Dare I Say It? Even Your Website Might Benefit from “Less is More”
TL;DR – The highlights
- Marie Kondo has taught the world – and me – a method for deciding what is clutter, and what is not, and the value of getting rid of what is
- We can apply the principle to our website content
- You can use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to aid in this effort
- What not to do
I guess it depends on what cultural corner you live on whether you know the name Marie Kondo. Some days it seems like everyone has heard of her, other days I mention her name to a friend and they react with “who?” I first encountered her as a reference used by others who expected me to know who she is. For example this 2019 article on the political blog The Bulwark:
And the biggest threat to physical books is Marie Kondo gleefully advising people to toss them all out in the name of “decluttering.”
Or what about a reference in a 2019 article from The Atlantic about astronomy (of all things):
In 2013, astronomers found something new around Neptune, in a manner that would make Marie Kondo proud.
I had heard the references enough to know the name, but nothing about her (despite the fact that she had a New York Times best-selling book, a 2019 Netflix series, and had appeared on Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Ellen Degeneres, along with many other venues (ok, so I don’t get out much!).
How This Digital Marketer Discovered Marie Kondo
I really discovered the disarmingly charming Ms. Kondo when I discovered her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” on a shelf in my office while in the process of, well, tidying up, of course. I had never seen the book, and no one in my household claimed ownership. Weeks later I learned that the book was (probably) purchased by my mom. But since she rarely visits my house it’s still a mystery how it ended up on my bookshelf (there’s a bit of magic there, as well).
Guess what; I read it. I was intrigued by Marie’s simple rule of keeping only those things that “spark joy” in my life. (Of course, I had to fudge Marie’s rule a bit to include household necessities. Let’s face it, though there’s simply no joy to be found in a roll of paper towels, I’m not about to throw it away. Duh!).
I launched into a full “KonMari” process in my fast emptying home (3 kids gone, only one remains: I’m almost an empty nester). I piled every stitch of clothing on my bed to give myself that “shokku” that Marie wants her clients to feel. As in “Damn! How did I ever find the money to buy all those clothes?” I emptied every bookshelf, every filing cabinet, every cupboard, every drawer. My garage became engorged with joyless items I not only no longer needed, but I couldn’t even remember why I owned.
I discovered things. Some precious. Some not so precious, such as the 16-years-past-the-expiration box of Crème Brulèe mix. Or the even more ancient jar of Tiger Balm (the date on this jar means this tiny, unused jar accompanied us as my family changed address 4 times. It’s almost as old as my 24-year-old 2nd born – born September of 97, and is older than my 16-year-old daughter and my 19-year-old son — and it still smells good, btw).
It took months to complete the process of “tidying up” but it truly has been “life changing magic.” I feel lighter, happier, much more settled. I also have less trouble finding my keys (the whole process was worth it just for that bennie).
It wasn’t until I was almost complete with that grueling, months-long process, and hard into my final 2 acts: the decluttering yard sale, followed by driving the packed van of leftovers to Goodwill, that I realized how Marie Kondo’s lessons, method, and logic could make the digital marketing struggle with content similarly lighter, happier, and even – how shall I put this? – magical.
Anyone who’s been creating content for years, especially for a blog, knows that it’s amazing how much content you end up with. It’s like piling all your clothes on the bed. It gives you a “shokku.”
My friend Matt Campbell, who has built one of the most successful wedding websites online (myweddingsongs.com), impressed me early on not only with his dedication to adding content to his website, but his fortitude in removing content that no longer served its purpose.
The benefits have been enormous for Matt and many others aiming for better performance for their websites. Google is no fan of content “deadwood,” and websites typically see a benefit from getting rid of pages that no one finds valuable. Some pages are easy to identify, like the page I just found on one of my long-neglected personal websites that’s advertising the workshops I’ll be holding during…2013!
But for other pages where the choice is not so clear, how do you decide?
That brings us back to Marie Kondo, because her approach to this decision can be applied to your website. The articles I mentioned at the outset all apply a similar approach to decluttering your website, namely asking yourself what “sparks joy.”
