Table of Contents
A website's contents grow over time. It's natural. Blog posts, events, announcements, special promotions, staff profiles, generated reports… After a while, this content can start to pile up. And if the pile isn't managed, your website can become difficult to maintain and a headache to navigate.
Sometimes this is a sign that an organization has become a bit too focused on its own internal processes and not focused enough on its users. It's the classic problem of working from the wrong question: "What should we say?”, versus, “What do our users need?”
Years ago I was the webmaster for a post-secondary institution, and we were relaunching our website. The project ended up taking over a year, and the result wasn't nearly as good as it should have been. What went wrong? Each of the school's 19 departments were asked the question: “What does your department need on the website?” This is a terrible question because it is internally focused, and doesn't prioritize the needs of the website's target audience. As you can imagine, the website was needlessly complex, and was a maintenance nightmare from the start.
The purpose of a website is to make it easy for your users to complete the actions you ask of them.
But if your website has become more like a time capsule, crammed to the brim with everything anyone thought might be useful, it's probably time to put on some gloves and carry a few bags to the curb. Time for a website purge!
Why bother with a website purge?
Quite simply, content bloat makes a website difficult to maintain and a headache to navigate.
Humans and search engines have this in common: they favour content that is meaningful and accurate.
If your website is bursting at the seams with redundant or out of date information, it's going to harm your website's reputation, both with humans and with search bots.
1. That old content doesn't generate web traffic.
No one visits old notices from 8 years ago, and they certainly don't share them on other websites or social media. Part of your website's success in search ranking is tied to your audience's engagement with your content. The more web traffic you bring in, and the more your website's content shows up on Facebook and other sites, the more Google will recognize your website as an active and valid place to send searchers.
2. That old content gets in the way of the new.
Search engines index your website on a regular basis, and if your website is heavy laden with old information, indexing will take a long time, and your website may struggle to get your new content into your audience's hands.
3. That old content can be misleading to your audience.
This can be a user experience issue. If you run an online store and regularly offer promotions with an end date, users might find themselves on some unhappy rabbit trails if they stumbled on an offer that sounds great, only to find it expired 3 years ago.
If users start realizing that your website is full of old or unreliable information, they will be less likely to return.
4. That old content can overwhelm your users.
The best websites place the user's needs above everything else. In its layout, functionality, and content, you can bring delight to your users by showing them you thought through the tasks you ask them to perform.
However, if your website is packed with out-of-date content, your users will be overwhelmed to have to sort through pages and pages of records listed in a site search.
Or if they find very similar information in different areas of your website, users will be confused and frustrated as they try to determine which page is the “real” one, especially when information differs between one page and another.
Four questions to ask when analyzing your content
So how do you start? Here are four questions to help you judge whether to keep, update, or remove content on your website:
1. Is this still helpful?
If it is still helpful to your users, then keep it. But then ask this next question: “Does it need updating?”
Take this chance to make sure this good piece of content is as good as it can be.
- Has anything changed for your organization since this page was first created?
- Does the page's messaging need an update if you have altered your branding?
- Is the imagery still suitable?
- Is anyone mentioned by name who no longer works with you?
2. Is this similar to anything else on the website?
It is possible that one person created a page about a service you offer, and then a year later another person created a similar page. Take a moment to make a list of these nearly-identical pages and decide if you can merge them to offer one more comprehensive page.
Maintaining a set of centralized landing pages is a good idea because users come to regard these as authoritative, and upkeep will be easier for your team.
3. Would anything bad happen if we removed it?
More precisely, “Would removing this page have any negative impact on our users?” If the answer is “No”, then chuck it in the bin without fear or regret. Generally speaking, “Just throw it on the website” is a bad idea.
Is it of interest to anyone? Does it answer a user's question? Does it solve a problem? If not, consider storing the information elsewhere, such as on your internal server.
4. Who owns this content?
This one is important. In order to keep in command of your content over the long term, make sure every inch of your website is owned by someone. Where there is ownership, there is an increase in attention and quality.
If you don't have a service manual already, I encourage you to establish one. Basically, a service manual describes the goals and purposes of your website, who is ultimately in charge, who else is involved, and what resources are available for its development and ongoing upkeep.
By defining ownership for all the parts of your website, your website will be much easier to maintain for the long term. Now it's not just poor Myron's job; it is a team effort to make sure one of your most important business channels remains healthy.
For over 10 years I have been developing websites and databases, and managing digital content. If you feel in need of direction to get started, I'd be glad to help you devise a strategy that fits your particular situation.