Want to improve your Web site? Delete your content
By Gerry McGovern
The more you simplify your site, the better the chance Web visitors will find what they need
I recently worked with an organization that managed to delete a
substantial quantity of content from its Web site. It was not an easy
process. In fact, it took years of effort to build up an internal
consensus that actually deleting content was a good idea.
"You can't delete that," people would say, "because you never know
when someone might need it." Even content that had become out-of-date
and was now actually misleading was defended. "I don't have time to
review or delete," was another excuse.
Working with another organization I found a page that was old and contained content that was now clearly wrong and misleading.
"You can't delete that," the Web manager said to me tersely.
"Why not?" I replied.
"It will hurt our search engine optimization."
It will what? This Web manager—to call him a manager, I know, is
stretching the meaning of the word—had become a search engine
optimization fanatic. (There are quite a few out there.)
Blindly, he believed that the more pages he had, and the more
content he had on each of these pages, the more likely he was to get
found in search engines. (As if getting found was the Holy Grail of Web
management.) Bringing customers to a page with wrong content is like
bringing customers into a car salesroom to show them your cars that
won't start and have scratches all over the paintwork.
Back to the Web site that deleted lots of its content. It was hard
going. It took leadership. Compromises had to be made. Some content was
not deleted but was changed so that it would not be found when
customers used the search engine.
The results were more dramatic than anyone could have imagined.
Customer satisfaction with the Web site remained stubbornly low for
several years despite many other initiatives. Well, when they deleted
the content, customer satisfaction shot up. Why?
Most customers come to your Web site to complete top tasks. The more
irrelevant and out-of-date pages of content you have, the greater the
chances they will arrive on these pages. There is simply nothing worse
than presenting a customer with useless content. It infuriates them,
wastes their time, and drives them away from your Web site like a
Every time I hear the word "redesign" I shiver a little. The Web
site has grown more and more useless because of badly managed and
out-of-date content. Management should have mandated the boring,
politically difficult and thankless work of regularly removing poor
Instead, many Web managers—particularly the newly appointed
ones—want to do a redesign. This is much more fun. It involves hiring
latte-drinking, cool-haircut Web designers, who will eulogize the brand
and dress up the first couple of levels of the Web site in shiny new
But the rot of out-of-date, badly organized content remains. The
organization feels good because it has "done something." But what has
it done? It has engaged in the classic, ever-popular pastime of putting
lipstick on a pig.