No matter how little or poorly you’ve organized your content, your database stores those posts in chronological order – often with a last updated field.
In info architecture theory, they often talk about information scent, the cues that users rely on to get where they want on the site – link text, icons, etc.
As I’ve gone through old posts from the beginning, I’m finding something similar we’ll call time scent.
- Trace content over time, find themes common to those periods
- Reviewing chronologically mitigates the subset of cognitive biases associated with memory
- You bias to seeing recency as relevance
- We assume new is better.
- It is hard to value that which you forget.
- On Peak-End memory bias
- We peak on topics that wind you up
- Related, we peak on what's well received
- Our memories bias toward endings as they signal realizations, turning points, transitions, completions, etc..
- A change in what subject matter you write about signifies completion.
As you review old content chronologically (which I recommend for sites with under ~200 articles written over a period of a year or more), you will see natural breakpoints at different points of your thinking through writing, your cultivating expertise.
Some is subject matter patterns, some is the way you think about certain problems, you’ll notice a series of related posts, or content format ideas you tried out.
But what I’m asking you to think about is potential patterns and features associated with what areas within your target expertise you were focused on that time.
Trace content over time, find themes common to those periods
What are the identifiable patterns that can support you to more quickly and effectively organize?
Bundling your posts by book theme
Some people actually stick to themes or seek an answer to a burning question for a year through blogging and then write a book. Aside: I’m thinking of Mark Schaefer forr all his books, Simon Sinek for Start With Why, Darren Hardy for The Compound Effect, Chris Anderson for The Long Tail, Cal Newport’s books, Scott Young’s books, and the list goes on.
Identifying attributes of bad definitely-should-delete content you come across and using that attribute to find more similarly bad content (from the same time period)
Is some post clearly trash now? If so, why?
I just had this experience. I found a 1,600 word draft of a how to post. Some of it is useful, the tactical parts, and some of it is just based on assumptions I’ve since busted. So I save the tactical bit as a component in another draft and delete the 1400 words that aren’t as good as what I would write today.
What makes it not worth keeping? Answering that can often be used as a ruleset for quickly finding lots of other content to get rid of as well!
For the above example, I ran through two approaches to a content audit, a quick and dirty and a robust one. Both were super flawed and based on bad assumptions that experts’ sites are like traditional business websites.
Now I know all “content audit” related posts from that time or earlier are too dated to keep, so they can be tagged, “probably-delete” or similar. Which takes me so much further than looking at that post, saying “yuck,” and hitting delete. It helps me bundle / replicate that decision to just think about it a bit more.
Organize a series of old posts by using the clarity of hindsight
When you wrote x post, who were you thinking about at that time? What were you trying to say? Why
was it did it seem important enough to write about?
In aggregate, how have those things changed?
I had a call with a prospect a few months ago. They said something like, “I think what you’re getting at with your recent posts is x.” They had just put it so plainly.
But I had been dancing around the main point I was trying to make for weeks in my emails. Going back, I see it clearly now.
That look back can also help you identify what those posts were about because you have the context of coming out on the other end of the thinking tunnel. You’ve now made a more global decision about something.
That might mean cutting a month or two of posts where you pulled on some thread and clearly ended up in the ether.
That might mean bundling a series of posts that do a nice job of meeting the reader where they are.
Or you see a 20 post streak where you were really just on a roll, in a growth spurt, and you have more context now, you can say, “hey. these posts are about x.” And bulk label them as such.
Reviewing chronologically mitigates the subset of cognitive biases associated with memory
The human brain is fascinating. We have a system that allows us to ignore massive amounts of sensory information and focus deeply in a direction and a system that rewards certain activities, often leading to obsession.
And then we have memory.
You bias to seeing recency as relevance
Recency will almost always be correlated with relevance, in the sense that it is most relevant to what you care about right now. There is a pitfall here.
Almost all experts with content I talk to devalue their older content.
I think this happens for a few reasons.
We assume new is better.
Things change. The way we talk about ideas or the names we have for them change. We’re better now so our content must be better.
True to an extent, but you also over-value that newness.
I’ll hear someone say, “ugh, my old funnel,” or reference their welcome series email sequence as bad.
And then I’ll look at the funnel or subscribe to the sequence and think, “this is good, it is a good representation, a good introduction to this person’s world.” But like the dev who doesn’t want to reread their old code, or the college kid that doesn’t want to see a photo of themselves going through puberty, you want to shed that old content.
This matters because the way you used to think about your subject matter, when you were newer, may be closer to how your audience thinks about it.
We also forget.
It is hard to value that which you forget.
I’m not sure you can assign value to something you can’t remember. At least not without reviewing it. Not much else to say here.
On Peak-End memory bias
We tend to focus on and remember peaks and endings. In Peak-End Theory, we find the patterns in what people remember relate to highly charged negative emotions and end points of experiences.
We peak on topics that wind you up
For experts, we peak on topics that really get us going. Something winds you up, and it prompts you to pour out a response on some subject.
This thought leadership type content happens less frequently, but you are more likely to remember it. You may even remember the name of those articles.
Related, we peak on what’s well received
You write something with a fire in your belly, and then it “gets around.” The dopamine release of the unexpected likes/shares/ is great, and this can be a signal you use for your good content to keep test, but as the saying goes, viral is not a strategy.
It’s a moment in time. It may even be a distraction for the outcome you are seeking for your audience. You may not want to put it front and center.
Our memories bias toward endings as they signal realizations, turning points, transitions, completions, etc..
For our bias toward endings, end points in one area or phase of our lives mark starting points of what’s next, you know, the threads that become more interesting to us that we start to pull on and in the process leave others.
Those end points can be realizations, “I don’t want to do x work anymore (so I don’t want to write about it either).”
I think of it like one flavor of cognitive dissonance reduction – the preference for the new direction is called choice-supportive bias leading us to tend to focus on and attach value to the options we choose over those. This warps our memories in predictable ways.
Those more macro sized transitions/endings in your content also signify turning points.
I remember when in a few month period I saw three or four websites people had built themselves with no technical ability that from a design standpoint were of the same quality we’d charge $8k to 12k for.
I needed that string of close together experiences to really look at the type of work I wanted to do moving forward.
That was around 2016, I haven’t updated the Inbound Found website portfolio since. Now whenever I write a line of PHP, CSS, jQuery, I can’t help but think about it.
I bet you do this too.
A change in what subject matter you write about signifies completion.
Maybe most obvious, if I was writing a lot about a topic because I was taking a course, or had a client or two in a certain industry, or needed to know something and got to a point where I knew enough to then move on.
Like donating a bunch of stuff to Good Will during a move, it’s very hard to accurately assess the value of something you leave behind (to someone else).