Content strategy

The site-audit double-sweep

This is another post recycled from my (private) “500 words” experiment.

Another morning, another post about content audits. You’re welcome.

Today it’s a reflection on what happens when you perform the tactical or mechanical activity of a content audit before you’ve got the strategic aspect of your work done first.

(This fits my regular pattern of pushing content strategists to spend more time on core content strategy. Without getting that core properly sorted we’re often wasting our time when we try to do other parts of our job. Wanna read more about that? Great, because I’ve already written it: On the content strategy quad, and what’s at the core.)

This is based on a true story. It’s a story of a 9,000-page website that shouldn’t be so big. Everyone involved with it knows that it should be smaller than 1,000 pages. So when the chance to audit content and cull pages comes up, everyone’s into it.

Since it’s obvious that we need to solve this thing, and kill a lot of pages, we didn’t plan in a big strategic angle here. We approached this like getting a haircut: some stuff that shouldn’t be there needs to be removed. So let’s just do it.

Most pages are really easy to deal with. Delete, delete, delete, keep, delete, keep. This is fun! And it’s normally a nice, simple binary decision: “Do we need this page? Y/N”. But every now and then it gets a little more complex, and you find yourself noting something like delete, delete, delete, move, delete, rewrite.

Or you end up digging through a deep section and wanting to keep pages that you find way down the rabbit hole, but delete the parent pages that sit higher up.

Or you find useful information halfway down a crappy page that, on the whole, deserves to die.

Or you find separate sections that pretty much do the same job as each other and you need to know which one to keep.

In all of these situations you’re not making a simple, discrete “keep or delete” decision. Instead you’re reshaping the website, altering the information architecture, perhaps even finding cause for new pages. These are higher-level decisions. The mess that you’re dealing with – the bloated monster that you’re busy slaying – is the sum of a lot of these decisions made badly, or at least made in isolation from each other rather than being based on a nice, complete strategy. Without a strategic core to refer back to, you can’t be sure how to handle these choices without possibly repeating the same mistakes that stared site-rot last time.

But you don’t want to have to sit around scratching your chin and getting senior managers’ buy-in to big decisions before you can start removing 8-year old campaign pages. So here’s what I suggest:

Run your audit in two parts. The initial sweep does ONLY the easy stuff. Deletions that don’t entail any moves, for example. Don’t touch the IA. Don’t rewrite any pages. Just systematically remove the fat that you can. In our case this simple first step would easily halve the size of our site.

Once that’s done, you have a win on the board. You’ll be better placed to start thinking at a high enough level that you’ll know what to do with the more complex decisions – having gone through some serious weight loss, you’re ready to decide what sort of body to build.

By Max Johns

Content strategist and web writer.

1 reply on “The site-audit double-sweep”

Completely agree! We often flag pages within the initial audit, but don’t touch them until the second stage of content strategy audit | assessment. Quick wins allow the team to feel success and be more prepared to wade through the difficult choices of “keeping, rewriting, combining or releasing”.

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