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2 Resolutions to Clean Up Your Content House in 2023


Joan Benson

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Plus, Bonus Options to Make It Stick

If you manage or are responsible for a public-facing website for a higher ed or healthcare institution, you might not want to think about the clutter lurking behind the pretty design: 

  • How old or generic your content is
  • How many untrained people have traipsed through it 
  • The power struggles over content ownership 
  • Photos without alt tags  

It’s likely that your content is a mess. The good news? You’re not alone.  

The classic book on the subject, by Lisa Welchman, is called Managing Chaos for a reason. Most organizations start out governing their content ad hoc. Systems develop organically, the web advances, people move on, and suddenly, one day you have a mess.  

The mess is causing everyday headaches for your team and costing your organization in SEO results and conversions. While the mess is part of the process, you can move through to a better way.  

Clean it up in 2023. Everyone should take up the first two resolutions. Then, add at least one of the bonus tips for a solid action plan. 

1. Own Your Governance

A simple and essential resolution: admit that you’re already governing content, whether you know it or not. If you’re governing by accident, it’s costing you—in headaches, SEO fails, and conversions. 

What do we mean by governing web content? We mean decisions: 

  • What to publish 
  • When to review 
  • What to archive or move to the intranet 
  • What standards published content must meet
  • How to get it done

If you have a public-facing website, you’ve made these decisions, whether you thought of it as governance or not; 2023 is the year to own it. Say it out loud, “This is how we govern content.” 

Sign up to receive a report from our Higher Ed TALKS: State of Governance 2022 and get a priority invitation to the 2023 survey. 

Related reading: What is Governance Why Is It Important?

2. Survey Your Mess

We don’t mean stand on top of it and look around with pride. We mean map and measure it. If you have a mess, it helps to put some handles on it so you can get a grip in 2023. (If you don’t have a mess—woohoo! Congrats and move along; the rest of us have work to do.)  

What kind of governance mess do you have? 

In our practice, we see three types of snarled governance. The type usually arises around the flow of content through its ecosystem. Since one of the governing metaphors of content is that it is “like water,” match your mess to one of these bodies of water: 

  • Sprawling, shallow sea = large pool of untrained content contributors  
  • Long, narrow mountain lake = small central pool of trained content contributors  
  • Sluggish river system = a network of content contributors in multiple offices 

What problems does a wide, shallow sea cause? 

The wide shallow sea causes the most problems. We see websites that don’t rank in organic searches, even in specialty areas, because the site fails basic SEO across its many pages. Each city-state on the site pursues its own strategy (what is the job of the website?), so user journeys break, and conversions never happen. Untrained contributors are the most likely to break accessibility, too, which leaves the institution vulnerable. 

The mountain lake is great, right? 

When you have a small, central team handling all content, your biggest challenges arise from the team’s overwhelming workload. Small teams manage by making all content evergreen (“I won’t have to touch that again for five years!”), over-relying on PDFs (which bring SEO, mobile UX, and accessibility challenges), and plastering the same primary conversion CTAs everywhere (failing to build a conversion journey). 

Why is the content river sluggish? 

Your medium-sized network of trained contributors can develop bottlenecks around individuals (the administrator who never gets around to reviewing content updates) or processes (a dozen workflows for publishing but none for archiving). Since each tributary is its own small team, any of them might fall prey to the small team challenges (over-evergreening, over-PDF-ing & over-CTA-ing). Finally, if training or reviewing standards fall away, this content ecosystem can quickly evolve into the wide, shallow sea. 

Put your problems into words 

It’s important to articulate the consequences of your special mess. This will vary from institution to institution. Here are some examples: 

  • “We publish great content but never archive. Our site’s SEO value has fallen, and our users complain about outdated content.” 
  • “Our site confuses users. They end up calling someone to figure out how to proceed. That ties up office staff and may cost conversions.” 
  • “Contributors don’t optimize images or add alt tags. Our site is slow, is getting dinged by search engines, and I expect a formal complaint about accessibility every day.” 
  • “We spend lots of money on digital ads, but once someone leaves the campaign landing page, they become lost and never convert.” 

Need help identifying and articulating what’s going on in your content eco-system? Our high-level governance audit will bring you clarity on the question—email us to schedule a conversation

Based on your mess-assessment, pick one of the three remaining options as the core of your 2023 Governance Action Plan. 

Bonus Option 1: Train & Standardize

You end up with a sprawling, shallow sea when you allow anyone with a voice in the institution to own and govern their own part of the website in their own way. To maintain a wide-input website well, you need your contributors to know and follow: 

  • Web content best practices (SEO, scan>read, etc.) 
  • Institutional standards (brand, voice, editorial, readability, accessibility) 
  • Conversion goals 

Training is the first step, and standardizing is the tricky one. If the chair of department X thinks the readability or accessibility standards “dumb down” the content, the chair will flout them. 

Taming the wide, shallow sea requires central leadership to take a stand for clear content governance (standards). The institution president is the ideal leader to frame this as a drive to maintain individual department rights while meeting the institution’s strategic goals. Some institutions may find a provost or other leader more effective with its contributor pool. 

You might choose to “harmonize” more than standardize if you have a divided group contributing. Establish minimum thresholds as well as shared goals or horizons. Ask us about Writing for the Web trainings

Bonus Option 2: Connect & COPE

That narrow, mountain lake looks pretty, but its waters may be stagnant and unhealthy. For a website with a small, central team to thrive, you need to make sure the team has fresh input and well-regulated output:  

  • Input: Find out what stakeholders need the site to do (interviews, focus groups, seasonal chats, etc.).
  • Input: Gather data on the user experience (focus groups, tree testing, heatmapping).
  • Input: Have the team review each other’s areas to learn and share. 
  • Shift: Internal-facing content could move to an intranet for other teams to maintain. 
  • Output: Revise key user journey pages as a set, especially key journeys that cross your team’s silos. For example, a prospective student’s journey from academic program to campus life to admission. 
  • Output: Leverage your CMS to create more shared content blocks. Then the block on the honors program can have monthly updates that propagate across the site. (Breaking the blandness of evergreen everywhere without adding to the work overwhelm.) 

Need quick, actionable insight into your user’s experience? Sign up for a journey audit

Bonus Option 3: Optimize & Automate Workflows

That network of smart contributors across campus worked well once—at least in theory. For a website supported by a river of content makers to stay healthy, the river needs to flow in predictable and regular ways:  

  • Set up and enforce workflows in your CMS 
  • Collect data on how long your content takes to flow through the system 
  • Set alerts for content that has not been updated recently or that takes too long to flow through reviewers 
  • Create automated rules to unpublish aging content  
  • Create automated rules to move aging revisions on to the next level reviewer 

Consider a CMS Workflow Audit & Consult to make the most of the tools you already have. Contact us today

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