This Week's IDEA

Spring Cleaning Tips for Web Content

Three tips to tidy up the content on federal websites
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Dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.—Marie Kondo
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Welcome to This Week’s IDEA, where we talk about one essential topic around 21st Century IDEA and share resources and tools that you can use to start making small, incremental changes to your websites and digital services.

Did you know that 90% of data is never accessed again 90 days after it is first stored? Eighty percent of downloaded apps are never used again after 90 days? Ninety percent of data has been created in the last two years?

According to Gerry McGovern, author of several books about top tasks, we should delete 90% of the information on a typical website to make the site useful. And use plain language to make the remaining information more effective—1,000 words can often be edited down to 200 to make it more effective and easier to understand.

21st Century IDEA says new and updated executive agency websites should “not overlap with or duplicate any legacy websites and, if applicable, ensure that legacy websites are regularly reviewed, eliminated, and consolidated” (P.L. 115-336 §3(A)3).

Your website exists to deliver good content to your visitors. You need to understand the content you have, what information your customers are accessing, and how it speaks to them. It’s time to clean up that redundant, outdated, and trivial content!

Three Tips for Tidying Up Content

To make your content work better, follow these three tips, which are adapted from the content plays in the USDA Digital Strategy Playbook.

Tip 1. Edit Your Content for Plain Language

Assess your content at least quarterly to keep it relevant and useful to users.

Starting with your most-viewed pages, edit content for plain language. For example, design your content for reading on the web:

  • Use active voice and address your customers directly (you, we).
  • Choose words that are more familiar.
  • Use sections, spacing, and relevant headers and subheaders.
  • Use paragraph breaks and lists to break up big blocks of text.

Visit PlainLanguage.gov for more information on writing for your customers.

Tip 2. Audit Your Content

Audit your content to understand what content you currently have, identify gaps that exist, and prioritize improvements.

After you set the goals and scope of your audit, you’ll need to collect and analyze data. See, for example, this sample spreadsheet to audit content (.xlsx, 19 kb, two tabs).

Visit 18F Methods, a collection of tools to bring human-centered design into your project, to learn more about content audits.

Tip 3. Help Customers Find Your Content

Optimize the content on your site to ensure customers can find your content when they’re searching online. Search engines are less likely to highlight your content when it lacks good structure. You can improve your content by:

Visit Search.gov for more tips on how to get search engines to index the right content for better discoverability.

Up Next

From the Field

“Agencies are encouraged to update their .gov websites to the greatest extent practicable to provide agency service delivery information to Federal Government consumers and to direct Federal Government consumers to the appropriate digital and telephonic resources to obtain needed services. We also encourage agencies to assess the usability of its digital resources, and to improve user centered design and customer service aspects of its websites, web applications, and other citizen-facing interfaces.”

OMB 20-19, Harnessing Technology to Support Mission Continuity (PDF, 195 KB, 5 pages, March 22, 2020)


Do you have a 21st Century IDEA-related comment or question? Or would you like to give a shout out to your colleagues? Send it to us at digitalgov@gsa.gov, and we’ll work to incorporate it into the next newsletter.

(All references to specific brands, products, and/or companies are used only for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agency.)