Make better content for everyone (or how I learned to stop whining and love the content audit)

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Hello, UX enthusiasts! I’m Ruth Hendry, and I'm excited to be speaking at UX New Zealand, hosted by Optimal Workshop, with the wonderful Lana Gibson. Our talk is all about how you can use data to make better content. We’ll be using our experience of redeveloping the Te Papa website to talk about how data can improve the type of content you produce, making sure content stays relevant and user-focused. What we won’t be talking about (for time reasons) is how and why we got rid of a whopping 2,750 pages of web content to make a much better user experience. So, read on to find out!

From 3,000 pages to 350 – 2,650 pages must go!

Creating and updating the content on Te Papa’s website was a huge job. There were around 3,000 pages on the old website (and that doesn’t include Collections Online, the blog, the Channel or any of the numerous other Te Papa websites that were out of scope for the project). We needed to get the number of pages down to a manageable 300 or so.

But why? Why couldn’t we just improve the content on those 3,000 pages? Do 2,650 pages really have to go to the big web page recycle bin in the sky? WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY CONTENT? These are just a few of the (justifiable) questions our internal stakeholders asked.

Fewer pages means a better user experience

One of our main goals of the redevelopment project was to significantly improve UX on the website. Relevant, meaningful, accurate and discoverable web content is a hugely important aspect of good UX — and one that’s often overlooked in the flurry of initial project excitement over design and functionality.

A content audit of the website revealed that much of the content was out-of-date, low quality, rarely visited and not needed by users. This content:

  • competes with relevant, up-to-date content in search results (making it harder for users to discover the content they need or want)
  • leads users down content cul-de-sacs which were difficult to navigate out of
  • is confusing, and
  • leads to a poor user experience.

Reducing the number of pages makes relevant content much easier for users to find. Creating user-friendly, web optimized content means that the website will be meaningful and discoverable – that’s good for the business as well as for the users.

More pages, more problems

Have you ever tried to maintain 3,500 pages of content with a couple of web content people? It’s a Sisyphean task: you delete one page, just for two others to take their place. There’s always content you can’t get round to maintaining that becomes at best irrelevant to your users, and at worst a reputational risk to your organization. The number of pages on the previous Te Papa website far outweighed what we could manage sustainably.

A good website contains all the information users need, whilst being easy for a content team to govern and maintain to ensure consistently good UX. Usually one person can successfully manage 200 pages of regularly changing content, or 1,000 pages of static content.

Fewer pages, all high quality and user-focused, make the content on the new website a much better experience for the user.

How did we know which pages to get rid of?

The content audit was our new best friend.

We used several tools to determine which of the existing pages to get rid of, which to edit for the new website, and to decide what new content we needed. These included:

  • a content audit
  • Google Analytics
  • surveys of museum visitors
  • surveys of website visitors

We also talked to our internal stakeholders, to find out what content they needed to produce. By far the most useful tool in terms of deciding what pages to get rid of was our content audit.

I’ll be blunt: doing a content audit is monumentally dull. Think watching the same episode of Real Housewives of Auckland on repeat every day for a month dull. But it’s incredibly useful, so pick out your best motivational tunes, stick your headphones on, and get auditing.

Our content audit looks like the table below, inspired by the template suggested in "Content Strategy for the Web". If you have a small website, you can get away with fewer columns, but we needed a comprehensive audit for our behemoth.

UXNZ-audit-table

Presenting internal stakeholders with the cold, hard fact that very few people visited their page last year, and that the page hadn’t been updated for several years meant that the irrelevance of some of our content was undeniable. We were able to persuasively argue that those pages should be removed. Of course, the converse is also true: we discovered that some of our content is staggeringly popular (but you’ll have to wait until our talk to find out more about that). It also allowed us to assess what content types and technical functionality we needed to prioritize – if something required for content on the previous website wasn’t needed on the new website, we could ditch it and re-prioritize content types that would be used more frequently.

In the end, the time spent auditing a whopping 3,000 pages was absolutely worth it. It gave us a clear picture of which of our current pages were popular and which weren’t. Planning a website redevelopment? My advice to you is don’t procrastinate – audit, audit, audit.

Thanks to Jil Blyth and Lauren McEwan-Nugent who assisted with the content audit. Great content takes a great team!

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you'd like to hear more about how Ruth and Lana redeveloped the Te Papa website, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2016 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 12-14 October, 2016, including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here. Got any questions for Ruth in the meantime? You can Tweet her here: @ruthbhendry

Published on Sep 21, 2016
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