What To Cut: A Content Cropping Checklist

Scissors, cloth, and ruler

Too much content? Create a content cropping checklist and grab some scissors.

Sooner or later website owners realize they have much too much content on their website — too much redundant, outdated, irrelevant, off-brand content. More so than ever, organizations appreciate that less is often more on the web. Less content can improve communication, findability, usability and usefulness. Not to mention, less content is easier to maintain and measure.

But trying to figure out what content to cut is daunting.

You might be thinking, “I know we have too much content, but I don’t know what to cut. And where do I start?”

If you reach inside your content strategy tool kit, a content audit can help! Grab a ruler and some scissors and let’s start cutting.

As part of a content audit, identify criteria for assessing content quality and flagging content for archival or deletion. While this criteria should be determined by your website goals, here are important considerations for a content cropping checklist.

1. Is content current and accurate?

Review your site page by page and look for inaccurate or outdated information. This includes old event or news listings, newsletters, guides, policies, department and academic program information — and even your "About Us" section.

And don’t forget multimedia and social media. Are videos and user-generated content current?

Take note of any references to dates, news or events in content that may convey inaccurate information. Be careful to check your news archive, including old newsletters and events. (If your readers are still interested in the PDF "Dean’s Letter" from 2005, that’s a letter I want to see.)

Tip: To safeguard against outdated information and to support content governance, limit references to dated content in general body text, sidebars and multimedia. Referencing dated information may appear to improve relevance and usability, but if it’s not all kept up to date, it will ultimately have the opposite effect.

2. Is content relevant?

Up-to-date content isn’t valuable if it’s not relevant to your audience. When reviewing web content, ask: Who is using this content? Prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, staff? What are they looking for and what do they need?

When assessing relevance, consider context — how people are using your content. Are they current students looking up class information on their smartphone? Are they prospective students and parents browsing to learn about student life? Are they alumni trying to view photos from a recent event? Content is made relevant by the context in which it is viewed. Keep your audience front and center.

Also, look for entire pages that are unnecessary — for example, a generic overview page that has no purpose except to link to sub-pages. Every page on your site should contain valuable content. Don’t force people to weed through filler.

3. Is content unique?

Content creators often produce duplicate content in an effort to increase findability, but duplicate content actually hinders search, usefulness, usability and relevance. Plus, having to update the same content multiple times is taxing.

Review your website for duplicate content. In particular, look for large bodies of text, such as introductory or overview content. You should never have two pages on your site with identical content.

Duplicating relevant links, Twitter feeds, events, news or other short content snippets is certainly fine if done appropriately. The key here is moderation.

4. Can content be simplified? Is content written and structured appropriately for the web?

The road to clear communication often leads to less content, not more. Review pages for unnecessary information or verbose language.

Web writing should be clear and direct. Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Remove words or descriptions that don’t add value to the content.

Of course, consider multimedia and social media too. Does that header photo support your communication goals, or is it clutter that can be cut? Is that 30-second video intro with your rotating logo improving content value? Do you need to list 50 FAQs, or would it improve clarity and usability to create a shorter list of top (real) FAQs?

5. Is content in an appropriate format (text, video, etc.)?

Sometimes content is useful and relevant but not optimized in an appropriate format. For example, instructions or a user guide in the form of long written text might be more suitable — and succinct — in a slideshow format with photos and short text descriptions. Or a lengthy video interview might be better summed up in a short typed synopsis with a list of key takeaways and links to external resources.

Evaluate the types of content on your site — text, video, photos, slideshows, interactive guides, PDFs, social media — and consider whether the format is appropriate for the given topic and audience.

6. Is content communicating clearly?

This check is more subjective than the other five items. Here you want to evaluate whether content is meeting your communication goals. If not, it’s a strong candidate for removal. When content doesn’t communicate, it confuses.

When evaluating whether or not content communicates clearly, I find it most effective to construct a message architecture, or a hierarchy of brand attributes representing how you want your brand to be perceived, including guidelines for voice and tone. For example, if your brand attributes are student-centered, empowering, community-minded, pioneering and welcoming, does your web content adequately represent these qualities? With clearly defined communication goals, this is a powerful cropping assessment method.

That’s a lot. Where do I start?

So, you’ve got a content cropping checklist, but where do you start looking? If you’re site has thousands of pages it may not be practical to complete a full web content audit. In that case, consider a partial content audit. One approach is to identify content types or web templates that represent a larger set of content. By evaluating select content samples, you’re able to gain broader content insights.

Another valuable approach is quantitative analysis. Web analytics can help identify and evaluate the impact of content problems, including redundant, outdated, and confusing content. If you have defined success metrics (KPIs), keep an eye out for tending problems. They can uncover a wealth of cropping opportunities.

Additional content checklists

If you’re looking to dive deeper or approach content assessment from a broader context, check out these two content checklists from the Meet Content Library:

What about you? What opportunities have you found for cutting or cropping content at your institution?

Photo by glue&glitter / Flickr Creative Commons

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »

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    [...] Don't let old, poor-quality content ruin your website. Create a content cropping checklist and start cutting.Some useful ideas in here from Rick Allen about how to refine your web content. Sadly it's a job that no one wants to pay for until they have a good reason for a complete refresh. This article should act as a checklist not just for anyone looking to maintain old content, but for anyone wanting to create new content.  [...]

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