A challenge for 2006: Cut your site in half Jason 09 Dec 2005

69 comments Latest by William Freeman

Spurred on by a comment by Aaron K in this thread I wanted to toss a challenge out there. Cut your site’s page count in half in 2006.

As sites mature they should be getting smaller, not bigger. Fewer pages, not more. Fewer words, Fewer paragraphs, Fewer options. There’s too much on too many sites.

See what you can say in 3 pages instead of 6. Do you really need that extra page? Do you really need to add one more paragraph? Can’t you explain that in 2 sentences instead of 4? Be wiser, not a know-it-all. Be the one who choses their words carefully, not the one who never shuts up.

Bottom line: Try to be a better editor in 2006.

69 comments so far (Jump to latest)

John Peele 09 Dec 05

We were just able to convince a client of this need. Once our position was communicated clearly to her, she felt less defensive and welcomed our advice. They have spent other money elsewhere on brochures and catalogs. We advised them to streamline and simplify their new site.

“Be the one who choses their words carefully, not the one who never shuts up”… is basically what they were able to realize. Good advice JF.

steve 09 Dec 05

As sites mature they should be getting smaller, not bigger. Fewer pages, not more. Fewer words, fewer paragraphs, fewer options. There�s too much on too many sites.

Just because you’re pitching a Less Software approach, please don’t start rewriting the rules of the English language. If you can count them, use fewer, not less. It is indeed all about choosing your words carefully.

Nollind Whachell 09 Dec 05

I’m totally up for the challenge but the main problem is that while I want to strive to be more focused, I also want to talk about more things and provide more information on my site than before. I’m referring to different sections of content, not how much I talk about. The key difficulty I’m finding is structuring my content in such a way this is extremely easy to grasp and navigate.

A good example of this is how people use categories to separate their different blog content. I find this inadequate still because, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think people want to read about blogging development ideas in one post and then hear about general life stuff in the next post. Too many different kinds of content in one blog journal can be confusing for the reader. Yet on the other hand I do want my site to be as diverse as I am as a person. The answer I’ve come up with is creating different “spaces” or sections of the site that contain these different diverse topics (i.e. one section that is business related, another that is computer gaming related, another talking about personal life stuff, and so on). As I said above though, how best to do this is the question. Simplicity is a very complex thing to achieve. :)

nhoj samoht 09 Dec 05

Weird, I was thinking about this on the way into the office today. Basically changing the site from 5 pages to 2, saying this is what I can do for you, contact me.

Good stuff…

Aaron K 09 Dec 05

I propose a new type of site as an alternative to the “brochure site”… the business card site!

Page 1 - Blog
Page 2 - About/Contact Information

Any additional information will be happily emailed to you by a lackey/intern/mail clerk.

JF 09 Dec 05

The key difficulty I�m finding is structuring my content in such a way this is extremely easy to grasp and navigate.

The best way to do this is to have LESS content. The rest will come naturally.

JF 09 Dec 05

Thanks for correcting me Steve. I’ve fixed it.

“Just because you�re pitching a Less Software approach, please don�t start rewriting the rules of the English language.”

Don’t start being a dick. You can correct someone politely without suggesting they are “rewriting the rules of the English language.” It’s called a mistake.

Alan 09 Dec 05

I decided when i finished my last redesign of Spoiltchild.com months ago that when next i do one, it will be a one page job.

Mike Rundle 09 Dec 05

But Steve, doesn’t the word “less” contain fewer words than the word “fewer”? Maybe JF was trying to make a point ;)

Michael McDerment 09 Dec 05


I think it totally depends on what the goal is for your site and what kind of site you have (i.e. what you are trying to convert your user to do?). The only correct way to go is the way that most effectively converts end users to your desired goals. The only way to know that for sure is to test it, measure it and repeat.

Jason, can you provide some data to support this position? Have you delivered results to some of your clients that prove smaller sites convert better? Can you speak to success (in terms of numbers) with some of your web services?

Not (yet) convinced…

JF 09 Dec 05

Michael, I don’t have numbers.

What I have is gut and experience designing our sites and interacting personally with thousands of people who uses our products.

