Content Cleanup!

What it is and Why it’s especially important prior to migrating to a new CMS

I always say that website is more like a garden than a house… (Well maybe not always but at least twice now). Today’s article is about why pruning and tying back straggly overgrown content can be super helpful for site usability and planning for a content migration into a new content management system.

So you’ve had a website for a number of years now. Perhaps this current version isn’t the first or even the second iteration. Maybe you’ve even had a few redesigns already, but haven’t done any content cleanup for…. um, ever?

First of all, what do I mean by “content”??

Think of your favorite online source of news, gossip or entertainment, now think about exactly what you keep going back there for… is it their logo, tiled background image, menu bar or search box? Or is it for their insightful op eds, astonishing infographics, helpful tips, and/or funny cat pictures? Basically, content is the copy/images/media that is posted to the site, *not* the design aesthetic, topic structure, workflow or any of the functionality.

You don’t need to understand the source of problem in order to agree on taking steps to address it

The important part is that someone has decided that the content needs improvement. Many people have been experiencing the symptoms already: painful navigation, irritable content editors, and overworked support staff that keep having to answer the same questions that should be answered on the site in plain view.

Often website content has its roots in an organization’s printed text material - which is not exactly ideal for what we know about how users typically read web pages. Summary: they don't read.

Sometimes multiple stakeholder groups vying for front-page real estate are all too aware that this is resulting in a cluttered, unfocused site, but they just all … keep… adding… more… stuff. Or maybe it’s the opposite, no one has added anything new in years. Tomato - tomahto.

No one has the chops to take it on. Except for you - you are dedicated to making the site better for your visitors and help your organization succeed online. Kudos to you!

Maybe you’ve already sold your team on the merits of cleaning up your site’s content, but you’re experiencing some pushback from other, (less cool) stakeholders about exactly what content to clean up… "Ok, but not that page or that section, or those…"

Let’s look at the two most common objections and how to deal with them...

Objection #1  - But having lots of content is good for SEO!

Often a website site grows organically, being added to, but hardly ever 'pruned' back or organized into an intuitive, goal-based topic-structure.

In the past, volume was desirable, but if you look at any successful website now, you're likely to notice that they usually have one thing in common: well organized, high-quality content - that's both engaging and informative. Content produced on a regular basis. Where the old stuff is not in the same position (both spatially and hierarchically) as the new stuff, older content is either retired off-site, or allowed to sink back into a soft, comfy archive if it’s still got a good amount of Google juice, or possibley gets migrated into a special “resource area” along with proper meta data so it can be searched, filtered, sorted and re-found if necessary. Chances are that there are a few key pieces of information of great value hiding in a forest of a lot of extraneous descriptions.

Sometimes a page itself is of great significance, but about %80 of the copy is not. It’s time to simplify, it’s time for a re-write. Usability studies tell us that people only read about %20-50 of the text on webpage - even if they scroll to the very bottom. A skilled web copy writer will know how to write in an upside down pyramid style and use scannable headings and bullets to use that page to its fullest potential. This issue is particularly relevant to pages with a lot of instructions or in paragraph links. (Hint: links should never say “click here”)

Progressive Disclosure is another technique you can use to presenting only the minimum information required to move on to the next step of  the user’s task. There is a myth that user’s dont’ like to click. In fact, UX research shows that users don’t mind clicking if they are not clicking around aimlessly looking for what they need, but are making progress and learning as they go.

“You might assume that by initially focusing users' attention on a few core features, they might build a limiting mental model of the system and thus be unable to understand all of their options. Research says that these are groundless worries: people understand a system better when you help them prioritize features and spend more time on the most important ones.”  ~ The Nielsen Group

Consider countering this objection with one of these ideas:

  1. Let’s keep older content, but clean up and simplify the copy on anything that needs to remain “evergreen”.
  2. Maintain older content, but move it to a deeper area of the site (being sure to observe URL redirection best practices in order to maintain SEO value).
  3. Preserve older content, but optimize your navigation, home and main landing pages for main site tasks and conversion goals.

