On nearly any given Sunday afternoon, my husband makes a nest in the basement to catch up on news and sports. It’s his wind-down time: Dozing with the cat, snuggled under blankets, enjoying the cool winter day.
I’m the exact opposite.
Well before Marie Kondo’s “The Art of Tidying Up,” hit the bookshelves and Netflix, I have used my weekends and Sundays as a way to start the new week with a clear mind and tidy space. From laundry and general tidy chores to reorganizing overlooked spaces in my home, you’ll find me making things “neat.” There’s nothing more satisfying to me than removing all the contents of a drawer or closet and finding proper homes — whether back in where they came from or in a donation bag.
It feels like a job well done: The clutter is out and sanity in my space is restored.
And that’s probably why I enjoy being a content strategist.
How to clean and tidy your content space
Cleaning and tidying aren’t for everyone. Some people thrive in the chaos of an unorganized closet, structured by the accessibility of items rather than by color, organization, or neatness.
But when it comes to your website, keeping a tidy space benefits not only your users’ experience, but your maintenance and content management, too. So if you’re ready to tackle your website hoard first, here are some helpful tips:
- Dig into the hoard headfirst with a content inventory. A content inventory is usually an automated report that reveals all the pages, files, and paths of your current website. It can also show other helpful information like page descriptions, PDFs, outbound links and more.
- Question the value of every item with an audit. Getting a feel for your content’s value — it’s age, location, audience, and purpose — is an important step to move forward. Look for ROT content: Redundant, outdated, and trivial. This content has no place on a site that’s meant to deliver the best experience to your visitors. Redundant content should be funneled into one page with a canonical URL, while outdated content should be refreshed or archived. Trivial content — or content that doesn’t really matter to your users or their experience — should be removed entirely. Use your inventory document to make notes and observations about pages you come across. Check out Curata’s tips for creating a valuable content audit.
- Find your spark with a strategy. Organization expert Marie Kondo will tell you to keep items that “spark joy.” And after your audit, you should know which pages spark the most joy for your users. Start taking stock of the pages that need to be archived and find a plan (including redirect strategies) for those that will be removed. Pages that need to be refreshed should be prioritized and tackled within your team or stakeholders. And content that’s fine the way it is can be left alone. If you found gaps in your audit, be sure to get resources in line to start attacking those pages and finding proper homes for them in your sitemap.
Stuck? Use some helpful tools
Fortunately, you don’t have to go page-by-page of your website to build an inventory and begin your audit and tidying. GatherContent has some awesome tips for how to automate your content inventories, too.
While a manual inventory (page by page, tracking URLs and page data) is an absolutely acceptable way to do it, there are tools to help save some time:
- Screaming Frog: This helpful tool is free to download, but also offers paid licenses for longer crawls and bigger websites. It doesn’t only crawl PDFs, internal, and external URLs, but gives you a nice overview of pages with broken links, missing redirects, and missing or duplicate page titles and descriptions, too.
- Content Analysis Tool (CAT) by Content Insights: This is also an automated tool that gathers page information and URLs, as well as metadata, media files, inbound and outbound links, and more.
- Airtable: This tool is making waves for its incredible ease of use and collaboration options. Many content designers have relied on this to keep track of code strings and microcopy, too. The company describes its tool as “part database, part spreadsheet.”
- Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel: Most inventories that are run through a tool like Screaming Frog will export to a spreadsheet. Even if you don’t love the tiny grids of workbooks, having your inventory in a spreadsheet keeps things tidy. Google Sheets is especially helpful if you’re collaborating with a remote team and everyone needs access to the document.
Now take a deep breath, appreciate your progress, and keep going.
What a…process. It’s intense. It’s freeing. And it’s frustrating. It’s a big, gosh-darned task that’s not easy for any one person (or even one team) to get done without a few middle fingers flying up at the screen.
But by auditing your content, finding gaps, fixing what’s broken, and discarding what doesn’t fit anymore, you’re making a better experience for everyone inside and outside your organization.
Before you wipe your hands of your website for a few days (or weeks, or months…), be sure you have a plan for maintaining your tidy site structure in the future. Do this by:
- Creating a governance strategy of how often you’ll review your site and take stock of what you have, what you need, and what needs to go
- Building a core strategy, or mission statement, for your website’s purpose, which can help gatekeep content that doesn’t belong (and only adds more clutter to tidy when it’s time to audit again)
- Meeting regularly with your team and stakeholders to update them on your progress and results, and what happens next to keep the site evolving and serving your users the best way it can. They’re on the consumer’s side, too, so that should be their first priority, just like it is yours