Create less crap

by and | Oct 4, 2016

The flotsam and jetsam of abandoned microsites and neglected, out-of-date pages float in a flood of content that threatens users and organisations.

Poor quality content clutter makes the good stuff harder to find, strains websites’ information architecture, and adversely affects people’s perceptions of an organisation. It makes them less likely to come back, less likely to donate, less likely to take an action.

The content marketing industry and some misconceptions about search engines have led to a more-is-better mentality. The floodwaters lap particularly near the doors of Charity World, where funding structures, siloed teams in organisations and internally-focused thinking create an unholy trinity. There’s too much organisational pressure for a blog post, a microsite, a PDF report to accompany every project, every event.

Allied to this is a misguided belief that anyone can write and therefore content is easy, and cheap. The technical barriers to content creation have never been lower and there’s a reluctance to invest limited funds in quality, or the long-term. The system is institutionally prejudiced against quality, effective, sustainable content.

Unchecked, this flood means under-resourced communications teams drowning or giving in to decentralised publishing. That way lies an anarchic mess of poor quality content, one that is impossible for editors to manage or for anyone to sustain.

And the reader? The supporter? Where are the users clamouring for an ever-greater quantity of content? There is a mismatch between the content that charities produce and what their supporters actually want or need. Not only are users too often neglected, their experience is damaged by the flowing tide.

Few people set out to produce content that bores, confuses, and irritates users, yet the web is filled with fluffy, purposeless, and annoying content. This sort of content isn’t neutral, either: it actively wastes time and money and works against user and business goals.

Erin Kissane, The Elements of Content Strategy

A web page is not just for Christmas

High quality, effective content is an investment worth making, but it’s a commitment, for the creation and for the lifetime of the content. Good digital content is different to the printed page: it should be tended, maintained and improved, rather than published and placed on the shelf. Too often content is created without any thought for what will happen to it in future.

The agency model is a factor in short-term thinking. It’s mostly in agencies’ interest to create shiny new digital outputs that tick short-term requirements and present discrete digital experiences, but which cast only a perfunctory glance in the direction of sustainability.

The charity funding system also perpetuates the status quo, funnelling money and energy into short-term, project-based content rather than the long-term.

The sandbag solution

One possible solution to the content flood is the adoption of new governance systems to manage the volume.

Some organisations need large quantities of content. The 30,000 pages that Citizens Advice have on their site are probably justified by user need. Content at that scale requires complex systems and processes to manage. But many have no such need to produce so much.

In 2015 The National Trust reduced the page count of its website from 50,000 to 9,000 pages, greatly improving the user experience of their website for staff and visitors in the process. Producing less gives organisations more time to test with users, and to create and maintain quality content that the world actually needs.

Towards less

Good content takes time and effort. Good content answers users’ needs; is adaptable across channels, media and platforms; piques people’s interest; is rich in media; is sustainably tended; is smoothly and efficiently created; is consistent, findable, coherent and intelligible.

Fewer pieces of good content will have far more impact than lots of sub-standard ROT (Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial content).

This answer isn’t new. Kristina Halvorson, the Goddess of Sensible Content Advice, has been saying something similar for a while.

How to get there

Content strategy should sit at the heart of everything. It should be sacrosanct across teams and functions and mean that nothing is created without a clear sense of user need or a plan for its lifecycle. Content strategy should encompass everything from research reports to microcopy.

A single person with editorial, user experience and strategic skills should have oversight of all content. Instead of a circuitous process of sign-off, subject matter experts should fact-check. Content by committee means time and money poured down the drain and leads to the creation of crap.

The structures and ways of thinking that create sub-standard content need an overhaul. Organisations should do less, but do it better.

Further reading

Less is more

How to cut web content and increase engagement. Carrie Hane of Tanzen Consulting has some excellent practical advice on how to cut the clutter.

Read

Moving from content chaos to recovery

Kathy Wagner’s treatment for content addiction lists 12 useful steps.

Read

Stop creating crap

Ten reasons your content isn’t very good but could be. Doug Kessler of Velocity has lots of good suggestions and images in his SlideShare set.

Read

Content firehoses, absorption rates, and the endowment effect

People’s sense of ownership is diminished if they can’t have all of something. A psychological angle on why producing less content could be a good idea, by Blend Interactive’s Deane Barker.

Read

Decluttering your digital presence

Web governance is key to allow digital teams to manage websites in a controlled and orderly way, says Marianne Kay.

Read