“It had been a while since we had taken such a comprehensive look at the site,” said Dayak, who serves as the vice president of Integrated Media and Communications for the APPA, “and we realized we had a ton of really good content, but content that had been saved for a long, long time.”
The association had an archive of its newsletters going back 40 years.
“Occasionally, somebody would be looking for something really obscure from way back, and they would go and they would find it,” Dayak said. “It was good, but obviously that was a couple people.”
Once the team took a holistic view at their website, they made a big decision: If it was more than two years old, it had to go. They didn’t trash everything — the association maintains internal archives for those people who need something specific — but the move did a big job of decluttering.
And for anyone who runs a website, the idea of decluttering is one that should almost always be an option. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, especially if it’s unorganized.
“Even if it was valuable, (the older content) was keeping the newer stuff from popping up in search,” said Dayak, who laughed and said she was “obsessive compulsive about this before Marie Kondo came along.”
“It’s literally like you walk into your house and there’s so much clutter you can’t see the new furniture that’s shoved against the wall, so I think we also need to respect that associations like ours with a long history, a lot of that content is valuable, and you shouldn’t do the Meena thing to it and throw it out,” she added. “Figure out who needs access to it, and have a good archiving plan.”
Creating a central taxonomy and knowing when to remove things from your site has value, too, Dayak said, as policies and an organization’s stance may change over time. If new research has come out, for example, that, too, should be easily found rather than something with older data and information.
The process of examining and tossing content is one Courtney Reyers knows well, too. When the senior manager for digital strategy at the American Society for Microbiology decided to tackle a total website overhaul at her organization, she stared down the barrel of a website with 20,000 untagged, unstructured pages. By the time her team was done with a content audit, they culled that down to about 900 pages. That’s a 95 percent reduction in the number of pages ASM’s website had — and yet the organization still increased its web traffic.
“If I picked up a legacy site that had some structure to it and a tagging structure and a taxonomy, that’d be a whole different story,” she said, “but the whole reason we did the content audit was to have a clean slate in order to make content findable. I think traffic was up after cutting more than 19,000 pages is a testament to not only that the site was unkempt and was not really being looked at, but also (the search engine optimization) that we did employ on the new content we wrote was working.”
To trim ASM’s site, Reyers got staffers to agree to giving her one day a week for a month during which they’d take a harsh look at their website. Using a nine-point checklist Reyers created, they started chopping.
“At some point you get fatigued, and you’re just like cut, cut, cut. I’m not going to look at this anymore,” Reyers said. “And I think it was a hard lesson. Tough love. If you don’t keep hold of your content, this is what’s going to happen to you. Go clean your room, right?”