Do you ever notice that the more stuff you have, the more difficult it becomes to find what you’re looking for? Whether it’s your desk drawer, your closet or the contents of your computer’s hard drive, the more items you need to rifle through, the longer it takes to find that one thing that you’re trying to locate. Since we’re in the business of optimizing websites not organizing closets, I’ll focus on how this rule holds true for the findability of information on your website.

When a client engages us for a website re-architecture and redesign project, one of the most common issues they mention is “our site visitors are having a hard time finding the content or resources they’re seeking on our site.” While there can be a myriad of causes for this issue – confusing navigation, ineffective search mechanism, poor copywriting, etc. – one issue that has become much more common over recent years is just the sheer volume of content on websites.

A lot of content is not necessarily bad (assuming it’s valuable to site visitors and well organized), but many sites have grown organically, and substantially, over time. For example, when you first architected that 500-page website, the structure and navigation you designed made a lot of sense; now that the same site has grown to 5,000+ pages, not so much.

hoardingFor years now our focus has been on keeping sites regularly updated with a constant stream of rich and engaging content. As a result, significant effort was spent on content creation, but few organizations placed equal focus on content curation or culling.

Part of the driver for this process gap is a reluctance to get rid of something on the off chance that you may need it again. But for any of you familiar with the A&E TV show “Hoarders”, the situation can easily get out of hand.

We commonly encounter organizations that are effectively hoarding content on their website. They’re reluctant to get rid of anything for fear that it may be needed by someone at some point in the future. The end result is constant growth in the amount of content, often with increasingly poor organization. Consequently, some of the more valuable, timelier resources are obscured by the sheer amount of stuff on the site.

So, how do you know if you’re a website content hoarder? The first step is a lightweight content assessment:

You can leverage your website analytics tools to report on site content that’s infrequently accessed or viewed. On a recent project we ran a report on a client’s site, which contained about 9,000 pages and documents, and found that nearly 20% of the content, over 1,700 URLs, had been accessed less than ten times in the past year. Is that content really providing value to site visitors? These results suggested several possible issues:

  • The content was not perceived as valuable or relevant by site visitors
  • Visitors just couldn’t find it
  • Links to it were not compelling enough for site visitors to follow

Whatever the cause, the end result is the same - 20% of the content on this website is providing little to no value to site visitors or to the organization.

Another tactic, often used in conjunction with a review of site analytics, is identifying content that has not been updated recently. What “recently” means can differ based on the seasonality of your industry and the type of content, but generally anything that has not been updated in the last 12-18 months should be reviewed to ensure it’s still accurate, timely and relevant to your site’s audiences. For example that new hire press release you posted on your site in 2009, is that still useful information for your site visitors? Is that “new hire” even still employed by your organization?

I’m certainly not suggesting mass deletion of content just because it’s infrequently accessed or potentially dated. But rather identifying that content and taking a critical look to determine whether it’s still valuable and accurate, or whether it needs to be updated, better promoted on the site, or removed to an archive if it’s no longer relevant.

Basically what I’m proposing is a content strategy, or a plan, for the creation, delivery, and archiving of content on your website. The content strategy should be focused on identifying the complete life cycle of all content on your website to ensure that it continually:

  • Meets the needs of your site visitors
  • Aligns with your business objectives
  • Adapts to how those needs and objectives change over time

The end result will not only be a more streamlined website experience, but content that’s more relevant, valuable and engaging to your site visitors; content that better enables you to achieve the marketing and communication objectives of your site. Learn more about content strategy.