3 ways to reduce technical debt in content: Avoid bare URLs, events and analyst content

Infrastructure and code aren’t the only things in your organization that incur technical debt. Content marketing on blogs is a major offender. Here’s just three things to cut down on technical debt in your content marketing on blogs.

Content marketing practice to avoid: Bare URLs/URIs in content

Be kind to your readers and to yourself: Stop putting bare URIs / URLs in your content. Bare URLs – that is, something like http://www.example.com/document should never be in prose on the web. No, you’re not doing your content marketing any favors with cutesy shortened URLs or campaign vanity URLs. It’s not 2003, nobody is going around memorizing URLs anymore.

The most obvious reasons to avoid bare URLs in content marketing: It’s ugly, it demonstrates laziness in writing and editing, and (as I understand it) is also a lousy experience for anybody using screen readers to read your content. If you’re listening to your content aloud, would you want to hear a long URL read out loud, or would you prefer to hear “find out more in the installation guide on our support page”?

The technical debt reasons go deeper.

Companies get acquired, domains and subdomains change, documents move around. (It also hurts you with SEO, but that’s another discussion.) As soon as you sprinkle a vanity URL or shortlink through your docs, it’s almost guaranteed to change.

If you / your target are using best practices, that should be transparent to the user. For instance, we try to point to Drupal nodes on our site rather than absolute links. A node should not change even if its URL structure does. If you’re pointing to another site, if you’re lucky, they’ll provide a reasonable redirect for the content.

But if your prose is sprinkled with bare URLs you need to go back and fix the actual text accompanying the URL. That’s some tedious technical debt to deal with. Ask me how I know…

Decomposing content: Events

Many teams have a checklist around events that includes writing a blog to announce that they’re speaking at, sponsoring or otherwise involved in an event. I’m here to say, don’t.

OK, it’s more nuanced than that. The longer version is: “Don’t mindlessly follow a checklist that says you have to blog about an event without considering the efficacy and long-term usefulness of the content.”

A post about an event in two weeks (or less) has a shelf life of… two weeks (or less). That means, in order to accomplish any goal except “say we did it,” you need X number of people to read the post who are also participating in the event and will take whatever action (watch a presentation, visit a booth) you’re hoping to get them to do.

Now consider the baggage you’re creating. Two weeks plus one day, and the event post is probably as appealing as one of those truck stop hot dogs that have been simmering in their own juices for as long as the truck stop has been open. And these are 24/7 businesses I’m talking about.

Worse? It’s rotting. The event URLs will break. The lovingly crafted speaker bios and sponsor pages? They’re going to be swept away to make room for next year’s event. But your post remains.

Again, technical debt that lingers.

Sometimes it makes sense to write about an event on your blog, but usually not. Post-event summaries are sometimes good. If you’re actually hosting a major (note that I said major) event, you probably need to have a strategy that involves your blog.

But, really, a functional organization should have an events page and social media strategy that pushes people to go to events. I’ll write more on that topic on a later date.

Decomposing content part II: Analyst papers, webinars and other expiring content

Fun fact: Most analyst firms actively disappear content. (Except RedMonk. I love those folks.) Usually things have a shelf life of 12 months, maybe more depending on the report and the firm. If you’re lucky, content might only be refreshed every 24 months or longer.

Webinars also age out. Often they’re produced to be hosted for, again, about 12 months.

There’s tension here between content that absolutely makes for a good post and also needs to be curated and probably zapped in 12 months or so. This really stinks when the content actually gets a little search love and brings in page views month after month.

What can you do? Unlike events, I don’t recommend just avoiding analyst content or writing about webinars.

But you need to future-proof your content and have a plan. If you’re just referencing an analyst report, write your content to be evergreen and make the analyst inclusions things you can replace without doing great violence to the post. If the post is entirely about the report and you can’t do this, think about having Plan B content to redirect to when the report expires and you need to pull down your post.

Don’t create content that just promotes webinars. See the previous section about event content.

Do think about spinning an evergreen post that links to the webinar with a discreet graf that can be changed or removed later. Many CMSes will let you do this automagically by having a second draft that is timed to replace the current draft on a specific date. You can set everything up from day one and not have to spend hours a month spelunking through the CMS to replace, revise or otherwise tinker with old content.

Quick fixes: More to come…

Those are just a few quick fix tips to avoid technical debt on your organization’s blog and other content marketing.

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