Basically what I’m suggesting is that it’s time for everyone to be better editors. Editors are good at cutting out words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages that really don’t need to be there. We could all benefit by following their lead.

The other thing that challenging people to cut down on the site page/word count does is it actually forces them to read their site. When’s the last time you’ve read your site “cover to cover?” I suspect that anyone who goes through this exercise will find plenty to cut

Eloy Anzola 09 Dec 05

Fantastic advice, Jason.

It applies not only to website design, but to a large number of things.

Communicate your message. Get out of the way.

Anthony 09 Dec 05

“Basically what I�m suggesting is that it�s time for everyone to be better editors.”

Great… now I’m supposed to pretend to be a graphic designer AND an editor. :)

The Lorax is Dead 09 Dec 05

To play devil’s advocate, what about sites like Shopping.com? You can’t distill the diversity of information offered on a site like that into radically fewer pages — the content simply demands categorization and organization.

Some sites inherently have a lot of content and there’s no way around that. Having “less” content on some sites is like saying the Cliff Notes version of Crime and Punishment is a more effective literary vehicle for Dostoevsky.

Darrel 09 Dec 05

“As sites mature they should be getting smaller”

Of course, that completely depends on the type of site.

A better way of saying that is that your site should appear to be getting smaller. In otherwise, through better IA and UI make it easier to digest what’s on your site. Perhaps that includes less content, but maybe not.

Brandon Rome 09 Dec 05

I agree full-heartedly. I work for a start-up Loyalty Rewards program for my 9-5, and we ideas come up, the CEO wants to put every one full-throttle on each new idea, which means we have about 15 ideas that are like 75% complete.

And with each idea, we tend to get anywhere from 2-20 pages. Just since I started here in July, we’ve nearly doubled our pages.. It’s out of control.

My boss praises minimalism, but then she gives me about 50 pages of copy/content that she wants on the .com :(

JF 09 Dec 05

Of course, that completely depends on the type of site.

Ahhhh!!! PLEASE EVERYONE: Of course it depends. Everything depends. Do we really need to preface everything with “it depends” or “this doesn’t apply to everything.” I would hope reasonable people would be able to infer this.

Can you tell this is a huge pet peeve of mine? ;)

alex 09 Dec 05

JF, regarding the “it depends” comment. I’ve read a lot of your posts and they sound like “my way or the wrong way”.

Scrivs 09 Dec 05

Does this mean less blog entries on a blog that didn’t use to post 5-789 times a day which therefore might not increase pageviews as fast they want them to so they can’t raise ad rates?

Or are we just talking about “websites”?

Sorry, had to do it.

Michael McDerment 09 Dec 05

I have to admit I am a numbers guy with these things. Why? Because my gut is not ALWAYS right with usability, but the numbers….I can’t argue with them.

With regards to reading my own site �cover to cover�, it’s a timely question. Web design, navigation and information architecture are iterative in my opinion. Over the past year we have made slight changes to our website, then collected data until we knew if the changes made the site more effective or less effective. It’s a painstaking process, but if you change more than one thing at a time, you’ll never know what made the difference. All that said, right now we are ramping up to make some larger changes to our information architecture based on what we have learned about our customers over the last 18 months. The changes will address the needs and questions our clients routinely put to us. I’m not sure the site will be getting any smaller though, because some of the questions and points of pain (we�re selling to businesses) are complex…but we’ll see. What’s more, I will definitely know (once the changes are released) if the new site is more or less effective. I�m as curious as I can be. Perhaps we’ll try a �micro� down site after that…

JF 09 Dec 05

JF, regarding the �it depends� comment. I�ve read a lot of your posts and they sound like �my way or the wrong way�.

It’s called having an opinion and making a point. This is what I believe to be true.

I’ve said it numerous times in numerous responses: We don’t believe our way is the only way. Never have and never will. It’s just one way among many ways. It works for us so we share it it the hopes it will work for others, but we have no illusions that what we say will work for everyone.

JF 09 Dec 05

but the numbers�.I can�t argue with them.

You can always argue with numbers. Numbers are the result of questions and actions. If the questions and actions are flawed, leading, or misleading, the numbers can tell you lies.

