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1. Concern: You can get away with a bunch of ads on this page, can't you? Do you know why? It's because newspapers have a bunch of ads. I'll bet when you looked at the page for the first time, you really didn't mind all the tile ads down the right side. However, the top two banner ads are breaking your thought process. You have two ads across the very top. That's pushing your banner and topic buttons down. It's also saying that those ads are more important than your page.
My guess is that those ads are both premium sells. That means someone paid extra for top center placement. If so, you're stuck until the end of the contract, but then
Suggestion: Your page is most important. Your heading buttons are most important. Banner ads should always be nestled into the page beneath the really important stuff. To plop those ads right up top shows them to be more important than the content. They aren't. Your banner heading and buttons should be up high then the ads should sit nicely into the design. The design should never be made to accommodate the ads.
2. Concern: Love the buttons! However, if I'm surfing without images, I'm dead. Those using disabled assistant browsers are dead.
Suggestion: You simply must have a text alternative set to each image. Use the ALT command on every image. There's no reason why you shouldn't use it every time.
3. Concern: You have the text Top Headlines written in italic. You may want to try another method of calling attention to it. My research has shown that a lot of surfers are not fans of italic text unless it's a quote or a title. Smaller browser settings tend to muddy the text.
Suggestion: I would suggest a bold or larger font. I might even try a different font, but lose the tilted, italic text.
Overall: I don't see a great deal wrong about the site past my original thoughts. Where this kind of site will live or die is in the upkeep. The shell and the linkage are pretty darn good.
Did you know that when people first get on the net, surveys have shown that the vast majority of them search either their name or their hometown first? This is where sites like the Charleston Gazette can shineif it stays updated. I noticed that, in the letter of permission, John noted himself as the Internet Coordinator. If that means his job is solely to keep the site fresh, then this newspaper is doing it right.
Too often I receive letters from secretaries and others who have been given the additional duty of keeping up a site. Often a boss doesn't understand the vast number of hours required to keep a site fresh and up to date. In the newspaper business, being fresh is paramount. If that's your only job John, then thank your lucky stars you have a smart boss.
I like the site. It's up to date, it's full of information and it's obviously thought out. I just think you're selling it a little short with the top banner ad placements. I'm not a fan of the text links along the top either.
Keep posting and keep it fresh. You've obviously built an audience and that audience is staying true. You've crossed the first major hurdle. You built itthey came. Now you need to keep them coming.
Joe Burns, Ph.D.
Always Remember: When it comes to designing your Web site, the most important person is not you, but your user.