Sparking Digital Joy
How can you reduce Marie’s famous maxim, “keep only what sparks joy,” to your website or blog? I see three areas where you can look for a form of “joy” in this context.
Sparking Joy for the Audience
The first aspect of joy applies to your audience. A website likely won’t grow, or even survive, unless it creates satisfaction for those users that encounter its pages. Well, how would you know that? Here are a few ways.
Comments – If you’re evaluating blog pages with the comments section open, a great way to judge “joy” is whether people are leaving comments (favorable ones, obviously).
Backlinks – After your page has been up for a time, use a tool like Majestic to see if any links have been created to it from legitimate websites. Organic links to your content often are a spontaneous expression of “joy,” at least in the context we’re talking about.
Engagement with the page – In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Take a look at the column “Avg. Time on Page,” and sort it from high to low. You’ll immediately start seeing pages that people lingered over, and, on the opposite end of the scale, pages they couldn’t escape from fast enough. One word of caution when applying this analysis: it only works if you have a decent volume of visits to the page. Any page with visits in the single digits can’t effectively be evaluated this way. Which brings us to the next form of joy…
Sparking Joy for Google
Ok, I realize I’m stretching a bit here. We all know that Google’s primary measurement of joy is profit. But think of joy in this sense as an “algorithmic” joy, if such a thing exists. Basically, does Google like to display your page to searchers? Do you think Googlebot gives a little squeal of delight when it crawls your page? (I already admitted that I’m stretching this a bit…or quite a bit…but I think the principle here is valid.)
If Google sees no value in your content, the average searcher will never have a chance to decide whether it sparks joy for them or not.
A great tool for determining this is Google Search Console. Inside of Search Console, navigate to Performance, and then switch the display to Pages. Make sure you have a pretty large window of time. For this type of measurement I typically max the time window to 18 months. Enable the “Position” column in display. Sort by Impressions from lowest to highest.
When you see pages that a) have been around for a while, and b) are getting very few impressions, or none at all, then those pages are obviously not sparking joy in the heart of Google’s algorithm. Unless there’s a strong reason to keep the page, remove it. (Here’s a quick video how-to I created that illustrates the basics)
Sparking Joy for You
This final measure of joy is, in my opinion, the most important. Does the page spark joy for you? I can’t give you a measurement tool for this, because you’ll have to find the answer within. If you view a page and it sparks the opposite of joy, for example embarrassment at a piece of old content you wrote when you didn’t know better, you might want to dump it regardless of the metrics.
On the other hand, if you wrote a page, most likely a blog post, that still speaks for you, and resonates with you, I would suggest keeping it alive even if you’re the only reader (obviously this advice is for those of you who run your own websites; if you’re an agency like Horizon Web Marketing you have to evaluate everything through the eyes of your client). If you are a blogger, for example, and you jettison pages you value just because others don’t, ultimately there will be nothing left of you in your website. Your website will have lost its soul, and you will lose interest. I guarantee it.
What Not to Do in Decluttering Your Website
That having been said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to get rid of old pages that spark joy for no one. So, make your hit list, but make sure you learn the right way to get rid of your stuff before you start throwing pages in the trash can. I’ll be getting that post out in the next week or two, so keep an eye out.
And While You Wait…
Ross Barefoot got his start in small business managing an importing company in the bicycle industry. While there, he tried his hand at programming to find more effective ways to track, market and sell his company’s range of bicycle parts. He loved the web marketing side of things so much he became a professional web developer in 2001, starting a website design business in Western Colorado. He took his first SEO certification course from the Search Engine Academy in 2002, followed it up with another in 2004, and decided to jump full time into SEO training and consulting in 2011, becoming a Master Certified Instructor with the Search Engine Academy, where he continues to serve on the Board of Directors. Today, Ross is CTO, trainer and chief SEO strategist at Horizon Web Marketing (www.horizonwebmarketing.com), a full-service digital marketing agency based in Las Vegas.