Della Calfee 09 Dec 05

I think the point here is to make an effort to synopsize, to be brief, to be incisive. This wastes ‘less’ of the viewer’s time, and gets more of your message through. Simple enough, really.

JF 09 Dec 05

Scrivs, we’re posting more because we have more to say and more to share. More posts doesn’t bring you more traffic if the audience doesn’t like the posts. I can assure that ad revenue has nothing to do with the # of posts on this blog.

Scrivs 09 Dec 05

My kind of answer. Just having a bit of fun. It’s Friday baby!!! Woohoo!!!

Michael McDerment 09 Dec 05

JF: I hear you, but I have to disagree.

If you conduct a controlled experiment and only change one variable, and have a large enough sample size, you can determine with a pretty decent degree of confidence that the “varibable” is responsible for the change. With that sort of test, results will go up or down. If you know what you wanted to measure BEFORE YOU BEGAN, they you should have your answer once the numbers come in.

Su 09 Dec 05


Editing != cutting.

For that matter, it just as easily involves _expanding_ the content in order to get your information across properly. “Do you really need that extra page?” is a valid question. There’s absolutely no reason it has to lead to some a priori proclamation to make everything shorter/smaller. That’s a rather crap approach to editing, if you ask me.

You also left a rather large opening for attack in failing to specify what you’re talking about. “Sites” covers everything from brochureware and promo minisites to wikis and blogs. Cutting pages is pretty much inherently impossible for some types of sites.

SH 09 Dec 05

I think it’s fairly obvious that the only people who would read something on *a weblog for God’s sake* and think that the author was demanding they change everything they’re doing and mimic him are people who already aren’t confident in the way they’re doing things. If you are confident and self-assured, you shouldn’t have a problem trying new things out, or possibly even modifying the way you’re doing something that’s already proven successful. Humilty is a strength a lot of business/web minded people are lacking these days, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with *listening* to someone tell of their experience and then considering how that can help the way you do business.

I think it’s insecure people who lash out with “Don’t tell me what to do” mentality and assume each post here is written with a sense of self-importance that isn’t - and hasn’t been - promoted on this site. Finger pointing is at best a sign of real immaturity.

JF 09 Dec 05

Sure Michael, if you want to go to those lengths, sure. But there’s a huge cost in the system you are describing. We choose to make gut decisions and then change them if we’re wrong instead of trying to be perfect all the time on your first try. Being perfect all the time on your first try is expensive, time consuming, and too clinical for us.

Su 09 Dec 05

Can you tell this is a huge pet peeve of mine? ;)

Yes. And it’s a well-established huge pet peeve of a goodly portion of your audience that you have a distinct tendency to refuse to temper these statements, despite the fact that the first thing that happens half the time is that someone brings up those dependencies. An editor would probably have pointed this out to you, incidentally. You’ve made a Nielsen-type claim, expect the same sort of backlash.

No, you don’t have preface everything with, “This doesn’t apply to everything.” That’s a disclaimer. Disclaimers are not necessary if you actually bother to state what it is that you _are_ talking about, rather than just calling for pages to be cut.

Brad Sorensen 09 Dec 05

Take a page from the movie making manual.

Enter a scene as late as you can, leave it as early as you can. Don’t subject your audience with information that does not stictly advance the plot.

Websites should be the same.

In regards to marketplace sites (ie, shopping.com as mentioned previously), I would consider the product detail page for all items as one single page. But severely edit that page so that nothing remains that does not advance the sale.

Like why do so many sites have an “About Us” page, a “Contact Us” page and a “Meet our Team” page?

Or why do sites have Product pages, Product Detail pages and then a “Click here for more info” button with tabs for Specs, Details, Etc.

I’m not saying those pages or features are useless, but in many cases, they do nothing to advance the sale.

What are you selling, why should I buy it, how do I get it?
Who are you, why should I hire you, how do I get you?

Simple is less, less is fewer, fewer is smaller, smaller is santa clause.

