Slim Your Site and Trim Your Content

Posted: June 10, 2015

Carissa Hoel Web Account Director

Envy. That might be the feeling you have towards your sister school who has recently boasted cutting their website down to a very manageable amount of pages. But how, you wonder? How did they go from binge adding pages to trimming and slimming down?

The reality is, it isn’t easy. It takes a cultural change, lots of planning, support and time.

Step One: Gathering the BIG Picture

You know you have a problem, but how big is it? Complete a full audit of your site and assess where you are right now. You may find the problem is worse than you thought or you might find that you have more pages than needed, but you aren’t that far gone.

Tip 1: Before you start your full audit, request that all content owners review the pages within their jurisdiction and remove as many unnecessary pages as they can. Give them a clear deadline and let them know their sections will be audited and reviewed following the deadline.

Tip 2: Consider using an auditing software to save time. Manual auditing is very time consuming and mistakes are easy to make, especially if the page structure (sitemap) isn’t easy to follow.

Now that you know where you are, set your goals. What are you looking to lose? Number of total, site-wide pages? Focus on trimming that trouble section? Either way, you will need support from a team. Pull together a few individuals who see the importance of the issue and care about what you are doing. With your team and your goals in mind, start planning.

Tip 3: Consider building a team of content owners, members from leadership, web team members and the marketing team. Don’t be afraid to include those known to be naysayers when it comes to changes on the website. Having their understanding and support early on will be an asset throughout the project.

Step Two: Planning

Unfortunately, demanding that everyone tackle their own section to reduce content by 50% isn’t reasonable or at all realistic. This approach may lead to a number of broken links and pages that suddenly have 15 paragraphs of combined content. (Yikes!)

Although there are many ways to move forward, each institution will need to think about executing in a way that is sensitive to the internal culture, but will still provide results. Here is a sample plan that could be customized per institution.

For the sake of this example, let’s say you have the goal to reduce the total content on your website.

Start by taking your audit and breaking it into more manageable groups. Break the audit into the global navigation sections as well as any other navigation sections or groups of pages not included in the global. Then, take it one section at a time.

Tip 4: Nobody will blame you if you want to start with a smaller section to get practice before moving to the more complex and challenging sections. In fact, starting with an easier section may help build confidence across the institution that this process isn’t as hard as it sounds and the outcomes are positive.

Once you pick a section to tackle, meet with the content contributors and key decisions makers for content within that section. Explain how the process will work and why this is important. It is a win-win situation if the end users can get to the information more quickly and the content owners have fewer pages to manage. 

Now that everyone is on the same page with the reasoning for trimming down content, go over how you’d like for pages to be eliminated. For example, share the section sitemap or list of pages and page links for this section of the website. Work together to decide which pages stay and go. Then list out what has to happen to make that a reality.

Tip 5: Consider making a decision criteria list. For pages where it is less obvious if you should  keep or remove, ask the content owner to list out the goals of the page. Then consider if the content is accessible on other pages of the website, if the content is recent and still relevant and could the content potentially live on another page?

Once the pages in need of attention have been selected, create a to-do list and assign tasks with deadlines. The list might include revising or rewriting a few pages to include some key bits of information that live on a page being deleted.

Step Three: Execute

Now that you have a plan, approval of the plan and support from the team, it’s time to execute. Be sure that everyone is clear on what they need to do and when they need to do it. Accountability and consistent communication are essential to execute the plan and proactively resolve any unforeseen issues that may arise.

We have found that holding weekly progress reports with the project team helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and communication is happening amongst all contributors. If you don’t have time for a weekly meeting, we still suggest setting up some sort of standing check-in that works with your schedule to ensure that the plan is moving forward.

Once the first section is completed, reviewed, published and reviewed again then meet with the team to find out what went well and what can be improved. Take what you learned and move on to planning for the next section. 

Step Four: Maintain

It is undoubtedly very exciting to see the results of trimming and slimming. It’s can also be extremely depressing to see things slip back to the way they were. As with any other sizeable investment, a maintenance plan needs to be in place to protect all the hard work your team has done.

Each maintenance plan will be a bit different. What was the biggest obstacle before beginning this process? Too many people with access and permissions? No formal governance plan or content guidelines? No option to expire content or put content up for review?

A few things to put in place before content expansion seeks revenge:

  • A review of existing content guidelines or the creation of new guidelines, then rolling out to content community with training and support.
  • A review of permissions and workflow – making needed edits and rolling those out to the content community.
  • Governance plan review or creation.
  • Leverage CMS tools: Your CMS may come with built in tools that can help you manage content growth in the future. An example would be a pre-set content review date or expiration date. Some CMSs have tools that let you automatically archive content and the link then becomes a redirect to a location of your choice. IF you’ve invested in a CMS, see what it can do to make your live easier.

There you have it. Four simple (well, sort of simple) steps to help your school become the next content management success story! We wish you all the best as you start to plan your slim and trim project. If you think you might need some help getting started, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. As I mentioned above, this process is not easy, but will make your site much more manageable.