Exploding Topic Pages

The JBoye event in Philadelphia is always one of my favorites. It’s a place where practitioners get together to talk about what’s really happening with digital strategy. An event short on schwag and vendor sales pitches and long on in-depth conversations and peer networking.

I just got out of a session on Exploding Topic Pages by Tim McGovern of the Heritage Foundation and David Hobbs of David Hobbs Consulting (presentation embedded below). I’m a sucker for anything with Explosion in the title.

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. with 300 folks on staff focused on public policy research.

The Foundation embarked on a redesign in 2010 in tandem to a move to a new CMS. A key goal was to do a better job of curating top-level pages and get more granular with more specific topics.

Anyone that has managed large -scale content sites knows how important topic pages can be, and how hard they can be to manage in decentralized organizations.

Here’s where the explosion part comes in:

As part of the redesign process the foundation went from 71 to 920 topic pages as part of the redesign effort. Yes, 920 topic pages.

Tim’s challenge was to figure out if this was a good or bad thing.

His photo of a train wreck said it all.

They discovered the explosion of topic pages resulted in very uneven quality. They ended up with lots of orphan pages with inadequate content and sub par user experiences.

David Hobbs partnered with the Foundation to take them through a process to clean up the mess and get a better strategy put in place for managing the pages on an ongoing basis.

“There are different types of topic pages,” says David. “Some are news related and need to be put up very quickly, and some are more permanent.”

What I loved about their approach is the rigor and data behind the decision making process. Tim and David walked through a comprehensive assessment methodology that looked at both supply side and demand side metrics.

They found that the approach to validating a topic page came down to three core questions

• Has there been research published in the last six months?
• Is there greater than 10 content items for the topic?
• Have there been more than 10 page views in the last six months?

Here’s another gem from their process:

They gave each research director a data-driven scorecard to show them how their topic pages were performing and where they “were in the red.”

These dashboards provided the directors real-time information on the health of their topic pages and content, along with direct links to open up tickets to fix any issues around tagging or out of date content.

The end result of all this effort was to cull the topic pages down from those 900+ to around 150. They also have a much more engaged group of research directors that have actionable information about the performance of their content. It was a compelling case study and one I think a lot of organizations can learn from.

Here’s the presentation from Tim and David:

Exploding Topics Pages
View more presentations from David Hobbs Consulting

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

More articles from Jeff Cram

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