When it Comes to Content, Less is More

“We’re gonna sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important, most important thing there is.” - Don Draper, Mad Men

If you’re reading this, you probably have a junk drawer in your home. You might have another name for it, but most of us have a place to stow those extra batteries, instruction manuals, birthday candles, scissors, business cards and all those important legal documents — you know, your junk.

And some of us have so much junk; wouldn’t it just be easier to organize those thingamajigs, to make sure they have a proper home? And couldn’t you say the same same thing about your website’s content?

Swept Away

Take a look at some of these phrases and try to determine which are said of the junk drawer and which are said of a cluttered website:

  • “It’s kind of ugly.”
  • “2008? That’s 6 years old!”
  • “Some of this is just garbage.”
  • “It doesn’t fit anywhere else.”

Get the point?

In fact, these excerpts were lifted straight from an exercise with representatives and students a public university in the middle of Massachusetts. New England winters are just unreasonable, so you can’t fault them for not doing their spring cleaning.

But too often, companies and universities think content isn’t as important as the flashy new logo, or the nimble and responsive redesign. “Everyone can write, so let’s let everyone write,” they say.

This mentality creates massive amounts of clutter — including thousands of unnecessary HTML pages and downloadable PDFs — but it also leads to inconsistent tone and poor or inaccurate SEO techniques.

You’ve Got 10 Seconds

That’s the typical amount of time it takes for a user to determine whether a web page is going to answer their questions or fulfill their needs. After that, they assess if the page is helpful and either click on or drop off. That means the user needs to know they’re on the right trail, and fast. Very fast.

And if your pages carry multiple, massive blocks of text, that spells trouble for your exit rates. Users could be spending their time more wisely, like reorganizing their own junk drawer — or finding the answers to their questions.

The bottom line: People can’t get what they need from you fast enough, so they leave.

What is ROT?

Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial content is how we define the culprit behind these missteps. This happens especially when multiple contributors have full access to a CMS, and little to no editorial direction. Often, information is duplicated, written poorly or just plain incorrectly. Even worse, it often stays there for years.

A solid content governance model that works for your group should help sort things out for the future. Using editorial guidelines, determining content lifespan, and the subsequent occasional reviews of your website help to trim the fat. If you determine a go-to individual or team will help keep everything running smoothly, then even better.

A content audit can also determine which pages to keep, edit, or delete, and will save several hours of painstakingly searching through your site to find relevant information. You can do this yourself using a spreadsheet to sort each page by action, or by hiring a content professional to take care of it. But before you start hacking away, have a clear-cut idea of what information should live and where.

Now what to do with all these clothes pins?

Article By Matt Sutherland, Photo by Nancy Brauer