Don't publish online just because you can

Publishing content online is fast, cheap and easy. That's one of the great things about the web, but also one of its downsides. Many websites heave and groan under the weight of too much low value content. Sadly, their users do too.

Decentralised control can mean no control at all

Most of our clients are large organisations; many in the public sector. There is rarely any centralised control over publishing. Website managers or editors are often in low-ranking, undervalued positions with no real authority. There's rarely a policy or strategy that gives them the authority to stop low-value, poor quality content being published.

Business area managers often make the call about what goes online. They have varying levels of understanding of what's valuable or needed and often don't know what’s already on the site.

Lower costs lower the barriers

When there is no upfront cost to publish online content, poor decisions can be made:

  • 'We have it, so we may as well put it online'
  • 'Someone might find it useful'
  • 'Our part of the site looks a bit bare—we need to fill it up'
  • 'It is policy to publish everything we produce in print on the website'
  • 'I want' … (not 'users want' or 'we need')

You're unlikely hear someone use this kind of rationale for publishing print content. Brochures don't get produced just because they can. When there is a cost, people think more carefully before they publish.

Publishing on the web involves hidden costs

Publishing online is not cost-free. It takes time for staff to prepare and publish content, even if they just 'PDF it and put it online'. Editing, reviewing, approving and publishing take staff away from other tasks.

Once published, content has to be maintained. All too often, more content gets published than there are resources to manage it. It doesn't take long to end up with a site that's out of control.

The cost to user experience

The biggest cost can be to the user experience. More content means a more complex information architecture: more main navigation choices, more links to work through, and more search results to choose from.

If your publishing decisions are not restrained, users may find too much low value, poorly focused, poor quality content. If you publish more than you can manage, they'll find out of date and inaccurate content as well.

The bottom line for all this is loss of trust or damage to your organisation's reputation. For some, it may mean loss of business. For others, an increase in call centre costs as users give up trying to find what they need on your website.

And all of this costs money—even though it does not appear as a line item in your publishing budget.

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