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Comparative analysis of BBC News vs. The Guardian

The internet “has been called the greatest advance in communication…nearly every national magazine…has a Web site” (Foust 2009:1). Online journalism is competitive, and to be successful websites have to be able to meet user’s needs on the Web. The five key elements of online journalism will be analysed: design and layout, SEO (search engine optimization), usability, interaction and content features on the BBC News (2010, a) and The Guardian (2010), referred to as BBC and Guardian, identifying whether user’s needs are being addressed and how, with examples.


“Once users arrive at a page, they can usually figure out what to do there” (Nielsen 2000:164). Design helps a user know where they are and what the website is about. The home page discussed by Nielsen (2000) is often the first page a user sees therefore the use of a prominent logo helps explain a website. “BBC News” and “Guardian.co.uk” are at the top of the page with two navigation bars below (categories). A user quickly establishes both pages are online news websites and with (ten +) categories each site shows extensive depth. The BBC home page features the iconic world logo, reflecting “core values” (Allan 2006) which as a PSB is to inform, educate and entertain. The BBC’s established ‘world image icon’ used in the media (newspapers/television) communicates its journalism content; worldwide and ethos orientated. In contrast, Guardian does not have a representational image but a distracting advertisement banner (content features).The four principles of design are unity, contrast, hierarchy and consistency, Foust (2009). Unity is achieved through a basic design on Guardian and BBC. The top navigation bars are used as users are “comfortable with it” (Foust 2009:107). A recognisable layout means an enjoyable experience for the user and the website subtly appears unified through its simplicity. Foust (2009) suggests that web pages should have the most important information readily available at the top of a page (hierarchy); the two websites use this format. The article picture of the day is featured at the top with news lower down following importance. The most important news at the top means a user does not have to scroll down (usability).

Contrast in BBC and Guardian is shown through the layout of text and colour. The BBC uses red, brown and blue to divide sections of the news on the front page, whilst Guardian focuses on red, blue and grey. The affect of colour contrast is the same for both websites- allowing users to distinguish the different sections and the colours continuously relate to both webpage’s intentions (Foust 2009). On a connotative level, the colours represent patriarchy (UK flag) therefore users assume both websites offer British based/focused journalism.

Hierarchy of articles is established from top to bottom (highest- lowest) with various image sizes. One large image on each homepage, (BBC, snow pictures and Guardian, Wikileak photograph), then a variety of other size images below offers a “visual hierarchy” to users (Wolk 2001:113). A variety of headline sizes and six column sections of news and nesting of frames adds complexity to layout (Robbins 2006). The hierarchy makes users consider newsworthiness of articles (interaction) and consistency of design reassures users that articles are credible.


A website’s success relies on usability, “users experience usability first and pay later” (Nielsen 2000:11). Linking effectively helps usability: structural- pointing to other levels of a site, embedded- offer more information and associative- related pages (Nielsen 2000).

The BBC mainly uses structural and associative links with related pages to other BBC articles and structural links navigate users to different areas on the website. In contrast, Guardian frequently uses embedded links to external websites/data to provide more information (substance). When external links are embedded within BBC articles too many lexis are used as hypertext anchors, “in the journal Antiquity, an international team said“ which opposes the advised amount, 2-4 lexis that are easy to scan (Nielsen 2000). However the BBC can manipulate users by shifting attention away from anchors and keeping users on the BBC website.

Gunter (2003) observes internal links in websites to ‘its’ own news stories (audio/video/text) enhances news operation. The BBC uses internal links “Related stories…Iplayer” to encourage users to remain within the website which can be restricting. However as long as a user is informed about “the rhetoric of departure” and “arrival” when clicking an external link, and can relate to their new context, external links can provide depth and offer users different points of view (Nielsen 2000:66). The Guardian uses external links to give users alternative views, information, and loyalty is created “By setting up layers of information into which you can drill for more detail, sites are adding value for which either people may be prepared to pay or to which they will return” (Webber 1998: 234).

Both websites cater for people with disabilities, with text enlargement, printing options and accessibility “statement” or “help” available at the bottom of all pages and highlighted colours relate to the section a user is viewing (Nielsen 2000: chapter 6).


Users may not see the home page (design). Salwen (2005) discusses people using a search engine when using the web first then unintentionally discovering news through results. To increase SEO, page titles and headlines must be easy to understand and contain simple key lexis, as search engines “merely try to match words” (Foust 2009:93), therefore key lexis should be used in order to feature (highly) in search results.

BBC and Guardian are well established websites so their results frequently feature highly in results, however, headlines still need to be clear, Guardian “PM signals school sports rethink”, BBC “Rethink over school sports cuts”, as otherwise search engine users will not follow the link.

