Keep Content Under Control

Many website suffer from a lack of attention. But at times – during a redesign, with a new staff person, or after an agency leader happens to visit the outdated site – the endless possibilities for online content inspire big ideas.

Beware. It’s important to keep your content under control. You need your website to be both manageable and sustainable.

At one point during the Snohomish Health District website redesign, staff envisioned growing the website from 42 pages to more than 130. Knowledgeable and passionate staff wanted to educate the public in all sorts of important areas. Our content was about to get totally out of control.

3 Steps to Content Control

1. Focus on the actual people you serve, not “the public.”  Visitors come to your website one person at a time, each with individual goals and needs.  “The public” is too broad a group to satisfy and serve effectively. Do some thinking – and some user research – to really define your top users and what they want from you. Create your content to serve those needs first. For the Health District, our top users were food workers and restaurant owners, septic contractors, and worried parents or health care providers. Answering their questions became a priority.

2. Stick with what you do.  Your content should be local and specific to your services. Let your community partners or private business talk about what they do. At the Health District, it was tempting to have a web page describing each disease du jour. But our job was to track and report on local risks, local prevention efforts, and local case counts.  A link to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention provides the best, most updated information on the disease of the day.

If you are a city, domestic violence and weather patterns affect your citizens – but let the experts address those topics in detail. You talk about police response or snow routes, and provide links to other resources.

3. Keep content concise. Staff may want to answer every question and provide great detail in their areas of expertise. This is rarely a successful strategy for web writing. The rule of thumb for the web is to draft your content, then cut out half the words. Take a breather before you go back to the content with your top users in mind. Imagine them reading your web page on a mobile device.

Answer people’s key questions. Cut the fluff.

By keeping content under control, you make your website more readable for your users, more sustainable for staff, and more efficient for everyone. Don’t contribute to the global glut of information. Create content that matters. Content that you can maintain.

Keep it simple.