mop against a red background
Combine the ease of publishing content with the siloed way in which most businesses work and you end up with a real mess. PHOTO: pan xiaozhen

Creating websites is easy (if not in your enterprise CMS, then outside it). Maybe too easy. Put that together with the natural inclination of organizations to operate in a siloed way, and you wind up with a real mess: an incoherent a hodgepodge of content types created by different business units. 

The end result may be especially puzzling to users of your digital presence who have no idea (and no interest in) what your org chart looks like.

I’ll take it as a given that you agree incoherence is a problem. Let’s dive into how to improve the content in such situations.

1. Make Decisions That Address the Whole Digital Presence

If you have undertaken a digital change initiative in an effort to move toward better coherence across the organization, you need to make decisions in a coordinated, global manner, not silo by silo, site by site or system by system. Start with the overall objectives of your digital change initiative, and then think through how the content should achieve those goals. For instance, if your blogs are a key element of your strategy, then you need to consider all the blogs and all the posts in those blogs.

2. Make Decisions About All Content, but Don’t Inspect Every Page

If you’re trying to make big digital changes, at some point you need to make decisions about each and every content item, page, site and component or template. But this does not mean that you should individually inspect every piece of content to make those decisions. 

There are two major steps in making big content changes: deciding what to do, and executing on the plan. Separating out those steps is key for a variety of reasons, including efficiency. For instance, if you decide what to do en masse, then you do not have to make individual decisions about each and every piece of content.

3. Use Rules to Make Decisions

You also want to use rules to make content decisions. An advantage of this is that you can hopefully use the rules over the long haul, and not just for the content cleanup effort. One of the biggest advantages of using rules is they enable you to argue over the rules rather than individual pages, and this means you are reaching broader agreements and making broader decisions. 

Continuing with the blog example, you may be able to make blog decisions across the board. For instance, you may tentatively decide to that you are only keeping new blog posts unless an older post has received a lot of traffic. You could set thresholds for what “new” means (perhaps less than two years old) and what “a lot of traffic” means (perhaps more than 1,000 views in the past month).

One of the key things to remember when using rules is that you need to confirm the rules make sense. An effective way to do this is to look at the various buckets (for instance the new blog posts, old blog posts with low traffic, and new blog posts with high traffic) and randomly sample to confirm the buckets make sense. For example, perhaps when you dig around you discover that some important blog posts actually get lower traffic, in which case you might want to change the rules (perhaps adding another factor, such as the blog post topic).

4. Consider the Implications, and Iterate

If we had infinite resources then we could just decide to rewrite all our content. But seeing as we need to prioritize, we need to understand the implications of our (tentative) decisions. To do this, we can take into account the level of effort needed to carry out decisions. As a start, we can simply decide what kind of treatment different buckets of content get. The options can be more nuanced than just delete or rewrite. A wide range of options exist in between, such as leave as is, integrate or merge. 

For each option, there is a basic effort level. Rewriting involves a high level of effort per page, whereas integrating is not a lot of effort per page. You may (and probably will) end up with more effort than you have time for initially. When you look at rules and buckets rather than just individual pages, you will be able to tweak your decisions to get to a plan that meets your business goals and is implementable.

Why Go Through This Effort? Higher-Impact Digital Change

Many of the problems afflicting an enterprise’s digital web presence are caused by fragmentation. But rarely do teams truly address that fragmentation, even when trying to make big changes.

There are two common problems in the way teams approach digital change: First, they may think too narrowly (perhaps, for example, they just consider the corporate site and disregard 20 other sites that comprise “the site” from the custom perspective), and second, they may think too shallowly (perhaps concentrating on only the veneer of the site). 

It's easy to understand why teams make those mistakes: It’s difficult to approach problems more broadly and deeply. But by making decisions about every piece of content without inspecting every piece of content, you will be able to scale the content decisions and include stakeholders at the level of discussing rules about content rather than getting them involved in considering the details of pitting one piece of content against another. Furthermore, by carefully considering the impact of these tentative decisions, you will be able to tune your decisions with regard to available resources.