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How to refresh your website content

Best practice: Schedule monthly or quarterly audits to examine your content for information that might be redundant, outdated, or trivial.
Best practice: Schedule monthly or quarterly audits to examine your content for information that might be redundant, outdated, or trivial.

Remove ROT, Renew Value

Over time, all web channels contain information that doesn’t improve with age. In user-centered design, we call it ROT: Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial pieces of content that build up and clutter your website, intranet, applications, and other channels.

ROT piles up naturally. Having many contributors or little time for maintenance can lead to a publish-and-let-it-perish system. But much like a well-tended garden, your website requires pruning. When you weed out the unnecessary pieces, you’ll have clearer paths to your information.

When to Remove Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial Content

It’s always a good time to clean up your content! Plan ROT audits to best fit your editorial calendar or publishing cycle. Some organizations celebrate year-end with a content clean-up while others prefer a quarterly schedule.

If your web content hasn’t been updated on a regular schedule, it’s a good time to consider a refresh. It’s especially critical if you’re preparing for a big change like a new content management system (CMS) or redesign. Cutting away clutter will help you build the best design to display the content that’s most helpful to your users.

Benefits of Reducing Content

Having up-to-date, useful information helps your site visitors find what they need easily and efficiently. This allows them to complete tasks without additional help or research. Plus, the less content you have, the easier it is to keep your web channel fresh in the long-term.

Removing ROT can lead to

  • A cleaner, more functional user experience
  • Fewer phone calls and emails from confused customers
  • Improved results in internal and external search engines

Thankfully, there’s a tool that helps you identify and remove ROT.

Setting up your ROT Content Audit

An effective content audit targeted at removing ROT is scalable, flexible, and manageable. Depending on the size of your team and your employees’ roles with content, you have options on how to conduct the ROT identification and removal process.

Step 1: Inventory the content assets you want to evaluate

A content inventory is a list of all the assets you own and where they are located. Assets include pages, documents, images, media, or any type of digital content you want to review. Just like you’d conduct an inventory at a retail store, you first want to know what you have, the quantity, and where it lives.

Often, you can download a website content inventory from your CMS, compile one manually, or use a website-crawling tool. Organize your inventory in a spreadsheet.

Pro tip: Usage Data Analytics or usage data about your content assets are a big help. Pages with low to zero traffic are probably ROT candidates. Use analytics and usage information to segment and prioritize the pages or assets you review.

Step 2: Set up a content audit spreadsheet

Now convert your inventory into an audit by adding columns in your spreadsheet to designate which items are Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial. Add additional columns for next steps and any other criteria you identify, like content owners.

Pro tip: Ownership Whether manual or automated, inventories usually can’t tell you who works on the content. Also, the people who edit or publish web content aren’t always the sole contributors. Subject-matter experts might own the message and topic. Leadership or customer service might have key messages they need displayed in a subject area.

Knowing who gets to decide when to remove, archive, consolidate, or revise this content is a time-saver. Consider inviting them to help with the evaluation.

Step 3: Evaluate each asset for ROT

Once you have your auditing spreadsheet set up, it’s time to look at the pages and assets themselves. Conducting a content audit is tedious, so it’s vital to maintain a clear set of criteria and a deadline for completion. For each page or asset, define what it means to be Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial and flag those items. Use your Next Steps column to take notes and advise on what should change.

For example, if the content or information is…


Pro tip: Split up the work

When you conduct a ROT content audit, it’s important that stakeholders participate. This helps avoid unwanted surprises when you ask that content be removed, archived, or updated.

  • Invite your stakeholders and content owners early
  • Help them understand why this audit is necessary
  • Ask them to review their own pages and assets
  • Provide a worksheet or checklist to keep everyone aligned
  • Set firm due dates and stick to them

You know your colleagues best, so provide tools and divvy up the work in a way that will get the most people onboard. Depending on your organization, you might also need leadership to champion the work to get everyone on board.

Step 4: Remove the content, refresh your website

Everyone has turned in their ROT list and included notes with recommended next steps. Congrats! Maybe they’ve even started removing and revising content that was clearly ready to go. Time for kudos! Now you can to compile the list of next steps for each page or piece of content and take action.

To schedule the full removal and revision process, work with your teams to ensure content is removed or revised. A timeline with firm due dates is necessary. Many organizations host group working sessions where everyone removes and revises together (you supply the snacks).

Pro tip: Make it a policy to reduce and renew your content regularly

From your ROT content audit, you may have identified patterns that can lead to actionable policies. Governance policies help standardize content maintenance, allowing for ongoing, scheduled efforts that are effective yet small in scope.

For example, you may have identified

  • Archival – Set pages or documents to expire after X number of months and plan for archival to an internal server. Some examples include event that have passed, press releases, one-time alerts, etc.
  • Updates calendar – Schedule updates or reviews of pages or assets that are flagged as time-sensitive.
  • Standards – Instituting new content strategy or editorial standards can stop redundant, outdated, and trivial content from being created in the future.

Goodbye content ROT!

Determining what’s cluttering your web channel is great. Decluttering it is even better. You’re ready to keep your web channel fresh by not allowing future ROT to fester.

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