One problem many websites share is outdated content or content that’s no longer relevant to their visitors. An article will reference a person long gone from the organization, a current event that few now remember, or numbers and figures that are no longer accurate. Often over the years the focus of the site will change or more is learned about the interests and needs of a target audience, but the content on the site doesn’t reflect those new goals or understanding.
Why does this happen?
Usually this comes about because no one actually owns the content once it’s been published. Reviewing pages days, weeks, months, or years after publication is in no one’s job description. The task of reviewing content seems overwhelming so it’s not even attempted. Content originally created for a newsletter is often written with current events in mind and sometimes without complete details. Then that content is moved to the Web and may get a lot of traffic from search, but is never reviewed.
How to keep content updated
- Know which of your pages get the most traffic and make it someone’s job to periodically review those pages. They don’t have to review the entire site, just the pages that are most likely to embarrass you or not perform at the level they should.
- Know when to run a search on your site. When someone changes their name, run a check to see if they were listed somewhere. When pricing changes, be sure to run a search for instances of that price. In large organizations this can necessitate getting an editor onto several distribution lists and scanning all those memos or emails.
- Date your pages. While it’s not critical that all pages have dates, for a large site with many contributors, it makes it easier if most do. Then someone can search your site for “my product April 2009” and quickly see a list of pages they should review. It also helps orient the reader. If I see a reference to Louisiana, it’s helpful to know if the author was referring to the state before or after Katrina (and before or after the oil spill.)
- Understand your site’s organization. Make sure you know where pricing information, contact information, phone numbers, sales figures, etc. reside. If you’re a large organization, know what other units might be publishing content that refers to your people or services.
- Listen to others in your organization. Make it easy for someone to send you a quick note letting you know of an update or error. Respond quickly and thank them. If Marketing owns the site, people in Sales might know of several updates that are needed but aren’t sharing that information because there’s a lack of good communication between the two units. Receptionists often know about errors but don’t know who to inform about them.
- Review pages with surprisingly high bounce rates. People might be leaving your page because they see something outdated and immediately lose trust in your entire site.
How to handle updates
Some updates are no more than swapping out one piece of data for an updated piece. Sometimes it’s more complicated. I’ve seen the following techniques work well.
- Add an editor’s note at the beginning or end of an article. This could update readers on the status of a project referenced, refer to new accessories for sale, or note that in light of new data the argument made in the article is even more strongly supported. Date the document so it’s clear when the editor’s note was added and when the content was originally published.
- Add a more informal author’s note. This could state that the article has been so popular over the last ten months that the author decided to revisit the topic and completely rewrite the article based on new information or experience.
- Update the article, but add a date of original publication. Consider adding a link to that archived document.
- Don’t update the article; instead provide links to newer content on the same subject.
How to keep content fresh
- Review what others are publishing in your content area, especially the content that’s being shared through social media. Consider if you can add to the conversation by writing a new article or updating one already published. Perhaps you’ll be able to share your current content with a short introduction like “Expert’s argument is spot on. See my article for another great example.” Or “My experience differs. See my article.”
- Focus. Determine what content you want your site to be known for. If there’s someone out there doing a better job than you have the resources for, then create different content. Go with your strengths. Or be more targeted toward your particular audience. Or be the compiler or curator of excellent resources. Or say it all with video. Focus on the content you do best.
- Share. If you’re about to share your content through social media, you have an additional incentive to review it once more. And those you share it with are likely to respond with their ideas and challenges. You can use that feedback to update and improve your content.