Objection #2 - Yes ok, but not this [section/department/banner/lolcat] content...

A great way to find out which sections of the site are important and which content needs to be prioritized is with some research and testing. This activity can be as simple as reviewing your analytics, interviewing customers, or arranging for third party user testing.

Your website should drive users to logically and easily perform all the desired actions you'd like them to perform (whether that be filling in a form, registering, purchasing, downloading, etc.). For optimal usability, your website should always:

  • Present your information to the user in a clear, logical and concise way.
  • Put the most important thing in the right place on a web page or a web application.
  • Present the correct choices to users at the right time, in a very obvious way (with little or no room for error).
  • As much as possible, remove any uncertainty regarding the outcome of an action (e.g. clicking on subscribe/order/purchase buttons).

Through usability testing, you may see site visitors struggle through some tasks that are central to your site's success, and be able to identify usability issues and barriers to conversion. It can help you understand which content helps propel users towards their goals and which gets in the way or leads them off course. An example of this type of problem might be burying your organization’s location and contact information in the middle of a “company overview” page, or a purchase button at the end of a long sales pitch.

A site redesign is the perfect time to user test your site's mission-critical tasks. Chances are that over time, the additions of content, media and graphics to your site pages might have inadvertently muddied the waters of optimal usability. Instead of operating on assumptions about your site visitors, you only need to ask a handful of them to try out the site. You’ll find out a lot about your audience as well.

Consider countering this objection with one of these ideas:

  1. Let’s find out which content is most helpful for our site visitors and which takes attention away from their tasks or confuses them, then we’ll know which content to remove and which to enhance.
  2. We won't remove any site sections, but were going to re-organize them more intuitively to streamline workflow as well as remove any outdated copy, redundant (or contradictory) materials, circular navigation pathways and broken links.
  3. How about moving away from a site with no real focus and towards one that shines a light on the content that makes us most successful as an organization - in line with our [mission and vision, unique positioning statement, business plan, etc.]

Here are 10 content cleanup activities you can do - a little or a lot of - that can make a big difference in your website’s usability and “freshen up” your site’s content:

1. Do a content audit - not a complete inventory - but a snapshot of what the site has to offer to remind yourself of all the content that is available.

2. Review the site for ROT content: redundant, outdated or trivial copy.

3. Check the site for broken links with tools such as the Check My Links Chrome Plugin , Google Webmaster Tools, and others.

4. Review site analytic reports for any obvious 'page not found' URLs that might be externally linked to.

5. Review or establish naming conventions. If you’ve changed the way you’ve referred to things over time, or if different authors call the same by various names, you’ll want to come to an agreement on a single label - the one that makes the most sense to your users, and update site copy with the most effective wording (more on this in an upcoming post).

6. Conduct quick, high-level interviews with a cross-section of typical site users (anonymous, authenticated, administrative) for their main pain points with using the site.

7. Do a keyword and analytics review to identify top content.

8. Do a taxonomy review to see if tags may have gotten out of hand (especially if you are crowd sourcing these)

9. Define a 'voice and tone' for the site's copy.

10. Define or review the editorial calendar and publishing workflow to create better consistency around how people manage and maintain content on a daily basis defining or reviewing policies, standards, and guidelines that apply to content creation. (more on this in an upcoming post).

Just as sorting through your closet and giving away your old clothing before moving day means fewer boxes to lift - not to mention the pure bliss of a well organized closet - cleaning up content typically leaves much less stuff to move when you're finally ready to migrate to a new CMS. Whether it be a manual or an automated move (or a mixture of the two), the messier and more inconsistent the material, the more time consuming this can be. A preemptive content cleanup can put money back into your pocket by saving time on migration and helping site visitors reach those converstion goals. 

~ Vanessa Turke is Director of User Experience and a Senior Project Manager at Drupal Connect

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