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.

The value of work, or Telling idiots how to do simple things

This is the first post I’m sharing from my “500 words” experiment earlier this year. I wrote the original version early on April 10th. I’ve since changed jobs.

What I do is pretty easy, really. Sometimes I say that my job is telling idiots how to do simple things, which is mean and wrong, but like all good self-depreciating lines contains a small but important truth.

“My job is <lie>telling idiots</lie>how to do <truthgrain>simple things</truthgrain>”

Everyone else in the office knows a whole lot of stuff that I don’t. I depend on them to do all that “other stuff” that isn’t my job, and which I can’t do. They’re not idiots, and I don’t tell them what to do.

What does feel true, to me at least, is the “simple things” bit. It feels like my work is pretty straightforward stuff, which means I’m a good match for the role I have. It feels like I’m just doing really obvious stuff that anyone could do. It’s difficult to imagine that other people rely on me to do that “other stuff” that isn’t their job, and which they can’t do.

Simple things are only simple because I know how to approach them. I struggle to see that, objectively, my job isn’t simple. I forget that most people couldn’t turn up and just start doing what I do. And then I end up believing the “idiots” bit, which is bad.

Simple things

I don’t make great things the likes of which the world has never seen before. I’m not labouring at the intersection of inspiration and genius. I’m doing shit like editing things and trying to structure a lot of information in a useful way. Even if what I do seems obvious to me, I’m “adding value” without changing the world.

Sometimes I add value (that’s the last time I use that cliché, I promise) by doing things that aren’t obvious to other people. I do stuff that they wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Hell, that’s why they pay me – because not everyone can do it. This carries the related but opposite risks of arrogance (“look at me improving your shit without even trying!”) and forgetting my own value (“no, don’t thank me; all I did was make some really simple changes”).

As far as this next point is concerned, it doesn’t actually matter whether I’m mentally magnifying or minimising what I bring to my team. What can happen next is that I fall into the trap of undervaluing the people by judging them on their ability to do my job. How weird is that? Oh, empathy, you elusive bitch.

Judging my workmates on the wrong criteria like this can, if unchecked, lead to me thinking that I’m the smartest guy in the room. This is bad for my easily-inflated ego, bad for my motivation and bad for the way I behave. It’s also bad for the work I do. If I’m pretty sure that I’m the best one around, I’m not going try so hard to impress anyone else.

So I guess that the point of this is to remind myself to value other people in the right way, not the wrong way.

Or maybe it’s that I should get smarter, get better at things, and start doing work that doesn’t leave me kind of unimpressed with my own abilities. I’m not smart or skilled enough at anything yet, but that would be pretty damn cool.

But that sounds like effort, and maybe I don’t know what I want to be good at. Maybe because I don’t really appreciate what I’m already good at, this might be a rabbit hole without an end. Or a rabbit.

I’ll keep thinking.

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This is 594 words long, with an average reading grade of 7.3.

The “500 words” thing

In March this year I tried to get into a new habit. The idea was to start every day by writing something about 500 words long – not checking email, not reading anything, but writing. Creating.

It didn’t matter what I wrote about, so long as I did it. These pieces weren’t for anyone else to read. Sometimes work came up, though, and sometimes I might even have been onto something when it did. I’ve been re-reading some of my older “500 words” pieces and decided that maybe they’re worth sharing. So over the next few weeks I’ll dig a few them out, dust them off, give them a bit of an edit (I am not a morning person: typos and poor prose abound), and post them here. I’ll tag them all “500 words”.

So far: