Is it still working? Or is just lurking? Might be an idea to find out.

[Image courtesy of GotCredit at Flickr Creative Commons]

Maybe it’s just an age thing, but I’ve spent most of the last two years throwing out stuff. Books, clothes, old cameras that were once cutting-edge, mobile phones, cables (lots and lots, which I thought would one day come in handy, but which I could never actually find when I needed them). 

The thing is, physical clutter is obvious. You have shelves that groan under the weight of novels you’ll never re-read. Wardrobes stuffed to the gills with clothes you’ll never wear again. And cupboards jam-packed with knick-knacks you should have chucked out long ago.

It’s obvious. You can see it. You have, at some point, to deal with it.

But virtual clutter is an entirely different affair.  Digital stuff can just stack up unchecked, and there’s an almost infinite capacity for storage. So you add and add and add, and very rarely subtract or even check what’s there.

And before you know it, you have a bloat situation. But it’s not just a question of stuff out there – it’s stuff that’s potentially hurting your business.

How? Well maybe it’s: 

  • Outdated, so it’s talking about products you no longer produce, services you no longer offer, or people who no longer work for you. 
  • Off-message. ‘Only fools don’t change their mind’ goes the old saying. Over time, what you say and how you position yourself will change. But if old stuff is lurking out there, people might just get the wrong signal.
  • Hurting your brand. That snarky blog post you wrote when you were all worked up? Or the side-swipe you took at the competition? Those times you may have strayed from the moral high ground may just need a quick review.

Search and rescue

You could start with a sitemap to get an overview of what you’ve got out there. If you don’t have one, try one of the free tools like the XML Sitemap Generator. Or if your site is created in WordPress, there are plenty of plugins. Personally, I use Google XML Sitemaps, which is easy, even if you’re a non-techie.

You could also just do a simple site search using Google. I do it all the time when I’m checking out clients’ sites (and their competitors’ ones) for content, cross-references and ideas.

So if I wanted to see what PDFs were on a site, I’d simply type pdf into the Google search box. Or if I was looking for material on pricing models, I’d search for “pricing model”

It’s a quick and easy way to see what you’ve got and requires no downloads, installation or configuration. For bigger, more complex sites, there’s no shortage of heavyweight solutions to find out what’s lurking. 

OK, so now you know what you’ve got, what it’s saying and where it is. So what’s next?

Decision time, that’s what. And there are only three possibilities for the stuff that’s not working:

  • Remove it, because it’s too off-message and outdated to be usable. 
  • Rework it, to update it and make it reflect where you are now. Or ‘re-purpose’ it, which is just a fancy way of saying turn it into something else. 
  • Hide it until you’ve decided what you want to do with it. Remove it from the site nav, and update your robots.txt file so it’s not indexed. 

My personal preference is for removal. Reworking is often just a makeover, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, now matter how much you make it over. Hiding it is a non-decision, and that just delays the inevitable. 

There is a fourth option: doing nothing. But that stuff is still there, and spiders and humans are crawling all over it. It’s a bit like people rummaging around in your wardrobe and finding those embarrassing kipper ties and butterfly collars. Or those trashy airport novels you read on the beach.

Time to have a throw-out. You’ll feel better afterwards – I promise.