Michael McDerment 09 Dec 05

Who said anything about getting it right on the first try? :)

We at 2ndSite/Anicon, like you at Basecamp/37 Signals, come from a consulting backgrounds. The folks at Anicon (we are somewhat divided in our roles these days) do most of their client work by offering post design conversion consulting of the kind I have described. These are really live experiments with real users that leverage your web site analytics software. It’s really not a “clinical” feeling to the work, and the feeling is amazing when you see the numbers go up.

pwb 09 Dec 05

Totally agree with the post. My company has no restraint when it comes to adding pages and it’s resulted in a disorganized mess. Worse, it creates horrible ongoing drag since every page as to be translated, run by all sorts of editors, etc.

I’d suggest that Google is a decent example of “less” being a key attribute of its success. Starting with the Google home page, they’ve kept it pretty lean.

While I’m a stickler for using fewer/less correctly, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Jason to use “less” in this post since “less” is an ongoing theme of his. Sort of like “Think different” is perfectly acceptable.

Peter Cooper 09 Dec 05

An aside, Google tends to rank sites with more content better (ignoring all other factors, of course) :)

zx 09 Dec 05

o.k i think we got it L E S S.

fewer + fewer+ fewer + fewer = more from less

you have the right idea, but the soup is getting a bit thin…i suggest you move on to the next great idea;)

Darrel 09 Dec 05

“Can you tell this is a huge pet peeve of mine? ;)”

Yea, well, pundits should expect that kind of reaction. ;o)

We all hate Nielson, right? Because he never says ‘it depends’, right? ;o)

But, that said, your statement made sense, but wasn’t terribly indepth. Perception is more important than actual implementation. What’s important is that people don’t FEEL like they’re digging through extranous content to get to what they want on your web site.

As much as I like to believe the answer should simply be ‘less content is more’, I can’t tell you how many times I go to web sites and get infuriated because the information I want *isn’t* on the site.

I think the key concept here that most all of us agree upon is having some sort of Editor role involved with publishing content to the web site .

dmr 09 Dec 05

If only I could convince the 750 other people at my agency of this! With over 1,000 html pages and even more with dynamic php content the site is way out of hand. Only about 50 or 100 pages are viewed by more than a few hundred people.

A lot of folks want to create the ultimate repository; the long-tail of PDFs and HTML. Who cares if it’s 6 years outdated?… Yikes…

Often I find that the nerds think “less is less”; they don’t understand trimming, cutting, shortening and simplifying. They think making something more human dumbs it down; they don’t see the value in opening up their nerdery; unless you want only nerds to read your words, you’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta simplify and humanize.

Forget web pages, I’d like to live in a “less” culture.

37 signals has pretty much solely sold me on this concept. Thanks guys!

GWG 09 Dec 05

It’s not about having a certain number of pages, it’s about having the right about of pages. My personal experience is that most sites could stand to trim closer to 2/3 of their pages because they don’t really say anything.

Strive for 100% relevancy and your page count will fall.

Dan 09 Dec 05

It’s sort of dissapointing that it took about one week for comment threads to devolve again, once they were turned back on. Sure they can be explained as constructive criticism once in a while, but a lot of these comments just seem to be people trying one-up each other (or Jason) in order to seem more “brilliant” than the one before. I enjoy reading the posts Jason, even if I don’t always agree 100%. But as for the rest of you… hate on haters. :)

Darrel 09 Dec 05

“Often I find that the nerds think…their nerdery…nerds…”

I wonder why you aren’t able to communicate this well with your IT folks in your organization? ;o)

Stan Jones 09 Dec 05

I’ll take that challenge!

When I first came on as webdesigner at my organization, I ran a Deamweaver report on orphaned pages. Over half of our site! It’s been treated like a municipal dump for a decade now and I shiver when I think about all the stuff we don’t even know we have online. Yikes!

Luckily, we’re moving to a CMS right now so every page is getting looked at, combined, and revised. My goal is to reduce our site by 90%.

The last site I managed, we cut the page count in half during an architecture/navigation revision and for weeks we got people saying, “love the new site, it’s so much bigger!”

dmr 09 Dec 05

Darrel; ha! I don’t mean IT nerds, and being a nerd isn’t a bad thing. I use “nerd” as an affectionate term for expert. I’m an art nerd, a web nerd, maybe a Mac nerd as well.

The experts often don’t want to humanize anything, they see simplifying their text and ideas as doing a disservice to dumb it down.

