AccuWeather is counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until it "soft-launches" a new Web site on Feb. 15, one that it says will be optimized for advertisers. Unlike some businesses that keep new sites secret until they're unfurled, the State College, Pa. company is running a pre-launch preview site that includes a live countdown-to-launch clock.
"We're very transparent," said Bill Stephen, AccuWeather's VP of global ad sales. "Our users are very loyal and we are transitioning them over to the new look and feel. We think the best thing you can do is let them see it very early in the process."
AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers said previewing the new site for users and advertisers allows them to make suggestions prior to the formal launch. "We try to be the most user-centric site you can think of," Myers said. "We don't like users to get surprises and we want to present them with things they want to see. We want them to guide us."
He and Stephen said the new site's design takes into consideration comments culled from advertisers in the three years that have passed since the prior upgrade of AccuWeather.com. For example, the current site is seen by many as being too crowded with content, so the new site will be far less cluttered.
"Basically, for some time here it's been clear that we needed to move from being more of a weather enthusiast site to a consumer-based site," Stephen said. "We want to attract an audience and make sure our advertisers have clean, impactful ways to reach them...We were trying to do too many things at the same time."
The new site will also have softer colors designed to make it easier on the eyes of users while allowing ads to "stand out more by contrast," according to a company statement. Additionally, it will feature some new ad sizes, including 336x280k, 612x50, and 77x268 placements.
Beyond that, the site will provide advertisers with opportunities to create custom content, such as forecast videos that can be seen on the main site as well as on mobile devices and the AccuWeather Television Network, a network available in about 60 million households. Also being touted by the company are new "prominent sponsorship opportunities" on the Forecast and Lifestyle pages with brand logos and custom ads appearing in-line with weather information.
"We openly asked the advertisers how we should go from here," Stephen said. "Is video going to be more important? Is ad integration or sponsorships? There was a lot of day-to-day input from the entire sales team that I funneled up the food chain for this exercise. Advertisers had a lot to do with shaping the platform."
Myers said the new site is redesigned from the ground up, so it not only looks better but performs better as well. "One of the things we did want to accomplish was to start over very fresh on all of that," said the CEO. "We upgraded the backbone, the search engine, the linking internally within the site, the speed of loading, the whole user experience."
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