- Images are great so long as they don't take too long to load. They can be a good way of easily showing which fandom and/or pairing category you're in.
So, I'm interested in what other people look for in a fanfic site. Not a site to sell saucepans online or a Ray Park image gallery or something. A site where you would go to read fanfic -- personal, archive, whatever.
What makes you want to stick around and browse some more, given that the writing is good enough? What makes you want to stick forks into your eyes?
And if you want to stop by my site and let me know what you think, that would be groovy too. But not required -- I'm more interested in general opinions.