Show notes

Why do we produce so much content, and so many websites and apps, that people don’t want or need? We take a look at the problem of bloat that so many information rich (non-transactional) sites have. How did our sites end up this fat and irrelevant?

In this show we also come up with some tips and advice on how you can avoid this happening in your organisation.

(listening time 29 minutes)



Per: Hello and welcome to UX Podcast. You’re listening to me Per Axbom.

James: And me James Royal-Lawson.

Per: And we’re sitting in a hotel lobby again.

James: We are. What happened to us normally recording at Beantin HQ?

Per: I don’t know. It’s like we’re getting really busy in trying to squeeze this in all the time. You were coming from a meeting and I had to like walk here briskly and we’re off again.

James: We were supposed to record this at Beantin HQ actually.

Per: We were supposed to, yeah. True. It is really cold out in Sweden now and it’s getting dark so this is …

James: Oh, you sound so depressed about it. I really like it. These kind of crisp, frosty mornings and the fact that we can light candles now and the winter snow is almost here. We can go skiing and we can build snowman and igloos and awww …

Per: Wow, I’ve never seen you this positive about something like that. I had to stop riding my bike now, so that’s why.

James: I had great fun yesterday as well. I used my leaf lawnmower, a leaf vacuum.

Per: A leaf vacuum.

James: Normally, I can’t use it as a vacuum. Normally I can only blow leaves with it but it was dry enough yesterday. So I can actually suck up the leaves in my garden. It’s like a crazy man pushing this giant blue vacuum around his  grass, sucking up leaves.

Per: Nice. So how long did that take?

James: Oh, about half an hour, 40 minutes.

Per: OK. How many leaves? How many square meters of leaves?

James: How many square meters of leaves? I would say about a few hundred square meters. Oh, probably 100 square meters thinking about it.

Per: That must be extreme job satisfaction. I mean you see the goal.

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James: It mulches them as well. It’s not just full leaves. They’re mulch leaves they got in the compost.Per: I wish everybody could see James’ expression while he’s explaining this. He’s so happy. He’s like a small child.

James: We should do a sister podcast where we talk about gardening.

Per:  Yeah.

James: Gardening and birds.

Per: But I thought it was a really good segue into like talking about goals. You see the goals of the leaves and you have to suck them all up and one hour you do it and so done and it’s really satisfying and what we wanted to talk about today is I think you have the title of the show there.

James: We did actually come up with a title basically. Hold on a second. I’m on the wrong page. The curse of producing websites that people don’t want.

Per: Right.

James: Actually in the beginning you said the curse of producing content that people don’t want and I give it an upgrade.

Per: Yeah, you did and I think that’s good because I mean in the end it’s about the websites we’re producing and how much they suck sometimes.

James: Just to emphasize the kind of segment we’re talking about here where we deal an awful lot with the non-ecommerce sites. We mentioned this before in previous shows. We mainly work with sites that are corporate or governmental or they don’t involve a basket and a checkout.

Per: So large information-rich websites.

James: Yeah, and I think we can say that the web industry are split these days. We’ve got the ecommerce world who seem really very good at setting goals and having optimization and conversion optimization and making sure that you get money from products on their website.

Per: Right.

James: Then we have the other side of things, which we deal with where …

Per: And our side of course is more complicated because it’s harder to measure.

James: I want to say that our side of things is more complicated. I mean ecommerce has its problems too.

Per: Of course it does

James: …but just not as – this particular one about producing thousands of pages of probably unnecessary content is not one they generally have.

Per: Yeah. So you might say this show is born sort of out of frustration, going to meetings and hearing people talking about the content they’re producing and you realize that they don’t have a clue about what sort of user behaviour they’re satisfying or user needs they’re satisfying with all that content that they’re producing. So usually the way it goes if you’ve worked in this business for a while, you come to a company. You help them redesign a website by a new CMS. They go down from 3000 to 1500 pages and then you come back and two years again, they’re up to 4000 pages and they realize, “Oh, this is too much. We need to get rid of these pages.” It’s really strange how they can realize that they need to get rid of the pages but they don’t realize when they’re producing the pages.

James: They need to think more about what they’re doing.

Per: Yeah, need to think about why am I producing this right now and I really don’t get why people go to meetings – it’s sort of like well, the companies you and I work with, they usually have quite large web teams and a team of web editors producing content and they go to meetings and they decide what content to produce over the coming weeks.

