Getting rid of website bloat

Published on the 11/04/2014 | Written by Gerry McGovern

Customer engagement specialist Gerry McGovern explains why the traditional distributed model of website management was a failure and what you should do instead…

Historically, the Norwegian Cancer Society worked in silos when it came to managing its website. “A specific example of where there was a lack of collaboration in the old website was skin cancer,” Ida Aalen, senior interaction designer at Netlife Research explains. “In the ‘about cancer’ section you could read about skin cancer, but the section about ‘prevention’ also had pages about what skin cancer was. And neither of these linked to each other.”

This, of course, led to duplication, confusion and content bloat. By focusing on top tasks and becoming highly collaborative, the number of pages on the society’s website has been reduced from more than 5000 to approximately 1000. The way content is managed on each page has also changed. There is now a core focus on the top task of that page (symptoms, for example). The other more contextual information is linked to on other parts of the website.

Collaboration can only be successful if a strong management model is in place. “The new management model, where it is clearly stated that the whole editorial board is responsible for the entire website really helps collaboration,” says web editor, Marte Gråberg.

The old distributed publishing model allowed 45 people to independently contribute to the website. Now, six people oversee and control the site. Not all of these people are full-time. There are roughly three full-time equivalents (FTEs) actively managing 1000 pages. That’s about 350 pages per FTE. We have found over the years that a fulltime web professional can manage somewhere between 200 and 500 pages.

The departments no longer own the content. They’re sources. For many years, distributed publishing has been the preferred model for website management. Give control to the department / author, the thinking went. They know their own content better than anyone. Distributed publishing was also cheaper because you didn’t need a central team. In other words, you didn’t need to hire professionals.

However, distributed publishing has major weaknesses.

It can result in silo-based publishing and thinking. There is no overview of everything that is being published and this leads to organisationcentric writing and duplication as different silos create the same content.

Many content authors like to publish their own content. This can result in a content explosion that causes confusing navigation and search. Also, as the site grows bigger it becomes harder to manage and review.

The new model strictly controls what is published: “If people want to add something to the website,” Ida states, “they need to write down their answers to the following five questions:

  1. Who’s the target audience?
  2. Does this content cover some need or task for this target audience? Which?
  3. Does this content cover a strategic goal for The Cancer Society? Which?
  4. Describe how you imagine this content will be found and used by the user.
  5. Why is the website the right channel for this content?”

Collaboration across functions and disciplines is key to maintaining content quality and ensuring that a focus on people’s needs is kept front and centre in everyone’s thinking. Duplication of content is greatly reduced because the team is constantly discussing what they are doing and sharing ideas and insights. There is now a holistic view of the website, rather than the old silo-based view.


Gerry McGovern is an expert in customer-centric technology, CEO of Customer Carewords and a five-time published author. He helps large organisations become more customer centric on the web. His clients include Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, IBM, Atlas Copco and Tetra Pak.

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