Networks of websites owned by the same company are obviously very common. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the trends of major networks as well as to provide a showcase of the various sites that make up the network, so in this post we’ll do just that. We’ll look at 7 major networks and make some observations about common practices and trends.
Trends in Network Sites:
1. Common Identity
Part of the reason a network of sites may be stronger than the individual sites would be collectively is that visitors are able to associate the sites as being connected. If a visitor is new to a particular site in the network, the site may still have a familiar feel because he or she has already been to other sites in the network.
Branding and identity are important for any website or business, but a network of sites is able to capitalize on this more so than an individual site. The identity may be established by displaying the logo of the network, by stating that it is part of the network, or just by having a familiar look and feel that indicates it is part of the network.
2. Similar Layouts
One of the best ways for sites within a network to present the common identity that was discussed in the previous point is to use a very similar layout on sites throughout the network. In this case there may be changes in color schemes or graphics that can help to give each site its own individual identity while still working to build the brand and identity of the network as a whole.
3. Similar Design Styles
In addition to the layout, design style can also be used to help in building a common identity across a network of sites. Commonalities in design styles can sometimes be subtle, or they can be more obvious, but either way they’ll help to give a visitor a familiar feel.
4. Cross Promotion
One of the major benefits of having a network of sites is the ability to cross promote from one site to another. An established site can have a major influence on helping a smaller site within the network to become more successful.
Various networks will cross promote in different ways, but there are some things that are pretty common to see. First, you may see simple links to other sites in the network (usually at a fairly prominent place on the site). Another option is a section that lists all of the sites in the network with some sort of branding involved for each. Also, in some cases the cross promotion will even be evident from the logo or branding of the site.
5. Similar Monetization Strategies
While it is probably not the first thing you will notice about a network of sites, it is common that they will have similar monetization strategies. Part of this is due to layout similarities, meaning that ad space will likely be available at the same spots and in the same sizes if all of the sites are using basically the same layout and design.
I’d like to showcase sites from some well-known networks so readers can see how they are doing things. I’m sure there are many more networks that could be included here (and feel free to mention other networks in the comments).
The Gawker Media network of sites includes Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin and more. These sites all have a very similar, and rather unique, layout. They all include recent headlines and thumbnails in the header above the branding of the site, which is very unusual. If you’ve been on one Gawker Media site, you’ll recognize another one.
The Gawker Media sites cross promote each other in the footers of the sites with colorful logos and links.
The Nike brand has separate sites for several different divisions of its brand, although they are all at nike.com. In the screen shots below you will see Nike Basketball, Nike Football, Nike Soccer, and Nike Women, and this is actually only a representation of some of the sites.
The Nike sites all have very similar designs and layouts. Each uses a large image in the background the corresponds with the site, such as a field or a court. From Nike.com each of these sites is available through a vertical navigation menu to the left of the screen. Each of the individuals sites maintains the familiar Nike branding and the common identity of the network of sites, but each has its own identity as well. Across these sites, Nike showcases its porducts as well as the athletes that they sponsor in each sport.
ESPN.com is probably the most popular website for sports news (at least in the U.S.), but there are actually several sites in the ESPN family of sites. SportsCenter (the popular sports news show) has its own site, as does ESPN Radio, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider and ESPN 360.
The sites in the ESPN network all maintain a similiar feel, but the layouts and designs and not the same, as each one is unique. If you watch ESPN on TV you will notice the familiar branding of the sites, such as SportsCenter. Red, white, gray and black are used on most of the sites, although ESPN the Magazine does use some blue as well. The familiar ESPN logo is used on all of the sites, but on SportsCenter the branding is more geared towards SportsCenter and less towards general ESPN branding.
NBC’s network of sites includes MSNBC, which is often referred to as one of the better designs among news sites. If you look at the other sites in the network you’ll see some similarities in the layout and design style. NBC Sports has a very similar layout, including the main navigation in the left sidebar, and in fact NBC Sports is on the MSNBC domain. The color blue is used for headlines and links on all of the sites except NBC.com.
Popular tech blog Tech Crunch also has built its own network of sites. Crunch Gear and Mobile Crunch also use the same layout and design as Tech Crunch. The logo and a slight color change are the only real differences of the designs. Obviously, there is a very familiar feel from one site to the next.
Cross promotion of the sites is done at the very top of the pages, where there are links to each site plus others in the network. Monetization is also very consistent across these sites as ads are located in the same spots on each.
CNN’s network of sites includes Sports Illustrated and Time. Of all of the networks covered in this article, CNN’s probably has the least in common from one site to another. The design of each site is unique, although CNN and Sports Illustrated do have some similarities in layout. In comparison with the other networks, the sites in CNN’s networks have a stronger brand established individually, which probably contributes to less similarities across the network.
Envato TUTS Family of Sites:
While Envato is not nearly as large of a company as the other networks mentioned here, they are probably more familiar to readers of this blog and there are several things worth pointing out. Their TUTS family of sites all use the same blog theme with changes in color schemes. This gives all of the sites a very familiar feel, and since the audience of the sites overlap, this is a major benefit. They have steadily added new sites to the TUTS family, and when they do launch a new site, readers of the existing sites already feel at home and they know how to navigate the site easily.
There are also some commonalities in the monetization of the TUTS sites. In the sidebar, 125×125 banners are available on all sites, plus several of them offer a Plus membership where subscribers can get additional access to tutorials and resources for a monthly fee. Not too long ago Envato changed their structure so that Plus members would automatically have a membership at all of the sites rather than needing to subscribe and pay for each one individually. This took the network aspect a step further. They’re also now all on the tutsplus.com domain.
Another aspect of the network that is worth pointing out is the cross promotion at the top of each site. If you click on the Tuts+ Network link it will open up a box with links to all of the Envato sites.
What Other Networks Would You Include?
As I mentioned earlier, please feel free to list some other popular networks in the comments. Also, if there are other trends that you see, you can mention them as well.