But they’re not at all discussing why they’re producing that content and we have a really big hard time here getting them to realize that each and every piece of content they’re producing has to satisfy a business goal, a user need, something that helps the business reach something, a goal with something that you’ve set up beforehand and my – well, my – the thing that I’ve realized is that the people who are working with producing the content aren’t realizing how what they do fits into the big picture and also going to school, I realized that. I mean I worked – I studied communication science so I’m one of these people that actually could probably work as a web editor. I have that type of background and you’ve learned the trade. You learned how to produce content that actually is something that you change and squeeze and fit into how people think and you know how to meet different target groups’ needs.

But you don’t learn how that actually makes companies make more money or helps them sell more or helps the types of organizations we work with, help them actually get better business value from the content in the end.

James: One of the issues there is that in a lot of the web teams I have worked with, there is a number of people working with content. So whether they’re producing the content themselves or their web is address is receiving content or orders for content, and then pushing it out there, and the number of people who are responsible for the websites, so the web managers, they’re often just one and in a lot of cases, they may be not working fulltime with the website because of other things such as they’ve got to work with internal issues to do with – internal politics to do with the digital side of things, whether it’s getting buy-in for certain things or budget work or the whole list of non-operative tasks that you need to deal with, strategic tasks you need to deal with and in a lot of cases, they’re also team leader for the web team.

So the web manager and the team leader and if you’ve got a group of six or whatever, just pick your number, web-editors, you’ve got to deal with the personnel issues with them as well as the strategic issues or whatever internally. What have you got left to deal with these operative issues and goal setting and optimization and tweaking and pushing your site forward gradually? It’s not much time at all.

Per: There’s not much time but also if it’s not in your job description, I mean it may very well not be. This question is why were you even hired to run that website. Were you hired to help the business or were you hired because there’s a website there and it needs content? I think the latter is usually the case.

James: You got to have someone who the book stops at. So someone has got to be responsible for the site.

Per: Right, because everybody has a website. So let’s get a website and let’s get somebody to run it and it’s like we’re stuck in that frame of mind that was like common in the late 90s, early 2000.

James: But at the same time, you got product owners or rather you’ve got content owners or content area owners who are out there in the business side of the organization, not part of your immediate web team and in many organizations, they have a lot of say and a lot of power.

Per: Oh, yeah, that’s a story in itself.

James: They run over. They overrule even if you have got a web editor that’s good.

Per: Good at writing content for the web.

James: And engaged. Also engaged in the goal side of things and is prepared to put the questions: why, as well as the rest of the W questions. They might say, “Oh, because I say so.”

Per: True.

James: See not …

Per: I was even at a client’s last week where they said that some of the professionals who are creating these reports that were being published, they had – like really clearly said, you’re not allowed to make this easier to understand. You’re not allowed to.

James: What? You’re not allowed to make it easier to understand. They actually said it like that?

Per: They said it like that.

James: Jeez.

Per: In some sense some sort of work pride and the report that they published but also that they’re afraid that dumbing it down so to speak would make it not – well, not official and not really the thing that they want to say. They …

James: So they had attached a status or a goal to the readability level of the report and that it had to be university level readability because that’s the desired target audience.

Per: Yes.

James: Irrespective of …

Per: Irrespective of …

James: Any further broader goal.

Per: Right, and they could have so much potential with actually involving more people in this content and having more people and have a say about it and understanding it and its business recommendations that we’re actually putting out there and so many people can’t understand what they’re saying because the language is too hard.

James: One of the slides, that belongs to my collection that I showed you in some of those things is just why measure and the answer to that is because if we don’t measure, we’re just guessing.

Per: Right, and this is what I don’t understand is you have all these people producing all this content. That’s not free. That costs a lot of money. All this content that’s being produced and hours being put into it, there is money to be measured here. You need to measure that value of the time being put in to the value that the content brings back and that is possible.

James: The things about measuring, other people retort, “well we do measure. We have 1000 visitors a day”.

Per: Right, yeah.

James: But then how does that help you know that that page you published then or those collection of pages, how does that help you know if those were successful.

Per: I remember Jeremy McGovern telling me what HITS stands for.

James: Yes.

