There are few eternal truths in web development. Servers go down. Forms are inexplicably difficult to work worth. And website content sprawls. In fact the latter of these may be the most eternal web truth of all, and the longer a site has been around, the more entropy kicks in until the sprawl takes on a life of its own and hits the breaking point.
If you are lucky, that breaking point is internal. Your team throws up their hands as things that should be easy get harder and more cumbersome. And if you’re not, it’s your end users who start ditching your site for something less maddening, perhaps even making their way over to one of your competitors. Either way, standing pat is no longer an option. It’s time to act.
No one likes tackling sprawl, but we recently took a little inspiration from the world’s Titan of Tidying, Marie Kondo, and found it to be shockingly effective. In this case our client’s website had hit the breaking point and they needed to act fast. But we took a few pages out of the Kondo playbook which helped take it from a jumbled mess to a leaner, simpler, and more intuitive experience for all involved. Best of all, the work ended up inspiring and empowering the client, as the mood went from dread to “we got this!”. Here’s what we learned along the way.
It’s hard to make much progress if you try and do it in small bits and pieces. In fact, that’s often how things get out of hand to begin with. The real path forward lies in setting aside some dedicated time to really take stock of the situation so that you can commit yourself to the process. It requires a little time and headspace to take a step back and assess all of the sprawl that’s accumulated. There will undoubtedly be parts that you had entirely forgotten about or didn’t even know existed. Give yourself a little time and headspace to get the full picture.
Marie Kondo advocates first decluttering before organizing, and we think this makes perfect sense for websites and digital assets more broadly. As you go about the decluttering process, discard items that don’t help your website’s core function – or “spark joy” as Kondo famously puts it. That core function might be to entertain, to inform, or to nudge users down the marketing funnel toward conversion, but anything that detracts from that is deadwood (or worse, may detract or impose additional cognitive load on your users). Lastly, don’t get caught up in nostalgia – remember that one of the web’s great features is that it helps reduce the search costs for users, not increase it. If you need to data dump or preserve archived material, do it elsewhere.
Tidy By Category
The KonMari Method uses tidying by category, rather than by location or page. We think this is brilliant. Often the back-of-house taxonomy of your website won’t mean much to users – they won’t know what is a “page” or a “post” or even care. Tidying by category puts you in the users shoes, and pushes you to think about what is most useful from their point of view. This will allow you to keep your focus on the ideal user experience, and make better judgments about what content — as well as how much — is really working for your users.
Once you have decided which content is worth keeping, you can turn your efforts to finding the best home for that content. We like to start by reviewing the overall site navigation, making sure to organize your site content based on the different ways users interact with it. For users who know something about you and want to make a purchase or reach out – how many clicks does that take? Is it easy? For those who are still in the awareness or consideration phase – is it easy for them to find more contextual information, like your “about” or “team” page. It sounds simple but it’s often astonishing how many websites fail to organize this content in useful ways. Organizing will help you confidently put together useful clusters by merging some pages, splitting others, and removing any redundant content from existing pages.
After decluttering and organizing, the last step is to do a consistency audit across the site. We like to do this first with an eye toward structure. Is it easy for a user to move from one page to another and find the content they are looking for? How challenging is it to traverse different clusters of content? And second, we like to do it for voice, look, and feel. Especially on large sites, it’s common for different pieces to have been created by different people at different times – and frankly, the site experience will feel that way. It’s like walking into a house and finding different people in very different moods in each room. Confusing. This last step will help you provide a friendly and consistent feel across your newly streamlined site, and puts you in the best position to provide a less confusing and more welcoming experience.
That’s all there is to it! If you’re facing a sprawling site of your own and would like a little advice, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. Hopefully this points you in the right direction, but we’re always here to help.