Be a gardener
There is a gorgeous quote by Robert Cailliau, during his introduction to the first World Wide Web conference in Geneva, 1994.
“I have seen many interesting applications of the web, and many interesting pieces of software… There is a garden of green plants out there, growing very fast! We should take care it develops into a garden of strong trees and flowers, not a field full of weeds.”
In 2021, an audit by Fresh Egg showed that our University web estate has over a hundred thousand pages that we could cut. That’s over a hundred thousand weeds. We know we need to chop them, but where to start?
Find your long neck and tail
You might have pages with:
- Few visitors
- Out of date content
If few users are engaging with your content, this is a helpful indicator that it is not serving a useful purpose. Out of date content risks breaching CMA compliance, and erodes your users’ trust. You can use Google Analytics to identify the long neck – that is, the few pages that many users are engaging with – and the long tail of content with few visitors. The long tail is where your redundant content is likely to be hiding.
What tasks do your users need to do?
Your users have tasks to do, jobs to be done, and your content is there to help them with that process. If your content is not helping your users do their task, it needs to be pruned.
You have lots of ways to listen to your audiences, including but not limited to emails, phone calls, contact forms, and chats in classrooms and corridors. Gather everything you know about the tasks your users need to do, and how you know. What are the tasks that keep popping up again and again? Keep the content that serves these important tasks.
But this is important content!
You might have good content that helps a user, but isn’t getting much engagement. Where is it sitting in your information architecture? Is it easy for users to navigate to? Does it have a well written title, summary and headings that make it findable for search engines?
Who is this content important to and why? Is it helping your user fulfil a task? If the answer is no, but it’s important for your organisation, then perhaps this content can live somewhere else, like a staff intranet site.
Looked at dispassionately, you might decide it’s not that important after all, and let it go.
Reasons we don’t like to let go
- It was a lot of work to create it
- It’s important
- It makes a senior colleague happy
These are valid reasons to be reluctant to let go of content. Convincing senior colleagues to remove content can be particularly tricky. It’s helpful to be able to show evidence of why a page is not working well. By evidencing what your audience needs are, you can also show how these align with your business needs; a page that isn’t helping your users isn’t helping your business.
‘I say we take off and nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.’
So you’ve identified your content that isn’t working, and doesn’t serve the needs of your audience. Great. Here’s what you do.
Put your content in the ‘Content to be removed’ folder.
That’s it. When your site migrates, content in the ‘Content to be removed’ folder will not be migrated.
If there is content you’re still not too sure about, you can put it in a separate archive folder to revisit another time.
You should now have a decluttered site with fewer pages and a cleaner structure.
Robert Cailliau’s garden metaphor is not perfect; in real life, a weed can be a wildflower; but if we can shed our dead content we should begin to see, for the first time in years, the outline of a garden where everything in it has purpose.