The how and why of the content clean-up
January 29, 2018
Your website content is up-to-date and completely meets your visitors’ needs. Or that’s the idea... Which is why it’s a good idea to run a ‘content clean-up’ from time to time.
I am a firm believer in continuous content. With this, the content team creates, optimises and cleans up their website content every day, based on common sense content insights, UX insights and website statistics. As problems with the website bubble up, the content team solves them immediately, sometimes taking a creative approach, at other times applying a straightforward solution. Simon Penson made an excellent case for this in an article on MOZ. He calls it ‘constant content’, but the principle is the same.
An Ocean Clean-up of your content
Even with continuous content, however, I think we need to go further: implement a periodic content clean-up. How often over the year do you clear up your old content? And I mean really clean it up: chuck whole sections overboard, wave goodbye to pages and drop images in the bin? A content clean-up is just as important for your website as the Ocean Cleanup programme is for the sea. The Ocean Cleanup pulls plastic from the sea (ie, old junk) to ensure the fish, turtles and dolphins (ie, the users) can swim around in a clean environment (ie, meet a user need). Translated into content terms, you throw away outdated and inaccurate content so your visitors can do what they want to do while on your website. With a content clean-up, you say goodbye to content that nobody needs or wants anymore.
Content’s right to exist
Think about it: content that no one needs. With ‘no one’, I mean people outside the organisation, not inside. Because, of course, you can bet that there will be people inside who will insist that some pet item of theirs should be on the homepage. Or who think it is essential to keep a piece of text that could double as a thesis. But these people are out of luck. Because the website is there to serve your visitors. Only content that both meets a user need and is up to date has the right to exist. But how do you determine what content that is?
Step 1: collect your data
Conducting a content clean-up begins with collecting and interpreting data. You need user research and website statistics. Add to this some common sense. Data that you can collect, for example, could cover onsite search behaviour and related search terms, page views, page exit rates and bounce rates, heatmaps and responses obtained with feedback tools. There are so many possibilities that it is a smart idea to decide in advance which data you want to use as the basis for your content clean-up. If you don’t, you could end up getting lost in data.
Step 2: interpret your data
Once you have your data, it’s time to interpret it. Here, common sense comes into play. A high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean that the page doesn’t meet the user’s needs. Who knows, the person found what they were looking for and their visit to your site was simply successful. And lots of visitors doesn’t automatically mean that a page is good. Check out this blog from Citizens Advice, for example. They took their most-visited page offline. So study the statistics carefully, but also examine the substance of your content. Is the text still correct? Is what it says outdated?
Step 3: judge your content
Next, you should divide your content across four categories: keep, adjust, move and delete. If you do this with a content team, or with other internal stakeholders with substantive knowledge, you will ensure that the criteria being used are clear to everyone. Make sure everyone works in the same way and collect everyone’s insights in one big Excel sheet, for example.
Go and get cleaning!
In short: with a content clean-up, you use data and common sense to determine whether your content is up-to-date and meets your users’ needs. You now have a whole list (a backlog) of to-dos for the coming period, and a convincing argument to use with your internal stakeholders. Good luck!