Per: How Idiots Track Success. And it’s true. We’re stuck in that frame of mind as well, that hits in some way is – I don’t know, communicates a value which it really doesn’t in any way, especially in the last few years when you’ve realized that oh, we have so many more visitors and we’re realizing well, it’s because people have more devices. Same people using different devices, stuff like that.

James: For example.

Per: Yeah.

James: Or it could even be something like I saw this week that there was a poorly-configured server somewhere that was pinging the home page of a website and was accounting 50 percent of visits.

Per: Oh, yeah.

James: Well, the visits went up.

Per:  Yeah. So people install stuff and they read stuff and they make the wrong conclusions about what they’re seeing which is really sad as well.

James: Because that kind of analysis in many cases. It’s such a broad general level that you don’t go into the details because you don’t have any details to go into because no one has thought about goals or target audience for a specific piece of content in many, many cases.

Per: Right. And why is it so hard? I think that’s the core of our – what we’re talking about here. Why is it so hard for people to realize that they need to set goals for the stuff that they’re producing? Does it seem like this big wall that it’s really hard to get past or feel they don’t have the competence to set goals? What’s really eating people and hindering them from doing this?

James: I think there are two sides to this. One of them is we’ve made it too easy to publish, which is a good thing in many, many …

Per: In one way, yeah.

James: We’ve enabled a fantastic world of web here and we’ve revolutionized how you can get content out to people. It’s very, very easy to publish, even if you have an awkward broken CMS. It’s still pretty easy to publish and then the other side of it is time. If you are put into position where you – well, if you do sit down and carefully think  about some of the things we’re talking about that’s kind of – who is this content for, why they’re going to read it, what do you want to achieve when they receive it or visit it. What do they want to achieve when they visit it? These kinds of questions, to answer them, take time. It takes sometimes a lot more times than actually producing the content.

Per: Right.

James: So if you’re there and you’ve got a mailbox that you monitor as part of your web team and it blinks, it kind of beeps and their mail comes in and it says, “Oh, I want you to publish this FAQ.” You just kind of thought and you’re expected to get on with doing it.

And it has to be out tomorrow because tomorrow we’ve got a press – a meeting with the press and they’ve got to have this out so we can refer to it. So you don’t have any time or choice. You’ve got to just get on with publishing.

Per: So it always comes back to management I guess and what your expectations are from the tech team that you’re employing to run the website and if your expectations aren’t that they produce something valuable, then suck it and OK. So let them do what they do.

But if you actually expect to get some value from your website, you should be asking them to provide reports of well, I love the template that you have for analytics, for setting goals for every piece of content or article you’re writing. I mean that should be requested or expected from the people who are actually working with your website and actually report back because what I’m seeing is that people are – the balance between listening to users and producing content for users, that’s where you’re off because you’re not listening at all. You’re just producing and producing and producing and there’s no listening and none at all. There’s no thinking going on about what you’re producing. But also of course you can put those templates out and saying it’s compulsory to actually fill in one of those but people won’t do it. But …

James: You just put crosses in all the boxes and the …

Per: You have to make them – help them realize that it’s going to make their jobs a lot easier. On the one hand, they’re not going to produce 1000 pages this year. They may only produce 300 pages this year which would be wonderful. But also if you plan that content you’re producing, actually typing it up, it’s a lot more fun when you realize that you have to have the call to action in the end and you think about, “OK, so what’s the call to action going to be?” I’m saying this for every, every piece of article you’re writing and you have that like short, brief summary in the top and you realize, OK, so I’m going to guide them to this decision and that’s so much more fun.

James: It is because you said you don’t have time to start thinking about the psychology side of things.

Per: Yes.

James: It’s this persuasion we come back into this to help us reach our goal. How can you write a good piece that’s persuasive if you don’t know what you’re persuading?

Per: Right. Also if you put this tool in the web editor’s hands or whoever is actually producing content, then they actually have something to fall back on when the content owners tell them that I just published this and the content that I want published has to be exactly the way I wrote it and the editors can say, well no, because we have this guideline that we have to follow. The content that we put out there has to be valuable and this is how we actually value.

James: I mean if you’ve managed to set the goal for an individual piece of content, then you can go back to them and say, “Well, you haven’t succeeded.”

Per: Right.

James: Give them feedback and say well, this time, it was like this. Then maybe you can compare it to last time. Well, last time, we did this because we wanted to achieve that. Then you had – like 86 percent conversion or whatever you want to call it.

