Ready, set, redesign!

Author: Alicia Backlund

Date: September 8, 2017

It finally happened! You got the budget for your much-needed intranet redesign! Happiness! Celebration! Merriment throughout the land!

Finally, you can get that new content management system, portal, enterprise social media, design, interface, navigation, consultant help, or magic fairy dust that will turn your tired old intranet into something sparkly and awesome. All your problems will be solved!

But wait. I have a little dose of reality for you.

Even if you have a HUGE budget (you don't), or a team of intranet ninjas headed up by Jakob Nielsen himself (you don't), or a mythical software that has everything you need from an intranet (no one does), you still might have a problem.

It's your content, silly

Yes. Your content. Remember that?

Your content. The information, policies, handbooks, guides, how-tos, discussion boards, directories, tools, resources, and all those other reasons you have an intranet in the first place. How's it doing?

If the answer is "not so good," or more likely "I don't really know," stop right there. Before you undertake a redesign or system upgrade (and all the complexity that comes with either of them), get your content house in order. Seek and destroy the redundant, the outdated, and the trivial. Assign owners to orphaned areas. Figure out what your users are trying to find and make sure it actually exists.

Sound daunting? It can be ... but you can do it! Read on for three fundamental, basic, and yet often-overlooked steps you can take right now to make sure your content is in the best shape it can be.

(Side note: no redesign in your future? Maybe it's just wishful thinking at this point? Actually, that's GREAT. This is the perfect time to undertake a content strategy, audit, and cleanup project. That way, when the budget does come through, you don't have to get ready. Because you'll BE ready.)

Step One: Content Inventory

Quick, how many pages are on your intranet? Think about it, we'll wait ...

If you don't know the answer, don't feel bad. Many, many intranet managers don't. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't stop what you're doing and find out, right now.

When our company undertakes an intranet project of any size or scope, we always, always, ask for a content inventory. Intranets are full of nooks and crannies and permission-based lockboxes that can prevent their managers from seeing everything that exists, if you rely only on navigation and search. Improving intranet content without an inventory is like cleaning your house while wearing a blindfold: better than doing nothing, I guess, but not really effective.

From good ...

The most common format for an inventory is the lowly but effective spreadsheet, usually generated from your content management system. Talk with your IT partners about the best way to generate an inventory, because you're probably going to need their help.

A good inventory gives you the basic insights you might be lacking, such as:

  • Page title, which, at a minimum, answers the "how much" question. A spreadsheet full of page titles requires only that you scroll down (and scroll, and scroll) to answer the "Good grief. We have HOW many pages?" question.
  • URL, which answers the "What the heck IS this" question. If you're so inclined, the full list of URLs allows you to click every single page in the list to determine what it is and what to do with it.

Bonus: your URL structure might expose some interesting inconsistencies, such as pages with URLs like oursite/productsandservices, oursite/servicesandproducts, and oursite/ourproductsandservices, etc. This isn't necessarily a huge problem, but it indicates a lack of governance and awareness among content owners.

To great ...

A great inventory gives you even more actionable information, such as:

  • Created date, which tells you (obviously) how long the content has been around.
  • Last updated date, which, along with its BFF, created date, is a gold mine of information. Was it created once and never touched again? If so, its not an automatic candidate for deletion. Perhaps it's a trusted source of information that doesn't change a lot. However, it's certainly an idicator that the content needs a closer look.
  • Page owner, creator, and/or last updater, which answers the elusive "who" question. Who asked for this thing? Can we track them down and find out why, and whether they still need it? And when we can set up a working session to make it better?
  • Metadata, if you've captured any. This includes page descriptions, tags, and keywords. If you're not requiring or capturing any, should you? If you are, what are you doing with it? Anything? Are there standards and guidelines about what metadata should be captured or entered, in what format, and why?

Now that you've got your list, it's time to clean house! Start digging through the inventory. Set up working sessions with your major content owners and stakeholders so they can take ownership of their content and help clean up decisions.

HOWEVER: understand that deleting intranet content is a very scary process for many people. Your content owners may be new to the role, they may be unsure who (if anyone) is using their content and for what purpose, or they may just be digital pack rats by nature.

If that is the case, you MUST put on your big kid pants and help them make some difficult decisions. If it helps everyone feel better, work with IT to set up a limited-time (emphasis on LIMITED) archive process in case you accidently delete the most important thing on the intranet (you won't).

Your content owners might be responsible for the content, but YOU are responsible for the intranet as a whole. Assert your knowledge and your expertise, own the process, or risk moving a bunch of worn-out old content into your pretty new intranet.

Step Two: Metrics and Analytics

You've heard it before: "What gets measured get managed." A tired old cliche, but cliches become tired and old for a reason - because they're often true.

Are you measuring?

What data, statistics, and traffic information can you access or request? If you don’t know, talk to your IT team and find out.

If you find out you’re not measuring anything, put that subject at the top of your list of things to bother people about. Ask for a metrics tool. Start the dreaded budget talk, if you need to. If that’s not an option, or if it’ll take a lot of time (it will), start exploring other options.

Can you ...

