Any of us who’ve ever maintained a website know the feeling of the overgrown site. It accumulates so many pages and so much content that you lose sight of it, much less the ability to manage it. Content quickly loses its value for your users and your business, creating content debt for an organisation.
Retiring content, for various reasons we’ll explain here, is a vital part of our content lifecycle.
Why is it important to retire content?
Content that’s lost its value or accuracy comes with risks to both users and Shelter:
Poor user experience - Content that’s out-of-date, sub-standard, duplicate or contradicts other content will confuse users, discourage them from using our services, and potentially put them at greater risk in their housing situation.
Reputational and legal risks - In our fight to end the housing emergency, it’s critical that the information and support we give people is fully accurate and meets our quality standards. Inaccurate or out-of-date content can damage the trust people have in our services. It can trigger complaints, including on social media.
It can also put Shelter at risk legally, through content that’s non-compliant with current regulations (such as for GDPR).
SEO - Duplicate content and poor user experience affects search rankings. In their search results pages, Google can penalise with lower rankings if their algorithm recognises weak UX or duplicate content. Or the flip side of this: an out-of-date page ‘cannibalises’ a new page, ranking higher than the page we’ve intended to rank highly for a topic.
Operational costs - Overgrown, low-value content uses up server space as well as the resource needed to manage it.
Good housekeeping - Retiring or removing unused and duplicated content makes life less painful for anyone using our CMS, helping findability and reducing confusion.
Because we're using a system of structured content, we not only think about pages when we talk about content, but the blocks of content and the images that compose them.
With thousands and thousands of entries making up our content library, it’s just as important to unlink and archive unused content types as it is to retire our pages. If we don’t, our ability to find useful content will quickly get out of hand.
What’s our criteria for retiring content?
A helpful and simple framework for determining if content is ready for retirement is the ROT approach:
Content that’s no longer needed. For example, once a supporter event is sold out or fully subscribed, call-to-action content on its web page is not only unnecessary, it’s misleading for users.
Content that’s duplicated elsewhere. This can happen when:
someone doesn’t know where to put a piece of content for maximum exposure, so they publish it to several places
a website is updated by many people across different teams, and content is unknowingly duplicated - which creates points of friction in the user journey.
For both of these scenarios, Shelter’s content operations uses collaborative practices to minimise the risk of them happening.
Obsolete (or outdated)
Content conveying information that no longer applies, like event details after the event’s date has passed.
Content that promotes a product or service as new when it no longer is. The content could be updated or changed to reflect the matured product, but it might be better practice to retire the page and redirect its address (URL) to more up-to-date content.
Content that has lost its value for users - or that never had value. How we measure value usually depends on the goals of the content. If the goal is to drive conversions but the conversion rate is low, or if the goal is to provide detailed information or drive people to another page but the time-on-page metrics are low and exit rates are high, we consider retiring the page and its content.
Who’s responsibility is it?
Whether or not to retire a piece of Shelter content is the responsibility of the content owner or content manager for its web page. They perform quarterly checks on content to make sure content is being retired appropriately.
Someone else (e.g. our product teams) may raise the possibility, but the content owner or content manager have the final say as the page specialists.
Who actually retires the content?
The content is retired by either by content owners’ teams or by the product team associated with the relevant content manager.
How does it get retired?
Once the decision is made to retire content, we follow some important steps:
A URL redirect is created. The redirect will take visitors from the retired page’s web address to a live page, to be determined by the content manager and content owner, or by the product team.
Before the web page can be retired, its content needs to be disconnected from other content in the CMS. Contentful is a very interconnected system of content. Blocks of content can be built from several smaller blocks, which are ‘referenced’ by the block being built. Those references need to be switched off.
Once all the web page’s content is disconnected, we can delete the page from Contentful. If there is a chance the page will be republished in the future - the typical example is a page for a seasonal event - we can archive the page instead of deleting it.
When do we retire the page?
The timing of content retirement depends on whether or not we have other content on pages which we can take web visitors to. If so, the page can be deleted fairly quickly. If not, the replacement content and page will need to be created and published first.
Our guide to deleting or archiving pages in Contentul
Our Contentful guide to setting up redirects
Shelter’s content lifecycle
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