The Magic in Data-Driven Website Redesign

I’d like to share one of the recent marketing lessons I’ve learned (and I don’t know if this is 100% marketing or 50% marketing, 50% how to lead a meeting. I’ll let you decide.)

Okay, we’re going through a massive overhaul of a large statewide website right now. This state agency website is—to be brutally honest—a train wreck. This site is something that I inherited and, well, it looks like it belongs to NASCAR. There are banners all over it. The main navigation was 14 or 15 items deep—just the options to pick when you first land on the site. (Hint: It would be better to have around five or six top-level navigation items.)

The website was based around the silos in which this 300+ agency saw themselves. Each team currently has its own portion of the website. The site gets maybe 40,000+ visits a month. About a third of the visitors (including the agency’s own employees) who hit the website end up resorting to searching to find what they are looking for. Not good.

The thing needs to be redone. Everybody’s got their own little piece of this kingdom and my concern has been this: How do you convince these teams to divorce themselves from their hundreds of pages of content? From the same content, they loved enough to think the world needed to know about it?

First, Look at the Numbers

We first were able to provide each team with analytics; the on-page analytics showing them their web pages and what’s hot and what’s not. As they review at their web traffic, the analytics we’re showing them show, “This link is your topmost click link, this is your second, this is your third, this is your fourth”—all the way down to 65th, if there were so many links, and if there were so many clicks.

If a link doesn’t have any clicks on it, then what they’re seeing is nothing; there are no numbers attached to it at all. For several areas of this website, it’s a bit of a ghost town. I mean there’s dust collecting there. You’ll have 10 or 11 popular links and that’s where it stops even though there are still plenty more links on the page. It’s just that nobody has clicked on those other links in the past three months.

It Turns Out The Big Question…

The conundrum was this: How easy is it going to be to talk these folks out of all this great content that nobody’s visiting? (Some of which hasn’t been touched since seven years. I mean, it hasn’t been touched. It was put up and then left there for seven years. No one ever looked back.)

…Wasn’t So Big

Honestly, we were expecting a bit of a battle. We were expecting some egos to come out. We were expecting some folks to be a little upset about losing their content. You know, maybe I’m talking too soon but it has been, ah—I don’t want to say “easy”—but it’s been “blessed”. There has been no consternation over getting rid of content that’s not getting clicked.


This is a huge lesson for me. I’m the kind of person who says, “Ready. Fire! Aim.” So taking the time to pull analytics and send them out and discuss them? Not usually my first arrow.

However, in this case, we drummed up the analytics, sent all that information out to the content owners so they could look at the data prior to our meeting. Then we sat down with them to go through our vision for the website, which is, essentially, this:

  1. Bring search to the forefront, since a third of the folks are using it. Maybe we can retire it later, maybe we can’t. For now, make it more prevalent and then
  2. Figure out who the customer avatars are and design the site around that experience. Instead of the inter-agency silos, just focus on who the client is and what it is they’re looking for.

There are a few pages that really pop forth out of the rankings. People are even scrolling down below the fold to find the topmost popular link on the page, which—in and of itself—is amazing.

There’s obviously restructuring opportunities here. What I’ve been finding interesting is people—when you give them the details, when you give them the numbers and say, “Here’s what’s popular on your page, here’s what’s not”—so far (and we’ve only met with three teams out of about eight so I could be speaking prematurely) people have been really open to grooming the content.</run-on sentence> We had somebody just yesterday say, “Go ahead, we want to keep one page out of over 100.” One page they want to keep and get rid of everything else. This particular batch of pages hadn’t been touched for seven years.

Learning the Magic of Data

I guess you could say we’re learning the magic of getting the data on the “what’s hot and what’s not” and then presenting it to the client to say, “They’re your visitors but here’s what we would recommend and here’s why and here are all the numbers.”

Oh, did I tell you? We also have the top 10 search results showing us what people are searching on for the past month. Even more, we also have the amount of content for each division so they can see where they stack up alongside everybody else. If their portion of the site is bloated, then that’s easily illustrated. They look at the comparison chart and they say, “Oh, yeah. So-and-so has 103 pages. This other area (say, where all the press releases are,) they have 300 pages. Let’s start trimming that back because we see that these other teams (who are way larger than us) have 50 pages or 20 pages or they say what they need to say in 10.”

It’s been an eye-opening experience to look at how data has been affecting the conversation. Again—as a ready-fire-aim kind of person—it’s been a little harder for me to slow down enough because I’ll typically come up with my own assumptions and am quick to act on them. (read “FOOLISH”).

This means, when I look at the data, I’m more likely to say, “All right, this is going to be the new look.” One of the things that we’ve had success with is bringing the other folks into the conversation. (They are the content owners after all.)

Having the numbers means having the proof, essentially, to say, “Here’s what’s working for you. Here’s what nobody really particularly cares about and maybe the Internet site isn’t the best way to store it. Maybe you can put it on the intranet or maybe not even that. Maybe you can keep this to the side and put out a publications guide where you list all of the publications you have to offer. If anybody wants them, they can reach out to your office and get them, rather than polluting the website for it. Or, if you’ve got a bunch of thin pages (pages with a little bit of content,) you can consolidate those thin pages to the same page and now people can kind of look at all your different programs in one fell swoop and self-determine more easily to say, ‘This one applies to me.’”


There’s been a number of ways we can improve the user experience on this massive website. I think there are over 2,000 pages on this website. As of this writing, we have easily cut away a good 500 of them. (Hey, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.)

It’s been a good experience. Again, recognize the importance of bringing data to the conversation and saying, “Listen, what’s working for us? What’s not? What is the public choosing? What are they not choosing?” If we know what they’re choosing—if we know what’s popular, what they’re favoring—let’s bring that up into their view and make it more prevalent.