  • Take advantage of something … anything … that’s built into your CMS and/or portal systems? Find out if these systems have ANY ability to track ANYTHING. Just because it’s not currently happening doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Never assume, and keep asking until you get an answer.
  • Piggyback on your dot com site’s metrics tool? Because it’s a pretty sure bet that it has a metrics tool that’s measuring all kinds of things. It’s possible that your license agreement would extend to the intranet, so, again, keep asking.
  • Practice asking the painfully obvious questions? As in “So … hmm … we don't think it’s a good idea to find out how many people are actually reading those intranet pages and internal communications stories we’re working so hard to churn out?" Ok, tread lightly — we don’t want you getting fired for excessive sarcasm. But it truly is amazing how often The Powers That Be must be reminded that measuring internal effectiveness with real, actual numbers is a good idea.

If you’re not measuring, you need to become the intranet metrics champion at your company. Talk about it until people start ducking into closets when they see you coming, to avoid yet another conversation about page views and unique users.

What are you measuring?

If you are measuring, that’s good news! The next question is: what are you measuring? Web analytics terminology can be complex and confusing, so it’s worth giving yourself a crash course. Remember, people make entire careers out of understanding and managing web analytics, so don't feel bad if you don't become an overnight expert. Begin at the beginning: Google Analytics provides a glossary of terms, the ubiquitous For Dummies series has a book on web analytics, and even Wikipedia can be a good start (or a good refresher course on the basics).

Now is also the time to dig up some search data. Complaining about intranet search is practically a team buiding event at many companies, and the way to get beyond complaining and into solutions is to start with data.

What are the 20, 30, or even 100 most commonly searched terms on your intranet? Understanding what people are plugging into search can give you great insight in to what’s important to your users.

Once you’ve figured out your paths from your pageviews and identified your most-searched terms, it’s time to decide what to do with all that juicy data.

Why are you measuring?

What does success look like? Do you know? Make sure you understand what you’re measuring and why.

If you’re just starting out, it’s ok to start with a period of simply gathering data for benchmarking. Collect your average home page views, unique users, views on corporate news stories, and so on, so you can figure out where the needle is positioned before you try to move it.

But don’t get lazy. Set a time limit for simply watching and learning — especially if you’ve got a redesign looming. It’s easy, and very tempting, to sit back, collect data, spit it back out in pretty graphs, and think your work is done. Meanwhile, these allegedly objective numbers are getting interpreted and misinterpreted and bent and twisted.

As our friends at Intranetizen advise, measure those things that you mean to act upon, and make sure you understand the “so what” of your metrics. People (your bosses) tend to get a little drunk on metrics, particularly if they’ve not been previously available, so grab the keys to your analytics system. And remember: friends don’t let friends misinterpret intranet data.

Should it stay or should it go?

You’ve learned, collected, measured, and defined success. Now it’s time to use that data to make decisions.

But of course it’s not as easy as it seems. Pages with minimal page views aren’t automatic candidates for deletion … but they ARE automatic candidates for further research. What’s the deal? Are they too hard to find, or truly not useful? Do they need better navigation placement? Better tagging for search? Or do they need to go bye-bye?

Similarly, pages with lots of views aren’t necessarily successful. People may be hitting them again and again without actually finding the information they need. Look at those pages with a critical eye, and talk to users if you have time. Then act, act, act. Don’t get stuck in the dreaded analysis paralysis. Get those big kid pants out and put ‘em on!

Step Three: Strategy

Ah, strategy … such a loaded word. Intranet teams often overthink it, locking themselves in a room for a few days to create a bloated PowerPoint that gets stored away and rarely looked at again.

Think about it

Or they under-think it. The team is so busy “doing” that they don’t have time to think through what they’re doing and why. Then, the first time they’re asked (aka commanded by an executive) to put something on the home page that honestly does not belong there, they don’t have a defined strategy to help them say “We’d love to help you, so let us show you how we’ve determined where that actually belongs.”

Fill in the blanks

If you've got the overblown strategy deck, get it out, dust it off, and translate it into something actionable as it relates to the content on your intranet. For major pages (or page types, such as department landing pages or employee profiles), play this fun little game. It’s like Mad Libs, but for content strategy:

This is the ____________ for users who want to ____________________ so they can _______________.

If you can’t fill in those blanks with clear, concise statements, stop. Sit down with your core team, right now, and take a crack at it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be perfect. It should be, as they say, “a living document,” because you should always be questioning and validating what you’re putting on your pages and why.

Do it for your existing pages, for sure, and if you’re redesigning, you MUST do it for the proposed pages of your redesigned intranet. If you redesign your intranet without giving the proper attention to content strategy, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

If you need help getting started, familiarize yourself with the work of people like Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, and Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile. They’ll inspire to you give your content, its corresponding strategy, and your employees the attention they all deserve.


And please, we beg you, do not keep content hanging around “just in case” someone might need it. Do not abuse your employees just because they’re a captive audience and the intranet is their only choice for getting work done. Instead of paying lip service to how your employees are “your most valuable asset”, prove it. Respect their time, their work, and their brainpower by keeping content useful and usable.

And ... go!

You’ve got the strategy defined for both existing and new pages … now it’s go time. Take every proposed piece of content for the page and bounce it up against your strategy. If it sticks, it stays. If you’ve got to move and massage to get it to work, it doesn’t belong.

You're ready!

All right, intrepid intranet manager. Go forth and get your content ready! Follow the steps above and you’ll be making progress before you know it. Although, um, we haven’t even talked about the messy part: governance and people. We’ll get to that in a future article. For now, focus on getting the content sparkly clean! You can do it!