No one starts a project hoping that it will fail. In fact, many of us seem to have boundless optimism and in spite of statistics that warn us of the huge potential for failure in almost everything we set out to do, we race along, excited and hopeful that we’re the exception. I’m the same way: I get excited about an idea, a writing or photography project, a new website or application and I get caught up in the possibility, the endless potential for what could be. Yes, I plan, I strategize, I set goals and consider metrics – but sometimes even the most lovingly executed ideas do not turn into something viable.
This post is not about what you need to do to give your project the greatest chance for success. It’s also not about being realistic about your expectations, setting realistic benchmarks or learning from your failures. Nope, this is about mercilessly killing off your creations with cold-hearted cunning. How do you know when to call ‘time of death’ on a project you’ve lovingly conceived and brought into the world?
Content Strategists as Executioners
I’ve yet to meet a content strategist who isn’t passionate about words and text. In addition to the strategic work I do as a partner at Contentini, I consider myself first, foremost and most importantly a writer and a voracious consumer of the written word. I have big ideas for on and offline writing projects and I am always tempted by the lure of ‘more’. I find it easy to come up with big ideas and I would love nothing better than to allow them to transport me, to get lost in the creative process of making.
But as a content strategist, I have a responsibility to my clients to reign that exuberant side in because in my experience, the most common problem is that people often have too much content on their websites. Even on smaller websites, I’ve yet to conduct an audit that doesn’t turn up content that is almost a complete duplication of other parts of the website, or entire sections that have been forgotten, are out of date or just are never, ever visited.
Even when I point to the clear data on my audit demonstrating that the content isn’t working for them (or that they aren’t working for the content), most clients do not want to kill anything on their site. Usually the opposite – they want to know what else they should be doing, what else they can add. And I understand this compulsion because I feel it myself. Instead of cutting off dead limbs, my instinct is to patch them up and try to find ways of saving these things that once meant so much. But a dead limb can weigh on the rest of the tree, it’s blight can spread and it can suck up valuable resources. It needs to go and as content strategists we must be able to recognize when something is dead or nearly dead and do the dreary work of convincing our clients to occasionally pull the plug.
Five Signs It’s Time to Let Go
This post is focused on content, but most of these tips can be applied to any kind of project or endeavor that is sucking the life force out of you but giving little back in return.
- You regularly forget it exists. If your company website has a blog or a product page and it is rarely updated or discussed and doesn’t exist as part of anyone’s work plan, then it’s probably dead weight. Snip, snip.
- You can’t tie it into your business objectives or strategy. Every page of content on your website should serve a purpose. Your resources are too valuable to devote to a ‘just because’ piece of content; and your visitor’s attention span is too short to waste a second of their time on something with no clear purpose. There are many things that might justify a piece of content: high traffic or visitor engagement through sharing and commenting; lots of incoming links; or a clear page objective that explains, elaborates or supports your business case in a way that isn’t duplicated in other parts of your website. It’s usually pretty easy to make a use case for a piece of content – if you can’t then there’s a problem.
- Visitor/user stats have flatlined or show a high exit rate. Website analytics are your friend and can transform your gut feelings into tangible, meaningful messages founded on fact. If no one is visiting your company blog, then why do you continue to write it? Why do you think there is so little interest in it? If you are convinced that it meets an important objective, are you willing to invest something into promoting it? What does your data say about the exit rate? Are you basically creating content that is giving people an excuse to leave your website? It’s not all about numbers; for example a page might have a low visitor rate but the people who do land may be important: niche visitors who meet an important objective. Interrogate your content using the data and use what you find to justify the hard decisions you need to be willing to make if you want your website to be as sharp and effective as possible.
- No one can commit to its care. In an ideal world, every organization would have a map showing exactly what content they have on their website, when it was last updated, when it is scheduled to be reviewed and who is in charge of its care and maintenance. I come from a non-profit arts sector world and I know that in reality, this is pretty rare. More often than not a website gets built, content gets written, the website continues to grow and expand for years until finally it is as messy as an untended garden – filled with weeds and tangles, something the neighbors ‘tut’ about under their breath as they drive by. It can only be ignored for so long before action is taken – a website review, a consultant is hired, a new site is developed. But then the process starts all over again and quickly, the weeds once again begin to claim a place that was once filled with beautiful potential. Unless you have someone committed to tending to every piece of content on your website, someone who has it in their work plan to review, revise, update and possibly archive material, your website will become an eyesore. It’s better to have a very small website with a manageable amount of content than a sprawling mess that no one is responsible for. If you can’t commit time or resources to taking care of your content, then start by asking yourself: what is the absolute minimum content I can have in order to retain a viable web presence? Then get weeding.
- It is homeless. Thoughtful website information architecture (IA) is a great tool. Each section on the main navigation should represent a core objective of the website – you should be able to clearly explain how each of your main menu items relates to your web strategy, which should be mapped to your business objectives. Each sub-menu should have a clear relationship to its parent category and all content should have a home within your system. If you want to create a new piece of content but it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere it could be because it doesn’t fit anywhere; or it could be that your strategy and objectives have changed without you realizing it. Either way, you have something to think about.
Projects fail, goals and objectives change and content that was relevant when it was created may not be working for you anymore. Resist the urge to be a content pack rat. Do you want to welcome your visitors to a bright, clean space where they automatically feel comfortable and informed, or do you want them to enter a maze of tunnels and dead ends, stacked with the corpses of ideas that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of?
Knowing when to kill content that isn’t working for you is important, sometimes painful and always completely necessary.
Image Credit: Executioner Desktop B&W by Williac