How to Handle Content Debt

As we approach the end of the year, many organizations are having their annual conversation around design freezes and technical debt. This year I found myself wondering: why don’t we have end-of-year freezes to spend time on content debt?

What is “Debt”?

Technical debt typically refers to work that piles up and never has a set deadline. For example, when a product needs to launch, a developer may write some quick code to make sure it works. Somewhere they make a note that the code isn’t consistent with other areas, and should be cleaned up “later”. But after launch there are new deadlines, and “later” never comes.

Code freezes or design freezes are one way that companies give their technical teams time to clean up code from over the year.

Content debt comes from similar places. For example, halfway through the year a new SEO term is identified. The writers write articles and work the term in. But there are older articles that could be revised to link to the new articles and to use the new term. But when is there time for this sort of maintenance? Editorial calendars focus on the future, not revising past work!

Content Debt Projects

If your team could put a content freeze in place for a week or two at the end of each year, what might you work on? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Update style guides: review your voice, tone, and editorial style guides to make sure it still represents your brand.
  • Review sources: if you work in healthcare, your sources typically need to be no more than three years old. This means checking and revising articles at least every three years!
  • Check for inclusivity: we are lucky to live in an era where we are listening to more voices. That also means it’s worth checking your content each year to apply new learnings. Maybe you’ll revise old metaphors that you now know are offensive, or maybe you’ll update the pronouns you use. (As an added bonus, reviewing old content makes it more likely you’ll reuse that content in the future!)

What other content debt can you envision spending time on?

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