Per: That’s perfect.

James: We really need to roll out shopping cart mentality in these organizations that effectively your page, those have a shopping cart at the end of it, and you’ve got to work out how many people have put your page in that cart.

Per: Exactly. I like that.

James: If they aren’t putting in the cart, then you got to ask yourself why. Is the product crap or is there something else. Is my copy not persuasive enough?

Per: Another way that these content owners measure value on is how much content they’re producing. Not just hits but OK, I produced 50 articles this year for the website. Aren’t I doing good?

James: If you’re employed as producing web copy, then you’re right. You’ve expected to spend so many hours producing web copy.

Per: And you compare yourself to the others. Oh, you only produced 20 articles? I did 50. I’m so much better. The company should value me much more and you’re asking yourself. Jeez, how can the company value a person that produces that much content? They got to be doing something wrong. So it’s quite the opposite of actually what they’re thinking.

James: We bring up quite a lot during our shows, just the whole immaturity side of things. It’s one of the running themes we have is how young our branch is and how it has got a long way to go in many aspects and this is one of the biggest challenges of a maturing industry, like ours is, of getting something that’s so fast moving, so much more formalized in the way we deal with it. At the same time as the majority of people in your organization don’t understand, they’re not at the same level as you, they’re not going to be at the same level as you, but they need to alter their way of working to respect this digital world that you’re advising them in.

Per: Right.

James: Because every web team has an advisory role even if the organization is using them as a production facility. You can’t get away from the fact that it’s this gang that are the ones that are the gatekeepers and the people who are managing the website and making sure it all pieces together and sticks together and it fulfils its overall purpose because you’ve got the overall vision and purpose for a website which ties into the overall vision of the company.

But when you break it down as we’ve recommended and said, you need to have specific goals and focus and understanding for every bit of content.

Per: Right.

James: Or banner or interaction point on the website.

Per: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. When I was walking over here, thinking about the show, I was thinking about well, they can do that on their own time if they just produce content because it’s fun and they realize they will be like working as a freelancer. But if you actually get the freelancer mentality, into each and every employee, then they would start thinking about, OK, I’m costing this much, how can I bring enough value to the company so that they keep me employed, which would also mean that you would expect them to actually show more paperwork on what value they’re bringing to the table.

James: That’s a good point but at the same time, as we’ve mentioned with time. If you are time-pressed, then you’re just going to get this stuff out. You’ve got 50 emails in this inbox that has – everything has to be published. You’re just going to get on with it. You need to just put your head down and get on with it.

Per: Awesome. But the gateway probably has to be earlier on because you’re probably not the person who has to fill in the template. You just reply to that email and say you have to fill in this template first as well.

James: Yeah, that would be a nice great way of doing it. But you can see sort of where this kind of angry conversation that someone’s phone – team leaders, web team leader or manager, his phone starts ringing because you send a template to Charlie when he’d sent the content to be published for tomorrow’s press meeting and you said, “No, you got to fill in this template first.” He then gets a phone call saying, “What do you mean not publishing? That’s what you’re meant to do. Just publish it and stop arguing. I don’t have time for templates.” You can see how this is going to be.

Per: Of course, yeah.

James: It’s a change management process to get people to accept and acknowledge that it’s – there is more to this than just pushing buttons and getting your content out there.

Per: Which means actually that we – as always in UX, you have to find a way for people to think it’s more fun if you put the goals there. The templates have to be fun. Well, you know what I mean. It’s not that the templates have to be fun. It has to be designed in a way that it actually helps you in your work. It’s an aid. It’s an assistance rather than something – oh my god, it’s for something else that I have to do.

You realize that you don’t base your value on the amount of content and the number of hits but actually on something else and a template can be so easy. You would make it really, really simple in the beginning and then perhaps make it – well, build on it as you go along and realize the value of it.

James: Yeah, that’s good advice out there. You be pragmatic. There’s no point implementing stuff that all high level and perfect and all the rest of it, if the organization is going to just shrug the shoulders and go, “Meh!” But if you can break it down into smaller steps or progressively increase, it now offers something that’s achievable and can help you – or maybe some templates with five points of it. Actually you just have one question you reply back with.

Per: Exactly. What’s the call to action? I’m thinking that …

James: Yeah. What’s the next step? Yeah, just exactly, yeah.

