6 Steps To Simplify Your Website

Sept. 6, 2014

With the best intentions in mind, your digital team may have created microsites, partner content or landing pages as extensions of your core website. After all, it’s extremely popular to talk about content creation these days… but where do you put all this content, and is it possible to have too much?

Too many waypoints outside your primary website can be distracting and hurt brand equity. Rich Baldry, from Sophos Security, put it elegantly in this quote:

The brief lines of text provided in search engine results make it hard enough for us to identify good sites from bad ones. When special-purpose domains for campaign microsites appear, it becomes even more confusing. At best, people might ignore the microsite domain, keeping themselves safe but making the marketing dollars a waste. At worst, the protection and reputation offered by use of known domains is lost and people end up infected the next time they follow an unknown domain.

The solution is to simplify. For those of you who want to learn what it takes to simplify, keep browsing this basic 6-step guide:

1. Create a framework with hard and soft metrics:

First, you need visibility in order to effectively filter for content that is actively being consumed by customers. This means measuring hard metrics like average 3-month unique visitors, bounce rate, time on page, pageviews per user and conversion rate. Then you will have softer metrics related to quality. It’s worth the exercise to define internally what high quality means to your company:

High quality content:

  • Solves real audience problems,
  • Reflects the character, passion, and knowledge of an authoritative person,
  • Finds a fresh approach to the topic (especially if it’s a popular topic), and
  • Is interesting and easy to read.
    (source: “Surviving Content Shock” by Sonia Simone)

2. Map and understand your digital ecosystem

Never underestimate the power of a visual sitemap to illuminate the customer journeys flowing through your digital properties. At best, you have a group of core experiences with simple, logical in-flows and out-flows of traffic. At worst, you might find what I once encountered, which resembled a map of the Tokyo underground subway (pictured at right).

As a rule of thumb, a “big” website isn’t necessarily bad or overwhelming. And simple doesn’t always mean small. Your key focus should be quality. According to a Northwestern University Study:

“We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic… There’s definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available, but these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices.”

3. Communicate across your team

Communication is critical. You DO NOT want to kill a page that someone needs. In a former job, I created a list of critical stakeholders, and I wrote their names next to all the pages I found that I thought belonged to them. Then, I met with those teams and we went through the list together. It actually went a lot faster than it sounds, and it was great to learn the stories behind why some content was created in the first place.

4. Engage SEO resources

Above and beyond communicating with your peers across the department, you should have a special relationship with your search engine optimization (SEO) partners. Not only will this group of experts help you determine if a piece of content is harming or helping your customer mission, they can also help you dispose of the content or “redirect” it in beneficial ways. Don’t have an SEO department? It’s never too late to brush up on SEO with your own research. A good start is “Moz.com’s Beginners Guide to SEO

5. Ensure executive support and alignment

You will need executive support. Do not conduct a site-simplification exercise on your own. Nobody likes surprises. However, if you lay out your visual sitemap, identify the problem areas, and clearly illustrate a target state then you will be setup for success. Provide weekly updates on your findings, and let your leaders know the percentage of total pages deleted, or how close you are to your end goal. This should be a highly quantifiable exercise, and a great way to get noticed if you are actively socializing the work and letting people know what you are up to.

6. Remove or Redirect Content Respectfully

This is a subtle point you need to keep in mind as you go about removing old content. Most content deserves respect, and the people who created it will not appreciate your efforts to kill or destroy their work. Even if your intent is to erase something from the web forever, it had an owner once, and it deserves to be done respectfully. Don’t make enemies around the office as you go about your site simplification.

Summary:

In an age of exploding content, digital leaders must step back and look at the total experience supporting an online brand. The key is to seek simplicity to help our customers find their way.

To simplify, you will need a logical framework for measuring the value of an experience at the page level. Speak directly with content owners, and proactively seek out advice from your SEO partners. As you execute your strategy, ensure proper socialization with leadership, and find ways to tactfully communicate which content needs to be redirected or completely retired.

Andrew Artemenko

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