Darrel 09 Dec 05

dmr…i know…just giving you friday afternoon ‘let’s pass the time’ crap. ;o)

Rich 09 Dec 05

You gotta love a CEO who has no problem publicly stating:

Don�t start being a dick.

Alex Bunardzic 09 Dec 05

God, I certainly hope paulgraham.com doesn’t follow this advice!

Pete Prodoehl 09 Dec 05

I plan on cutting down the size of my site by using a smaller font.

“Less is the new More…” (A quote by Leslie Moore)

Sammy 09 Dec 05

Ask yourself this: in the mid to late nineties, when companies were first starting their mad dash to establish web pages, how many of them had either a corporate mission statement or a “Message from the [President | CEO | Random White Guy in a Suit]” on the home page?

The first rule of web business was the same as the first rule of any other business: give the customers what they want. The more stuff that gets between the customers and the object of desire, whether it’s number of pages to traverse, or options to parse, or mindless fluff to read, the less likely they are to leave happy.

pwb 09 Dec 05

An aside, Google tends to rank sites with more content better (ignoring all other factors, of course)
Is this true? I haven’t heard that before and I’m not sure why it would be the case.

Jamie Tibbetts 09 Dec 05

As sites mature they should be getting smaller

I thought that was senior citizens not websites.

Joe Clark 09 Dec 05

You seem oblivious to the fact that those of us with obscure interests publish as much as we can because there was no way to do so in the pre-Internet days; the network effect results in *greater* value for each individual piece added. It has nothing to do with complexity or simplification or whatever covert sales technique for a 37 Signals product you are attempting to execute. It has to do with providing people with those interests with actual information they could never have found otherwise.

Apparently this is no longer an actually desirable function of the Web. If only we could get the word out without *publishing more*!

If you really believed your thesis, you wouldn’t have produced this *additional* post. Is it not true that we need *less* 37 Signals, not more? Really, when a Weblog publishes an article telling us to publish less, has that Weblog finally jumped the shark?

Ryan Ripley 09 Dec 05

JF: Now I understand why you turned off comments a few weeks ago… I’ll have to eat some crow and post a retraction on my site… Bummer…

JF 09 Dec 05

I’m looking forward to reading that post, Ryan ;)

Darrel 09 Dec 05

“Now I understand why you turned off comments a few weeks ago�”

Don’t opinionated blog posts bring opinionated discussions?

Seems rather natural to me.

Ryan Ripley 09 Dec 05

JF: It’s out there… Read away… www.ryanripley.com

Apologies for a bad reaction and an ill thought out post…


Nollind Whachell 09 Dec 05

“The best way to do this is to have LESS content. The rest will come naturally.”

Come on JF, that’s hilarious and Scrivs is right. Are you going to start posting less content on this blog, maybe once a week or maybe once a month? Of course not. When something strikes you as interesting, you want to talk about it. I’m no different.

As I said before, where I see the problem is not how much content you post (i.e. frequency) but how easily your content is to retrieve. That’s what I’m talking about when I say I’m taking up the challenge of cutting things in half. I mean look at the archives on this site for example. They are a joke. Do you expect people to have to browse through all of those archives post by post to find something that interests them? But hey, who am I to talk as mine are no better either. That’s what I’m trying to improve and make easier. Better accessibility and management of your existing content.

BTW I still totally agree with you with regards to how you write your content though (i.e. a single post). Short and sweet is better and it is something I definitely have to work on.

steve 09 Dec 05

JF said: Don’t start being a dick. You can correct someone politely without suggesting they are “rewriting the rules of the English language.” It’s called a mistake.

Yes, but it’s a mistake you guys make all the time. What I’m trying to say is it’s disappointing that even though 37signals is such a big advocate for clarity in copywriting, you repeatedly confuse the less/fewer distinction. I’m not the first person to point this out. If you’re in the business of selling yourselves as copywriting pros, then continually making this mistake starts to deflate your argument. Sorry if I’m coming off as a dick; I’ve been a paying customer of yours and I cringe whenever I see you not practicing what you preach.

Don Wilson 09 Dec 05

This simplicity stuff is starting to get annoying.

