Out with the old, in with new. At least as far as The Sleaze is concerned. Regular readers may well have noticed that the site has a new look. Whilst some elements – the banners and navigation bar – have been retained, the rest of the page layouts have been reworked to give whole site a cleaner, more contemporary, look. To be honest, the basic look was inspired by The Guardian’s website, although that may not be obvious in the final product! The transition to the new format shouldn’t have been too jarring for regular readers – since the Summer new story pages have been using a version of the new style pages, which were originally trialled on the pages for the regular departments. That said, from my point of view, the change has been a long time coming – over a year since I first started looking at a new design – but I feel that it has been worth the wait. It isn’t just the style which as changed, of course, behind the new templates lies a completely reworked, and much cleaner, code. Without wishing to bore the non-technically minded with the coding details, what this should mean, in practice, are faster loading pages which, with luck, will render properly in all major browsers. All things being equal, the new code will also be more search-engine friendly. From my point of view, the new page design makes for easier updates – all elements are now self-adjusting – and the use of external style sheets means that any future re-styling of the whole site should be pretty straightforward. But the big question is – why change at all? Well, there are a lot of very good reasons, not least the fact that the old site design was looking badly dated. In fact, it dated all the way back to 2000, when I first put the site online. What looked innovative and cutting edge back then now looks tired and over complicated. The original concept behind the old design was to suggest the look of those old celebrity scandal mags, which, back in those days, the site was trying to parody. However, as the years have gone by, the focus has shifted more firmly toward satire stories. Consequently, it seems only natural that The Sleaze should be styled more like a news site. This new look will also, hopefully, give the casual reader a better first impression of the site. For some time now I’ve been banging on about the need to attract a ‘better quality’ of reader, and I feel that a more professional look will help in getting the site taken more seriously amongst certain types of reader.
One of the biggest motivating factors behind the redesign was a desire to improve the reading experience for visitors. New fonts and background colours are intended to make the stories more easily readable, whilst the overall design of the pages should be, well, easier on the eye overall. They’re much cleaner and less cluttered. Hopefully, it all looks much friendlier and more inviting now. Appearing more inviting is of key importance. One of the features of the problems with traffic which have plagued The Sleaze for the last six months has been a significant drop in the number of pages read per visitor. Whereas previously the average visitor would look at three or four pages, now I’m lucky if they click on more than a single page. Consequently, whilst visitor numbers have begun to improve, page views are well down. By making the story pages seem ‘friendlier’, I’m hoping that visitors landing on them will be encouraged to explore further. The modifications to the site’s navigation and story indexing system are also designed to encourage further exploration by visitors. The stories have now been indexed by category, which should make it easier to locate older stories and might entice visitors looking for a particular type of story to click on the appropriate category index page. As well as helping out human visitors, these changes should also help the search engines when it comes to indexing the site. Of course, the redesign isn’t finished yet, I’m still tinkering with various aspects of the site. I still haven’t decided whether to stick with the comic-strip style pictures on the index page, for instance, or to instead revert to photographic images. I’m also still working on a finalised style for the editorial pages and, at some point, might introduce a dedicated index page for them. But all that lies in the future, right now, I’m just hoping that the new design finds favour and maybe encourages a few more visitors to stick around and explore the site.
Before wrapping up this last editorial of 2008/first editorial of 2009, this would seem to be an opportune time to briefly look back at my top five stories from the past twelve months, before looking forward to what the next year might have in store. First up is the most recently published story, A Ghost Story for Christmas, a cracking tale (even if I say so myself, which I do), of the supernatural, although it was all but ignored by readers. I feel I’m justifiably proud of a story which broke new ground for the site in terms of style and approach. An attempt to update the M R James tradition o the twenty first century, it’s an experiment which, I think, will be well worth repeating. Next up is The Awards on Terror, a topical piece ripped from the headlines and simultaneously satirising fundamentalism and the Eurovision Song Contest. An innovative piece which was also completely ignored by readers. By contrast, Sex Dolls of the SS was (and still is) hugely popular. A long time in gestation, this one gave me a chance to do a World War Two story and indulge in the surrealistic satire I love. Similarly, The Beast That Ate Wall Street was another opportunity to combine up-to-the-minute satire with a heavy dose of surrealism. Once again, it proved very popular. Finally, we come to my favourite story of the year – A Life in Pictures. This one surprised me with its popularity, but that just goes to show that sometimes what’s good can also be popular. A satire on the modern world, poking fun at the surveillance society and our obsession with fame and celebrity, amongst other things, this was easily the most subtle piece I’ve written in a long time. Of course, none of these was the most popular story of 2008,in terms of visitors. That honour goes to The Nude Hunters, which proved to be the most popular of the thirty six stories we published in 2008. As for 2009, I have to admit that I haven’t a bloody clue as to what’s coming up! Don’t misunderstand me – I’ve got plenty of ideas for stories, I just don’t know when they’ll come to fruition or what form they’ll take! That’s just the way I work! So, until next time, keep it sleazy!