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Should You Delete Old Blog Posts or Website Content?

The more information you've published online, the better the chances that your organization's blog or website will be found by potential readers, right? That's true, yes, as far as it goes — quantity counts when each indexed page might be the answer to some web-surfer's search query. But the quality of information that readers find on your blog or website is what will help or hinder your organization's cause in the long run. Is all of your web content up-to-date and useful?

First impressions...

Lots of pages on your blog or website can mean lots of potential entry points for visitors from search engine results pages.  But the fact is, most search engine traffic is not likely to come in at your site's front door. (You’ve seen it yourself — try a search on any keyword, and the odds are that you’ll end up clicking through to an internal page of a website, or a single blog post, not the home page of the website.)

If the content on your visitor’s landing page is outdated, filled with old news, riddled with broken links, missing images, or abandoned widgets, maybe even downright misleading to the reader —- how useful and effective can it be? And what does that outdated content say about your organization?

Bringing customers to a page with wrong content is like bringing customers into a car salesroom to show them your cars that won’t start and have scratches all over the paintwork. ~ Gerry McGovern

An organization’s website should give its visitors a snapshot of that organization in the present. Click through to each page of your own website and ask yourself:

  • Is this information still accurate?

And while you’re at it, ask yourself this as well:

  • Is this information necessary? Does it help your website visitors to complete the tasks they came here to do — or the tasks that we’d like them to complete?  Those tasks can be anything from forming an opinion to making a donation: you decide the purpose of each page, but there certainly must be a purpose if your website is to do its job.

If some of your older website content is not accurate and/or not necessary, you can:

  1. Do nothing;
  2. Update; or
  3. Delete the outdated content.

“The more you delete, the more you simplify,” Gerry McGovern says, at New Thinking: “The more you simplify, the more you increase the chances of your customers succeeding on your website.” For customer here, we can certainly read potential member or supporter of your nonprofit organization. 

If visitors can’t find what they’re looking for on your website — if they can’t find accurate, up-to-date information to help them take the next action, whether that action is forming an opinion or making a donation — then surely no real purpose has been served by hanging onto that outdated content.

What about outdated blog posts?

Less is more, often, on a conventional (static) website, and deleting old content will frequently be your best course of action. But the issue is a bit less clear-cut with your (dynamic) blog.

Blogs are by their very nature a chronological presentation of information — so, if your blog is prominently displaying the date of each post, outdated content may not be an issue for your readers. But we’ve seen time and again that many readers, grabbing information in a hurry, don’t always pause to check the date on a blog post. In that case, yes, outdated blog content can be confusing or misleading for some of your readers.

Personally, however, I’m not inclined to delete old blog content, as a rule; and here’s why:

From the maintenance standpoint, unless you’ve got a webhosting plan that strictly limits the amount of file space you’re allowed on the server, or you have other management concerns such as the need to download backups of a large content database over a slow internet connection, I’d argue that there’s no pressing technical reason to delete old blog posts.

Old content in your blog can serve an archival purpose. It may help to show that your organization has been around for a while — not a fly-by-night startup — and give a sense of how the organization has developed over time, the kinds of projects you’ve undertaken, who has been involved and what they’ve done. But then, I’m an admitted “pack rat” who hates to discard anything that “might be useful to someone, someday” —

In the end, this is an issue you’ll need to weigh out for yourself, in light of your own organization's blogging goals, your technical and administration resources, and how your website functions for your organization.

The essential question, however, is this: Will that wealth of older content be truly useful to the bulk of your readers, or is it more likely to confuse them?

If you do delete old content:

Bear in mind that every page you delete from your website — whether it’s a static page or a blog post — means that all backlinks to that deleted page will be broken. That includes all links to that page from other pages on your website, from any other sites that have linked to your deleted page, and from search engines that have indexed the page and show it in search results. Visitors trying to click-through any of those links will be dead-ended at the dreaded 404 “Page Not Found” error message, unless you take the appropriate steps to redirect those links to a different page. (That’s a topic for another day's discussion, but I mention it here as something to keep in mind.)

If you don't delete old content:

When you don’t want to remove that old content from your blog completely — for whatever reason — do think about ways to mitigate any risk of out-of-date information misleading or confusing your readers. Here are two options, but I'm sure there are others (perhaps you have a suggestion?):

1. Write a new blog post to provide the up-to-date information, and  link to it from all of your older posts on the same topic. This will help readers who enter your site on an outdated page to quickly find the current information — but you may find yourself locked into tracking and updating a very large number of links, over and over again, as time goes on. This approach is dauntingly labour-intensive and, in most cases, without any clear advantages over #2, my preferred method:

2. Simply edit the old post to update the information it contains. If you go this route, do add a note that the post has been “updated” or “edited” on a certain date.  And if you want to be extra clear about what changes have been made, you can strikethrough old text (like this) and type in the replacement. Readers will see both the orginal words and the changes you’ve made. I favour this approach to keeping your content fresh because it maintains continuity (thinking again of the archival aspect of blogs, if that’s a concern for your organization) and — most importantly — minimizes confusion for your readers.

Whatever method you choose for handling your older blog content, it's a good idea to use carefully-chosen categories and/or tags to help organize that content. And if you write about time-sensitive topics (as most of us do, at least a good percentage of the time), make sure that the date is prominently displayed on each post. These simple steps will go a long way to help your readers place outdated content in its proper context in time, prompt them to seek out more recent information on the same topic, and make those updates easier for them to find among all your other content.

Edit, delete, or ignore — how does your organization handle outdated content on its blog and/or website?

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Comments

  • Mitchell AllenMitchell Allen

    Mitchell Allen said:

    Regardless of the method chosen for displaying your information, you should not have to make an irrevocable decision about the time-value of your content. I suspect that most content management systems (CMS) store web pages in a database. This means that you may already have more options besides deleting or ignoring older content.

    If your  CMS provides for custom variables, you could create one, such as "dated", and set it to true for a web page or blog post that is older than six months or so.

    A flagged page could then have text prefixed to alert the reader that the following article is presented for historical purposes and that there may be more recent version available. If possible, the content management system should provide related links and/or the tags and categories that you mentioned.

    The only labor involved would be the first time a website was examined for flaggable posts. While it is possible to automate this task, you would have to make sure that your About Us page didn't get flagged. :)

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    Monday, 12 January 2009 at 8:14 PM
  • siyah noktalarsiyah noktalar

    siyah noktalar said:

    i think you should not have to do this

    Tuesday, 13 January 2009 at 1:54 PM
  • Skipper MJSkipper MJ

    Skipper MJ said:

    When it comes to web content I disagree - I was looking for an old colleague and came across his web site that looked dated and when I tried to call the number that was listed found it disconnected.

    I searched further and found another link to a more recent site with current content.   When I spoke with him didn't realize the data was still accessible nor was still out there.  Which goes to show how important it is to clean or remove material that is no longer relevant.

    Blogs I agree with - they tell a story.   Stories are timeless.

    Thursday, 26 February 2009 at 6:33 PM
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