From Hall Closet to Curated Experience
Among the many projects that top DC-based digital experience agency Blue Water undertakes is the ubiquitous ‘website refresh.’ As the average lifespan for modern websites is less than three years (two years and seven months by some estimates), the need for a constant website refresh is understandable.
One of the first steps in the process is to run a website audit. For this, Blue Water will typically use an SEO spider tool. The results are usually staggering. The product owner will learn that their costly website – which started out with good intentions – has become an unexpected repository for stuff; a hall closet.
A growing trend
From the start, an enduring mistake brands have made is to treat their digital spaces as a repository for everything that they have ever done, including every press release, annual report, blog post, news story, and white paper. It is not unheard of for brands to come to Blue Water with 10,000+ pieces of content in need of migration.
Today’s web users have a seek and retrieve mentality. They only want what they want. Too much information results in cognitive overload. According to research agency, the Nielson Norman Group, ‘When the amount of information exceeds our ability to handle it, our performance suffers. We may take longer to understand information, miss important details, or even get overwhelmed and abandon the task.’ Most of our clients are driven to deliver a clean and easy-to-use experience and often don’t realize that too much information isn’t always an asset to achieve that outcome.
Enter the Content Strategist
A content strategist has become a necessity to help determine what users get to see, and what they don’t. Erin Kissane, author of several books on content strategy, said it best when she referred to a content strategist as a ‘combination editor-in-chief and air traffic controller.’ Users today want a curated experience, and determining what to migrate, and what to leave out, can be easier than one thinks.
The Four Question Test
Start by outputting a list of every URL of every page on the site. There are tools like Screaming Frog to help you do this. That way, both the brand and the agency will have an exact idea of what is on the current site – a starting point. Then, by asking the following four questions, brands should have a better idea of what to keep, jettison, or park elsewhere.
Is it useful?
The first question, Is It Useful, is used to determine if the information on a particular page or section is useful to the company and/or useful to the user? In other words, is there value to the brand in disseminating that particular bit of information? Conversely, is it useful to the user? If the answer is no to either question, then it might need to go.
Is it relevant?
This question functions much like the first. Is it relevant to the user’s wants and needs? Today’s users follow an identifiable path on any website, despite how they got there, be it organic search, or through an ad. Each path should have a beginning, a middle, and an end or, in experience marketing parlance, an entry point, an information funnel, and a call to action. If a particular bit of information is not relevant to the user, it might need to go (or they go).
Is it necessary?
The third question, Is It necessary, helps determine whether a particular piece of information is necessary to conclude a transaction. There are types of information that the user or brand might need for any transaction to be complete, be it the acquisition of information, or the acquisition of something tangible, like sneakers. If not, then it, too, might need to take a hike.
Is it visited?
The last of the four questions relies on analytics. By running analytics, it is easy determine whether a particular page is being visited or not, and how much time is being spent there? Clicks are votes, after all. If yes, check the box. If not, discard the information or relegate it to an archive or the company’s Intranet.
Everything But The Kitchen Sink
Product owners can take comfort in the fact that users no longer expect everything to be part of their digital experience. There is simply too much information out there – a reason for cognitive overload – for it to be anything but.
One caveat, for sites that have legal or legislative reasons why certain bits of information, like regulatory papers, need to be on the site, there’s always the option of an online archive. This can take the form of an unobtrusive menu option which won’t impede the user on his or her path, but when individual files are tagged, information will still surface in the website’s Search functionality.
For brands that are reticent, for reasons of posterity perhaps, to trash information, there’s always the option of the company’s Intranet. There it can be parked for later retrieval. For everything else, there’s the ‘Four Questions’ test.
Blue Water is a DC-Headquartered experience agency with expertise that includes verticals such as Transportation, Healthcare, Finance, Association and the Public Sector. Our deep understanding of landscape, trends, challenges and competition facilitates our ability to hit the ground running from day one. In his role as brand creative director, Craig Strydom is responsible for content strategy and messaging for websites and digital experiences.