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August 26, 2021

Why your website is overwhelming and underperforming (and how to fix it)

Summary: Your website isn’t providing value if it’s built and written from your point of view instead of your audience's. Put yourself in the user’s seat and prepare to get rid of inherited company bias in order to make a website with a purpose.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the virtual room. Many websites are overwhelmingly huge, and while they are extremely smart, they’re not super fast. Sound familiar? 

Let's start with overwhelm: You know something needs to be done to bring your giganto-site under control, but you don't know where to begin. You may have no idea how much content there actually is on your site, or how truly unhelpful or outdated much of it is. 

And underperformance? Simple. A site that is hard to manage internally is probably twice as hard for the site’s audience to navigate and use.

Even when an organization is dedicated to being a force for good, and your employees are motivated by empathy, unconscious bias may be keeping you from meeting your goals. This can be hard to admit, but your issues may stem from the fact that your site was built with your organization in mind, not your audience. 

Five tell-tale signs of an organization-focused website

1. Site structure

Information architecture focuses on structuring and labeling content in a consistent and organized way to help users find information and complete tasks. But often, that content is arranged from an insider's point of view--the website's structure mirrors the internal business structure of the organization. You may know how your organization is uniquely structured and who is responsible for what, but an external audience won't. 

And if you've gone through several re-orgs, your site structure likely no longer even matches your organizational structure, and the original logic for it may no longer be apparent. This is one reason why we hear “I have no idea why this is in that section of our site.”

As new content gets added, there can be confusion about where it belongs and naming conventions may get out of alignment. Naming conventions get out of alignment, creating guessing games of where to put new information. Similar types of content end up in multiple areas of a site instead of grouped together, and stakeholders mistakenly create duplicate content because they don’t know something already exists.

2. Content governance

Every piece of content on your site needs an owner to make decisions about it. But many large sites have problems with content ownership. Sometimes pages were originally assigned to an individual within a business unit, but as departments morphed, staff turnover created knowledge voids. Ownership frequently came down to something vaguely related to the business structure or internal politics. Rarely was ownership assigned according to the purpose of the content. 

When content is organized and owned according to potentially shifting internal roles, rather than audience expectations, pages are left orphaned and forgotten. It can take weeks to either track down the owner of certain pages, or find someone willing to take responsibility for them going forward. It’s too easy to “set it and forget it” when no one is committed to owning and maintaining content, and that leads to out-of-control site growth and outdated information.

3. Archiving mindset

Websites can grow to thousands of pages when nothing is deleted because everything is thought equally important. Our natural pack-rat tendencies may be exacerbated by a lack of decision-making about content after it’s published or a belief that you need to keep everything for potential future audits. Most of your content is likely important in some way - to you. But it's not necessarily important to your audience, or to the purpose of your website. 

Don't use your website as an archive. You can find a better place to store anything that isn't current and relevant to your audience's needs. You’re not necessarily losing it - just moving it off-site. We have streamlined website page counts by 75 percent or more by finding a better place for the less audience-relevant information.

4. KPI tunnel vision

What KPIs are you tracking? Many under-performing sites prioritize business performance goals over user needs without realizing it. It’s understandable how this happens. You have a website so you can: attract more clients, members, patients, make more sales, spread more awareness, get more donations. You measure the numbers that show how your site is performing because those numbers -- viewers, members, clicks -- are how you measure success. 

But while you know what you need - to improve your KPIs - do you know what your audience wants or needs? If you’re always asking “Where can we put more ad spots on the site?” it’s a sign you’re designing the site for your KPIs, not your audience. 

The most valuable content meets your goals by meeting your audience’s needs. It’s efficient and effective to not only focus on the overlap between business and audience needs, but to start with your audience. Why load down your site with stuff that isn’t valuable to them? You need to get ruthless to figure out what really matters. By understanding your audience’s perspective, you’ll make them feel valued, which builds trust and improves your KPIs.  

5. Content Language

This can be a tricky one to catch because you're so immersed in your daily world, but chances are that if your site is mirroring your organization’s internal structure, you’re probably also using a lot of internal or industry jargon. That language may be very different from the language your audience uses and understands. 

Language is a topic too large to cover in detail here, but in short: pay attention to the words you’re using on your site. Your language may be causing a range of site issues, including accessibility non-compliance and poor SEO results. Ask whether someone who is not familiar with your industry or organization would truly understand what you’re saying. Think of someone from a different culture, a 16-year-old, or your grandmother. If the answer is “probably not,” your internally-focused word choice may be alienating your audience and dragging down your site’s performance.

So how do you fix problems created by an organization-centric website?

See the world through the eyes of your audience. 

You’ve got a head start by being an empathetic organization, but you'll need unbiased data about who your audience(s) are, what their needs are, how they think, the language they use, and how they search for information. Then you’ll need a strategy to apply that data to make effective and consistent changes to your content. 

Define the purpose and position of your website. 

You might be rebranding and need to align a large amount of material with a new voice and tone. Or perhaps you need to rework your site to meet regulatory requirements such as accessibility. Or maybe you’re migrating to a new platform and you need to cull the herd as part of the project. If you started a content refresh or site redesign on your own and gave up from the sheer size of the task, you wouldn’t be the first to bail on the effort. 

Get ruthless. 

It is indeed a daunting task to overhaul a large site, sometimes requiring you to turn it inside out, blow it apart, and put it back together in a very different way. You'll face resistance from internal stakeholders who don't like change and some whose egos are tied to the original site’s creation.

Wrangling content with help from Reason One 

Our Content Strategists know how to reduce content overwhelm and improve performance. We happily dive into big, unruly messes to clean them up. We’ll hold a metaphorical mirror up to your site to show you if you’re too internally focused and not meeting your audience’s needs. We're experts in user experience, site architecture best practices, language, accessibility, and many other things content-related, and we know how to pull it all together. Drop us a line to chat about your content challenges.