Less is More: How to Cut Web Content and Increase Engagement

Let’s just cut to the chase here. There are 3 areas in which less content is better than more:

  1. Copy
  2. Menus and lists
  3. Amount

In other words, in most places and most of the time. Let me explain.

1 - Cut your words

Consider this block of text:

Small Business Loans

Small Business is big business at [bank]. We’ve increased business lending by more than 400% since 2010.1 We understand businesses face a range of financial challenges. You may need financing to grow or to expand operations, or even to purchase assets such as new equipment or your own building. Whatever the scenario, we offer loans with a range of flexible terms and features for your business needs.2

[list of types of financing, products, and terms for payment]

Now this one:

Small Business Loans

Whatever financing you need for your small business, [bank name] has it. Our business lending has increased more than 400% since 2010. What do you need to grow?

[list of loan types, linked to more information or an application]

Which would you rather read? The one with footnotes? Or the one with 2 lines of text with some links? The shorter one? Yeah, so would the people reading your copy. Don’t do this to them!

Using fewer words isn’t always easy, but it is effective. As a general rule, write your copy, then cut it in half. And cut it in half again. This will make it easy for people to decide whether a click is worth their time.

2 – Offer fewer but distinct choices

Let’s say you want to get your daughter’s grades for the current quarter. You login to your school’s system where grades are kept and see this list:

Messages
Calendar
Attendance
Class Schedule
Course History
Discipline
Grade Book
Health
Report Card
School Information
Student Info
XXPS Links

What if you saw this list?

Attendance
Class Schedule
Discipline
Grades
Health
Messages
School Information
Student Information
XXPS Home

The first is a long list of many items, some of which are indistinguishable from each other. It’s hard to make a decision which to choose. Should I click Course History? Grade Book? Report Card? What is the difference between all those?

Meanwhile, the second is shorter, in alphabetical order, and provides clear distinction and an easy choice to move me toward task completion. I know I need to go to Grades to get her current or past marks.

Make sure your lists and menus are easy to scan and offer clear choices.

3 – Create less content

Now think about how much content you create. Have you looked at the number of visits each piece gets? How many people take action on each page? If your web content is like most websites, over a third – if not a clear majority – get fewer than 50 visits a year. Wouldn’t you rather make less content and have each piece be valuable to those for whom you produce it?

When you create less content, it is easier to manage, easier for people to find, and probably more useful to your audience. Think about how much more attention you could give one piece of content than 10. Sound appealing? 

Ways to reduce content

If these examples have convinced you to do more with less, here are a few ways you can get started right away:

  1. Perform a content audit to find out which pages are the most valuable. The Content Analysis Tool is a great way to do this. Once you know which are your top and bottom performing pages, you can make a plan to give love to the best ones and eliminate the bottom ones (or try to boost them).
  2. Read Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. This is an easy guide to  – you guessed it – using fewer words on your website. Ginny is now focused on the plain language initiative, which is a good follow on to this decades old contribution to better web content.
  3. Do some usability testing to find out what your users’ biggest pain points are. You don’t need a big lab or fancy agency (though there are plenty people who do this), you can do it yourself. Take a look at Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems book for how to do your own usability testing.

And whatever you do, get your content house in order before your start your next redesign or build a new website! It will make life easier for everyone and the design and development will go faster (and thus, cost less).