Nielsen’s study (2000:223), on users using the ‘search’ button on websites showed “half of all users are search-dominant” emphasising the importance of the button and results in fulfilling a user’s need. The search button on the Guardian offers searching in three categories: on the Guardian, contributors or Google (external) and refined in five areas with associative links. However, the BBC only offers users BBC areas (internal) to search, with interactive elements being offered, video or Iplayer. The results show page abstracts – between “150 or 200 characters” to ensure users can scan abstracts easily (Nielsen 2000: 233). However the page abstracts on Guardian are paragraphs whereas the BBC uses 2-3 sentences. The search results from the BBC in comparison to Guardian shows users are provided with more accessible amounts of information, manageable page abstracts.


Interactivity on Guardian and BBC allows users to feel a closer proximity between themselves, journalists and the text, the “audience has the ability to enhance journalistic output” (Wardle and Williams, 2010:795). The BBC offers sections “have your say…your pictures…your story” allowing users to become involved with the website or “get in touch” via the telephone. In contrast, Guardian offers blogs where users can ‘freely’ post comments, “comment..discussion..feedback..job..dating” Thurman (2008) discusses that users are allowed to post without pre-moderation (unique quality of Guardian). The lack of moderation does raise issues about objectivity; however the Guardian overcomes this with guidelines for users.

BBC presents a selection (controlled), of user’s images and stories on their website, making users feel valued. The Guardian however encourages feedback and comments from ‘registered’ users which creates proximity (relationship). High interactivity opportunities on a website can increase usage and promotion, whilst “editors understood that secondary benefits existed as user-generated content initiatives could provide a source of stories and content for stories” (Thurman 2008:154). Interactivity is also beneficial for the user- creating a relationship, and to journalists of the website retrieving information/sources.


Writing on the web needs to be easy to scan, with short paragraphs, bulleted lists and as mentioned before using hypertexts (usability) to split up information (Wolk 2001: Nielsen 2000). Nielsen (2000:111) uses “one idea per paragraph rule” with clear titles and plain language headlines. Guardian and BBC use plain language for headlines but Guardian makes more use of bullet points to present facts/information, and on average, uses more hyperlinks. The legibility (font size, background and colour of both mediums) contribute to (Wolk 2001: 91) “chance that a user will stay on a story”. The Guardian and BBC are aesthetically pleasing with use of white space and fonts. Guardian uses clear fonts, sans (‘Commercial’ 2004) and BBC’s font, Gill Sans is highly recognised (BBC, 2010b).

Media offers commentary and mood setting to Guardian and BBC pages. Animation is seen by a user’s peripheral vision on Guardian, (Nielsen 2000), with an advertising banner on the home page informing users that Guardian is linked to marketing and selling whereas the BBC is funded by users (PSB). Guardian pages use a range of audio, video and emotional images whereas BBC use mostly informational/graphic images and sometimes video and audio (Foust 2009:173). The range of images offer personality whilst reflecting the reporting type and content, therefore users feel BBC offers less emotion and uses images to present a factual account. Videos on BBC play automatically unlike Guardian, which also, intentionally, makes a user stay on that web page.

Foust discusses accessibility (2010) in chapter twelve, Guardian and BBC make their websites accessible “users can access information anytime” by providing settings for phones, Ipad and articles can be embedded on other interactive platforms “twitter”.

Overall the two websites make good use of the five key elements. The layouts of both websites are informative with maximum SEO in the content so that search engines can retrieve the articles. The usability and interactivity are used effectively but Guardian uses more external links and involvement focusing on the user-website relationship. The BBC’s involvement is community orientated relating to purpose, PBS.

In conclusion the BBC is the most accessible with its design, SEO and content, however Guardian provides more depth in interactivity and usability. The two websites are two successful journalism websites but from analysis of features, they could both improve different elements to increase traffic.



Allen, S., 2006. Online News. Berkshire: Open University Press.

BBC, 2010a. Available from:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ [Accessed 1 December 2010]BBC, 2010b. Do typefaces really matter? Available from:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10689931 [Accessed 3 December 2010]Commercial Type, 2004. Commercial type. Available from:

http://commercialtype.com/about [Accessed 3 December 2010]Foust, H, C., 2009. Online journalism: principles and practices of news for the Web. 2nd ed. Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers, Inc.

Guardian, 2010. Available from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/ [Accessed 1 December 2010]Gunter, B., 2003. News and the Net. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

Nielsen, J., 2000. Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity. USA: New Riders Publishing.

Robbins, N, J., 2006. Web design in a nut shell. 3rd ed. California: O’Reilly Media, Inc,.

Salwen, M, B., 2005. Online News Trends. In: Driscoll, P, D., Salwen, M, B. And Garrison, B. Online News and the Public. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers, 47-81.

Thurman, N., 2008. New Media & Society. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media, 10, 139-157. Available from:

http://nms.sagepub.com/content/10/1/139.full.pdf+html [Accessed 1 December 2010]Wardle, C and Williams, A., 2010. Media, Culture & Society. Beyond user-generated content: a production study examining the ways in which UGC is used at the BBC, 32, 781-799. Available from:

http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/5/781.full.pdf+html [Accessed 1 December 2010]Webber, S., 1998. Search engines and news services: Developments on the Internet. Business information Review, 15 (4), 229-237.

Wolk, D, R., 2001. Introduction to Online Journalism. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.


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