Per: When they get to the end of your article, what you want them to do.

James: Yeah, or what do you want people to do after this page? Just a simple question like that. Maybe it’s a first step.

Per: Right.

James: Depending on the organization.

Per: And you could even have like in one of my social media strategy templates, like have checkboxes that you just check. These are some of the most common calls to actions that we have in this company. Which one do you want to check?

James: You’re right. There might be enough in the beginning just to make …

Per:  Have 10 items on there.

James: Exactly. Just start the process off because in the beginning it might be enough just to highlight that these are the normal call to actions or next steps we have on web pages. So when they start seeing these regulate, they will start to think about them and you set a process in place of thought.

Per: Exactly. Just like having Type Ahead functionality in a template.

James: Yeah, a little bit.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah, and eventually you get used to what word it’s going to suggest first and correct it and put the right one.

Per:  Right.

James: It’s all about creating a thought process…

Per: Yeah, exactly. As you’re saying, it’s one way of educating people in the value of doing it. Oh, so these are the types of goals that you’re like …

James: Without scaring them.

Per: Right.

James: That’s a backside of – it’s very easy for us to say a template, five, six points, wonderful. Be really hard, refuse to publish and they say fill it in, but you’re going to scare people. You’re going to irritate people. You’re going to cause conflicts. So a softer process and more gradual education-based process might work if you think of it more strategically.

Per: And it will give you something to measure and give feedback on and you can say that oh my …

James: You can improve on, yeah.

Per: Fifty percent of the people did what you wanted them to do. That was excellent or …

James: It would be, yeah.

Per: Yeah, that would be actually.

James: Yeah. The amount of times we can get people to guess less and know more, I will be happier.

Per: Right.

James: How are we doing with the time Per?

Per: I think we’re finishing off. I think there’s …

James: You started to think. I could see it. You’re thinking a little bit more with something. You’re drifting off into thought.

Per: I was looking forward to the show because there was so much frustration in me since I had been to a lot of meetings the past couple of weeks and realized that people don’t really care. It’s like they don’t care. Yeah, a lot of people don’t and they think, well, we just keep doing what we’re doing because that’s what always worked and we keep producing this content and people are happy because that’s what the yearly survey tells us. But that’s only responded to by the people who actually care.

James: True.

Per: Yeah. So I mean – but I think we’ve gotten to some really great conclusions here about having a template, make it simple, give suggestions because I think that’s one of the things that are hindering people. What do you mean by the call to action? What do you mean what the people want to do next? Give them some examples to check off.

James: I think you can’t ask “why?” often enough. At the same time, you’re not just really producing content. The same thing when you sit down for that meeting where you go through your backlog or your list of development points that you want to do for your sites. When someone wants to change a feature or add a feature, yeah, ask them why. Don’t just kind of prioritize it.

Per: Right, and start thinking about oh, we could …

James: Oh, we could do this. We could do that or yeah, that will make it easy for the editors. Dig a little deeper.

Per: Exactly.

James: Ask yourself what you’re going to achieve by doing these changes.

Per: Yes.

James: And the web will be a better place or your intranets will be a better place. What we’re talking about now applies to intranets as well as websites.

Per: Exactly, and I have this image in my head of actually everyone going around and sucking up all these leaves and each leaf is a webpage that we’re sucking up now. We’re getting rid of them. This is our goal and I hope you will help us do it.

James: Oh, just don’t put them all into my compost site. It’s almost full now. I filled it yesterday. I haven’t got room for the web.

Per: Oh, I imagine pressing delete on all these websites and just having them start over. I think that’s about it. OK. You’re going to go into the cold, smiling.

James: I am. We’re actually going to go next on a sushi.

Per: Oh yeah, that’s right.

James: Get some lunch now.

Per: I will be whinging about how cold it is and how dark it’s going to become.

James: Yeah. And remember to give us some feedback on the show, individual shows or the whole show. We would love to hear from you.

Per: Yeah, love to hear about what others have encountered in this type of area as well.

James: Yeah, tell us your stories.

Per: Yeah, and how you may have solved it as well.

James: Yeah, because there might be solutions we haven’t thought of.

Per: Exactly.

James: God forbid.

Per: Oh, wow. OK then. Remember to keep moving.

James: And see you on the other side.

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