How to Clean Up Your Content Mess

If your website needs a good old fashioned clean-up, follow these steps to clear the chaos and get your content in order.

This post was originally published on the Brain Traffic blog in August 2011. We’ve made a few updates to bring it into 2017, but it truly is a classic. Enjoy.

With content—like everything in life—it’s easy to fall behind. Things get busy, a few content pieces get neglected, and before you know it, there’s a big sloppy mess.

Believe me. I know all about sloppy. Let me describe for you my bedroom circa two weeks ago. It was messy. Real messy. My clothes were everywhere. And, when I was looking for something, I found it by thinking about when I wore it last and using that information to determine its approximate place.

Fraggle Rock fans might be envisioning Marjory the Trash Heap. You wouldn’t be far off.

Enough with the chaos

I’ve worked on a number of websites filled with the kind of clutter and disorganization that makes users as crazy as my room was starting to make me. Chances are, you’ve been there, too. So I thought I’d share the process I followed—which was influenced by the way I think about my work—to get my room in order. Similar steps apply.

Here’s how it went down.

Step 1

I pulled everything out of drawers, laundry baskets, and suitcases and conducted a ROT analysis.

  • R = Redundant (too many of very similar things)
  • O = Outdated (also, doesn’t fit)
  • T = Trivial (includes impulse buys I wore once or never wore)

I donated or threw out about 10 large garbage bags of clothes. What was left was two good-sized piles of clothes—one to wash and keep, and one to put away.

Content Strategy Tip #1: Lots of content isn’t better content. Get rid of the ROT.

You’d be amazed at what a difference you can make in the content on your site by just eliminating the stuff that is redundant, outdated, or trivial. For smaller sites, you might be able to do this in one fell swoop. For larger ones, you might have to take it a section at a time.

Step 2

I inventoried what was left. Actually, I inventoried just the clean stuff as a representative sample.

As I started sorting, the logical ways to group my clothes became apparent. I did, however, modify my groupings as I went based on things like size and quantity (keeping in mind that I had stuff to wash that would need to fit this model).

  • Shorts: casual and workout
  • Long and capri workout/yoga pants
  • Casual tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • Long-sleeved casual shirts
  • Pajamas
  • Jeans
  • Dresses
  • Dress pants

… Okay, you get the idea.

Content Strategy Tip 2: Take stock of what you have.

Document what content you have with a content audit or content ecosystem map. You’ll start to see patterns that will help you organize your content later.

Step 3a

I surveyed the space (dresser drawers, closet, armoire) I had available to keep my clothes. From a quick review, I realized that I would have to store some stuff elsewhere. So, I weeded out the off-season clothes and put them in one of those under-the-bed containers.

Content Strategy Tip 3a: Build a library.

If one of your goals is to regularly publish content to ensure people see something different every time they visit you online, it’s a good idea to develop content based on timely triggers that you can pull out when appropriate. Similarly, keep a reserve of evergreen content you can use to fill in the gaps.

Step 3b

Next up was determining which space would work best for which categories of clothes. In my mind, I drew a sitemap of my organization model that looked a little something like the following graphic. And then I put everything away. But, some things changed as I went.

meghans closet model

Content Strategy Tip 3b: Test your concept.

Once you have a solid idea for how your content should be organized, it’s tempting to put together a high-level sitemap and call it good. In most cases, however, someone down the line will realize that some things just don’t fit. Do everything you can to make sure every piece of content that’s necessary to satisfy identified user and business goals has a place to live.

Step 4

Once I got everything put away and started reveling in my accomplishment, I got to thinking. The conversation in my head went a little like this:

“This will have all been a waste of time if I can’t figure out how to maintain it.”

“You’re right. It will all be for nothing if you just let it get disorganized and cluttered again.”

So, I made some guidelines for myself related to maintaining and governing my clean room. They are pretty simple guidelines. It’s following them that will be tough.

  • When you change in the evening, put the clothes you wore back where they belong or in the wash.
  • If there is no room in a drawer or in the closet for an item you need to put away, find something to store or donate to make room.
  • If you buy something new, get rid of something old.
  • Conduct the ROT analysis at the end of each season.
  • If your room is still clean at the end of each month, splurge on something special.

Content Strategy Tip 4: Make maintenance and governance a priority.

When you’re thinking about what content to include and how it should be organized, keep the sustainability of your ideas—and how you’ll know whether they’re working—top-of-mind. For example, a website that you’re not able to keep up with after launch can damage your relationships with your customers or visitors. And more and more, you’ll be asked to prove that what you’ve developed is worth the effort.

In case you’re wondering, I’m just over a week in and everything is still in tip-top shape. All it takes is discipline and a keen desire to leave the mess behind.

Meghan Casey is Lead Content Strategist at Brain Traffic and author of The Content Strategy Toolkit.

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