Publish the website you can maintain

90% of data does not get used three months after it’s published. 91% of webpages never get found in Google. We have a global content waste industry feverishly producing enormous quantities of really expensive content that is essentially useless, and creating lots of CO2 pollution.

Which perhaps helps to at least partially explain why the vast majority of Web teams struggle to maintain already published content. Most Web teams know that they are not working in a professional manner, and yet they feel that there is nothing they can do about it. That they are trapped in the monster that is Web publishing that demands more and more content, more and more “innovation” – apps, AI, chat bots, shiny new things delivered at incredible speed. It’s a frenzy, a spiral of chaotic, often pointless activity, being agile and speeding and fast and flexible at all costs in order to produce more stuff for the insatiable Web monster.

“The starkest team I’ve dealt with is the team that deals with press releases,” Sarah Winters states. “What they say is: ‘I want good relations with journalists. I want to go out to tea with them. I want to find out what’s important to them, that if I get on the phone and tell them that I’ve got a story for them, they can trust me that it is relevant to them. But I don’t have time.’ Because they’re running all the time. And they’re putting press releases up on websites that nobody ever looks at.”

I’m doing research on how much CO2 creating content produces. 1,000 words of content that takes 20 hours to write, review, sign off and publish can create around 2 kg of CO2. That’s not accounting for download, viewing, storage, etc. The Web content industry is producing all this waste, all this pollution. For what?

“We did some stuff,” Sarah says. “We did it really quickly. And it was great for the time. But they never get to go back. They go to work every day and they have that nagging feeling that every time they do something they can never go back.”

We know this is wrong. We know all this waste content is not good for the environment. And it’s certainly not good for those who are forced to create and publish this stuff. “And the turnover in digital teams,” Sarah says. “One government digital team I know has had 100% turnover in the last six months. Because it’s just painful in there. Painful. And they’re blaming it on Agile and stuff. But if you don’t set up the environment properly—and it’s got to be the upper echelons that understand this—you’re just on a whole cycle of pain.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Digital has in so many ways destroyed content professionalism. Yet there are hundreds of years of history and experience, rules, processes, guidelines, about how to manage content professionally. Just because someone gives you a massive big digital digger in the form of a content management system, doesn’t mean you have to dig as many holes as you can in the fastest time you can. Just because you can publish doesn’t mean you should. We must relearn the basics, and there is nothing more basic than this principle:

Publish the website you can maintain.

Sarah Winters: How COVID-19 drove panic publishing