Vigorously managing what is already published is the critical difference between a professional online publishing culture and a traditional offline print culture.
The Ebola factsheet page from the World Health Organization (WHO) has been visited millions of times. It is an essential and hugely popular resource. Yet it was a real challenge to get this page reviewed and updated, according to Christopher Strebel, editor in chief of the WHO website. The reason was that WHO was so focused on publishing new information about Ebola that it struggled to review and update essential content that was already published.
This is a critical challenge that almost all websites face. An urge to publish new content is embedded in the DNA of every organization. To many, that is the whole point and essence of publishing. It is why the website exists: to publish stuff.
It is totally alien to most organizations to review, renew and where appropriate, remove, that which is already published. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the organization feels it always has to show it is doing something new.
Marketers, communicators, PR and other content professionals are obsessed with the new, whether it is new customers, new events, new products, new programs or new initiatives. They rarely see it as part of their job to focus on current customers, current programs, etc.
Secondly, in a print world you rarely have to worry about old print content too much. Print degrades and disappears over time. That print brochure or factsheet you published in 2010, where is it now? Most print ends up in history’s dustbin.
Not so for digital. Like a good wine, digital content tends to get "better" over time. Better in the sense that it ranks higher in search engine results, gets more links, etc. Unless older content is properly maintained it proliferates and strangles the usefulness of the website.
If there is no process to remove out-of-date content, then as the website gets older it gets less useful. Year on year, the proportion of useless or low value content grows in relation to the useful, high value stuff. Lack of a vigorous review process means that very quickly the website becomes unmanageable.
To many web professionals, the idea that they can focus on continuously improving the top tasks of their customers is an unattainable dream. Their work lives are ruled by a voracious organization in constant need to show it exists, show it is relevant, show it is doing something. It is A Cult of Volume: the more I publish the more important I am.
This deeply negative, archaic way of thinking is hugely damaging, but it will be hard to budge, because it is often senior and middle management who are the most voracious publishers of all. Gone from most websites are the inane smiles of politicians or the super-vanity pictures of senior managers shaking hands, but the cult of organizational ego still has a strong, beating heart.
Nobody cares. Get over it. Customers aren’t loyal anymore. The best employees are always looking out for new career opportunities. Everyone is in a hurry. Focus on what matters most to your customers. And remember: that’s rarely what matters most to you.