A Place for Everything

Adding content to a website isn’t just about manpower and production—it’s about considering the content’s impact on the whole system.

Recently I came across an article about decluttering your home—or rather, about preventing clutter from building up in the first place.

The key to preventing clutter, it says, is to question your purchases prior to making them. Stemming the tide of stuff going into your home means less stuff to build up over time.

…Oh my god what if this applies to something other than housekeeping

…like websites

Obviously, like websites.

I can’t help but read this housekeeping/consumerism advice as web content advice—so much so that I’m going to shamelessly refashion these principles to fit my own content-focused reality. (After all, websites are our homes: they’re where we live, where we place a welcome mat, where we receive visitors.)

If you’ve already done the hard work of building a content strategy, complete with a strong governance plan, then this advice will be redundant. But for those organizations (or individuals) who are just starting to consider their content strategically, this might be a simple starting point: four questions to ask yourself before adding more content (press releases? newsfeeds? company blog?) that risks junking up your flat.

1. “Do I have a place to put this away?”

Sure, maybe you know exactly where you’re going to put that Fiestaware you scrounged from an estate sale. And maybe you have a section on your website already portioned out for for product promotions or staff bios.

But it’s also possible that you don’t actually have a place in mind when you’re dreaming up new content. Where something will eventually live on a website isn’t inherent to inventing that something in the first place—but it should be.

Do you have a place for the content to live? How does it fit into the current sitemap? How is it related to other content currently on the site? Will it displace or bury content, get in the way, or dilute your message?

2. “Do I have the time and energy to organize a space to put this?”

When you buy new items for your home, you have to make space for them. If not, your kitchen counter disappears under piles of paper; your fireplace mantle jams with picture frames; your bed gets walled off by a fort built from unopened shoeboxes. (Sure.) You have to plan for space.

Maybe you don’t have a spot to put that content immediately—but you’re gonna need to devote some attention to figuring it out. If you need to build a new section to your site, change up copy or navigation labels, or reconfigure your archiving system, that’s going to require some effort.

3. “Am I willing to toss something to make room for this item?”

Look, there are probably a dozen hardcover books I want to buy. But until I review and reduce my current collection, there’s simply not space on my shelves. (Thank god for Kindle.)

With web content, as with bookshelves, old must make way for new. A governance plan enables you to regularly review, delete, archive; it forces you to clear away cruft and prepare for incoming content. This is also why content migration projects involve audits and reviews. (In my real life, this is called “moving every year.” Nothing encourages you to get rid of things like carrying all your earthly possessions around in flimsy boxes.)

If you don’t know what’s happening to current content, don’t build new content. Adding on and adding on will eventually—well, add up.

4. “Will I really use this item and if so will it be within the next 3 months?”

To step outside the house clutter metaphor for a moment: one day my sister and I were shopping at the farmer’s market when she suddenly spotted a gourmet mushroom stand. “Let’s get some!” she announced, reaching for a clump of oyster mushrooms.

“And when are you going to cook them?” I asked. Not to be a killjoy (I mean, I am a killjoy)—but we’d already purchased produce for our next two meals, and she had dinner plans for several nights ahead. Fancy mushrooms (and their fancy prices) really weren’t a smart buy that week, given the schedule. She realized she’d have no time to cook them before they spoiled. Sad trombone.

Content, let’s hope, has a longer shelf life than oyster mushrooms—but the question of timely use still matters. Is your content going to be interacting with other content on your site over time? Will users return to it? It’s not that all content must be evergreen—just that timing is a consideration. Some content might be better as a tweet, in an email, or on an intranet, depending on its usefulness, audience, and timeliness.

These questions aren’t meant to discourage content creation (well…). They are meant to keep your website tidy. Because one day, you’re going to be working on a migration or a redesign and suddenly realize: you haven’t seen your carpet in months. (What. Look. Finish this metaphor out with me. You’ve made it this far.)

Adding content to a website isn’t just about manpower and production—it’s about considering the content’s impact on the whole system. If you can’t properly home the content, then don’t bring the content home; if you don’t have the time or energy to place, store, and maintain the content over time, don’t create it. The easiest way to keep your content manageable and clutter-free? Make less content—and be strategic when planning for the content you do make.