Posted: February 24, 2016
Far too often, institutions think of a website redesign as little more than a cosmetic facelift. They assume their user experience issues are directly related to their site’s dated, unattractive appearance, so they plan to reorganize the site a bit, reskin it in a beautiful, modern design and launch a fabulous new marketing tool that will serve their users’ needs and achieve their school’s business goals.
The reality, though, is that this approach overlooks a HUGE issue – an elephant crouched over in the corner that we’re all hoping will just go away on its own. The real problem is that your site is chock full of outdated, redundant, incorrect, useless and overwhelming content.
When you first look that elephant in the face, it’s easy to panic. You begin thinking about the sheer number of pages you’re dealing with, and how many different people feel ownership of those pages, and how difficult – maybe impossible – it’ll be to evaluate and rewrite all that content. How do you wrestle an elephant without getting crushed?
Before you go back to pretending the elephant’s not there, we have good news! You don’t have to rewrite every word. There's a quicker, more efficient way to improve your content. Below, you’ll find a process for identifying content that may not be serving your institution’s or users’ goals, along with recommendations to help get you started on the path to removing, updating and improving your website’s content.
Bigger Isn’t Better
The ultimate goal of this process is to prune the content that lives on your existing website so that you are left with only the content that is strategically viable. Before getting started, internalize this phrase as your mantra: when it comes to the web, bigger isn’t better. A smaller, streamlined website is easier to navigate and is more appealing to your target audiences. So when in doubt, cut it down or out.
How to Identify Your Content Issues
In order to eliminate or revise pages with less than stellar content, you first need to identify what those pages are. A content audit is a great way to take an inventory of your website. We suggest utilizing your current website's sitemap to document which content should stay on the new website and which content will either be moved to an internal location, archived somewhere outside of the website or eliminated completely.
Start with your existing sitemap, listing your current pages on the Y-axis of a spreadsheet. Then, across the X-axis, list the following three columns: ROT, Internal, and Action. Here’s what those mean:
Rooting Out the ROT ( Redundant, Trivial, Outdated)
How do you know what content should be eliminated from the website? We like to use an acronym to make this process simple and easy to remember. Users hate content that’s gone to ROT.
R = Redundant. Does the content live elsewhere on the website? Is its message/purpose covered elsewhere?
O = Outdated. Do you need this content anymore? Is a newer version available? ? Is the person featured in the content still working/studying at your institution? Is the subject matter or substance relevant anymore?
T = Trivial. Does the content serve a specific goal? Is it really important or meaningful, not just to us, but to our audience? Is it fluff or filler content? Does the audience even care?
As you work through your audit, when you come across a page of ROT content, mark “Yes” in this column. If the content on the page isn’t ROT, great! Simply leave that column blank.
Keep it Internal
Some content isn’t ROT, necessarily, but it’s only relevant to internal audiences. In fact, it might overwhelm or confuse external audiences like prospective students, parents and members of the external community. Things like handbooks, policies and forms that will only be used by faculty, staff and current students, internal procedures, meeting minutes and the like might not need to live on the public-facing website. Ideally, this content would be stored on an intranet that allows for more security and easier navigation for those with access.
When you come across a page of internal content, mark “Yes” in this column. If the content should remain on the public-facing website, leave it blank.
This column will be used to identify the action that should be taken with the content on the page. Essentially, this is your to-do list once you complete the audit. Here are a few examples of notes that we often see listed.
Delete - If a page was marked as ROT content, it should be removed.
Move to Intranet - Any page that was marked as Internal should have a note here to be moved to an intranet, or some other internal file storage.
Archive - This is the content that you should keep as searchable, but it doesn’t need to be immediately visible on the website. For example, extremely old news stories or dated course schedules and catalogs. This content could also potentially be stored on an intranet, but will not be actively used on a daily basis by large groups.
Revise - You’ll decide some pages should not be eliminated, but the quality of the content could be improved. When this happens, this page needs to be marked for follow-up.
Note - Media files and other types of content like PDFs, Word docs, videos, etc. need to be considered as well. If this type of media exists on the website, but is not represented on the sitemap, it should be examined during the audit and assessed via the same criteria as other website content, perhaps in an “Other Notes” column in your spreadsheet.
It will take some time to conduct the whole audit. Depending on the size of your site, you might take it section by section instead of taking on the whole elephant at once. Trust us, though, it’s worth the hard work. Deciding where your content should really live and if it’s actually accomplishing goals will ultimately make your website more informative and easier to navigate, ensuring that your investment in a redesign doesn’t go to waste.
Recommendations to Make It Happen
We’ve worked with institution-wide websites that have over ___ pages. Needless to say, this is a big project. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work through your audit.
Create a plan before you start. Assign specific tasks and due dates that will keep everyone involved track and on schedule. Also, the audit and identifying pages that need improvement is only the first step in a much larger undertaking. Creating a long-term plan in advance will help you manage the project and keep it running smoothly.
Don’t do it alone. These things often take a team to complete, so assemble your subject matter experts and divide up the website accordingly.
Be sure that everyone is clear on the expectations and is following the same process. For example, show your team an example page you've already evaluated and marked in your spreadsheet so they see how it's done
Always keep your audience in mind when auditing content. Remember the end goal is to allow users to get information as quickly and intuitively as possible.
Use data to help identify ROT content. Areas that are not receiving large amounts of traffic may not be serving your audience as well as they could.
Move Forward with Great Website Content
Once you’ve completed your audit, it’s time to edit some content! We could write a whole article about web content best practices , but for now, I’ll leave you with a brief explanation of what we mean by great website content.
Note: Traditionally, we think about pages made up of mostly text (news stories, program pages, faculty directory listings, etc.). However, the standards for great content apply to more than just text. Photos, videos and interactive elements all fall into the category of website content.
Truly great web content should always meet the three criteria below.
It serves your marketing goals and the overall goals of your institution.
It’s relevant and useful to your target audiences.
It is purposeful and encourages the audience to take action.
I’m sure you can already think of a few pages on your website that aren’t quite up to par. If you still think a a full website content audit sounds too overwhelming for your team, or if you just want to talk through your institution’s unique situation, let us know! We’d be happy to chat and help you find the best solution.