Brian 10 Dec 05

I have always thought of 37 Signals as app developers who “get” copywriting, especially Jason. But there are a couple things here that violate basic rules of good copy. They haven’t changed just because we’re in the so-called 2.0 version of the web:

1. Your copy length should be as long as necessary to accomplish your goal — and sometimes that can be quite long. No longer than necessary, but no shorter either.

Encouraging people to cut for the sake of cutting can give people the wrong idea — sometimes you *need* four sentences instead of two.

Knowing which is appropriate in a particular context is what separates marginal copywriters from the great.

2. The science behind copy conversion rates is not new, and it hasn’t changed. Your “gut” is often wrong. That’s why you test, test, test.

The only true marketing genius in the world is the paying customer. They know exactly what will make them buy.

Doj 10 Dec 05

So I presume you are re-branding? How about 36signals?

Doj 10 Dec 05

So I presume you are re-branding? How about 36signals?

Anonymous Coward 10 Dec 05

“Editing != cutting.
For that matter, it just as easily involves _expanding_ the content in order to get your information across properly.”

While editing certainly could involve expanding rather than cutting, I do think that most writers, at least, assume that editing usually DOES mean cutting.

I believe it is Blaise Pascal who is credited with the quote that makes most people nod in total agreement:
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

I can’t think of a single book I’ve written where editing didn’t result in a net loss of pages. Same goes for my co-authors and books I’ve edited.

True, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everything — but I associate editing/shortening/less with staying focused and not trying to offer everything (or as a Prentice-Hall editor put it — trying to be “greedy” by having something for everyone in hopes of gaining more readers/market). And that certainly applies to more than just books…

Doug Bromley 11 Dec 05

I wouldn’t say fewer is better. I’d say more focused and succint.

I think that rule could also do with being applied to overly complex laws and politicians speeches which are more to confuse the layman or put them to sleep respectively.

Louis 11 Dec 05

I appreciate comments on weblogs. They help me understand the original posts.

Comments provide the “it depends” disclaimer that can be missing from anybody’s point of view. Because so many people read a blog like this, with different backgrounds, the comments can show you just how far an idea like this can be applied. They can tell you related ideas, like copywriting, or explain other ways of doing things, like metrics.

They can even make you laugh, like when Joe Clark, a fellow Torontonian, replied here and I remembered feeling awed the first time I visited his site, wondering how he managed to publish so much on accessibility, and it was there for me to read, for free. And again reminded me that there are other ways to do things than 37s.

I know having comments turned on is tough for you, because so many people don’t think before they post. But I appreciate this blog even more when I can read what others think about it as I’m trying to digest something new.

I really agree with SH, above. Listening to people will make any idea better.

Stephan Spencer 11 Dec 05

An aside, Google tends to rank sites with more content better (ignoring all other factors, of course) :)

This is indeed true. All your web pages that are indexed by Google are part of your “virtual sales force.” Each page has its own unique keyword focus. More pages = more opportunities to do well for keywords that you are targeting. In addition, there should be enough content for the search engines to sink their teeth into and ascertain a keyword theme. Less page content = less opportunity to rank.

pwb 11 Dec 05

when a Weblog publishes an article telling us to publish less

That’s a mis-understanding of the suggestion. He’s talking about a site like Backpack or a web-based service. Not a content site. Obviously a pure content site doesn’t shrink.

Steve, enough with the fewer/less scolding. They’ve branded the meme “less”. They are going to use the word “less”!!

DB 21 Dec 05

Perhaps if you had used more words to flush out your idea, you would have been spared some of criticism. Use the words you need to make your point… but always make your point. Saying less and being vague is usually worse than saying too much but being clear. Clarity is the goal. No?

Richard 23 Dec 05

I do agree with this, specially when you start your business on the web : nobody knows you + no users = no confidence in your offer.

That’s why I suggest to go straight to the really important thing and nothing else.

When you have a community of users, then your message can be more complex and more detailed : step by step !

William Freeman 30 Dec 05

Good advice. My aim is to make my site pages and my emails such that readers don’t have to scroll down. Probably not do-able but worth trying. Brevity isn’t always easy, though. As Pascal once said, “I’m sorry I wrote you a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one”.