When you’re redesigning, redeveloping or refreshing (pick your term) your Web site is the easiest time to take stock of its level of activity and atrophy. OK, ideally you could/should do this continuously, but then we should also work out regularly and eat only healthy foods … but I digress.
We’re in the process of changing content management systems and, in the process, developing a new taxonomy for our sprawling and mostly decentralized Web site. Before attacking how to categorize/organize the content, I picked up my torch, machete and compass and wandered into the jungle that is our current site. I looked at 206 site accounts — which vary from dozens of pages to single standalones — deciding to start with culling the dead. Since a previous CMS software update accidentally republished all our pages, even long-abandoned pages list 7/9/07 as most recent update, meaning we had to delve deeper.
What I found were bodies. Lots of dead bodies. At last count 35 of the 206 site accounts were either abandoned, never started or rendered obsolete. That’s 17 percent or over 1 out of every 6 accounts virtual ghost ships plying the Web’s waves.
Some involved programs or ad hoc projects that went away. Other accounts existed but never published. Many were pages and accounts abandoned because a department or office decided to start over. However, the pages left to flounder on the high seas are just as easy to find via Google or other search methods as the updated pages and accounts. Ay, cap’n, there’s the rub.
Around 90 percent of those accounts reside outside of our office, and we preach: update your sites, cull your dead pages, etc. But in a decentralized system, many users are not actively thinking about updating pages, whether because of workload (it’s just one of many tasks in their job) or turnover, nor of decommissioning expired content. And we’re too busy to stay on top of tens of thousands of pages. Then you wake up one day and BAM, 1 out of every 6 pages is a zombie, eating your Web site’s brains.
To be fair, user-friendliness is a key factor. Our CMS had four separate editable regions for most pages — title, subtitle, body and right column. To edit any one of these sections involved five steps: check the section out, perform editing, save, confirm and publish. Throw in having to chose a template and then making a title and metadata, that meant creating most pages involved 22 steps. Small wonder some overloaded page admins didn’t want to work on the Web site. EDIT: I realized if you avoid micropublishing, you can get it down to 16 steps. But still.
Of course, at this point all we can do is learn. And know that creating a system that is better for people who have to maintain the pages will create a more active and updated Web site that is better for those who visit it.