Delete Better

Key Points

  • Our goal in transforming our digital presence content is achieving organizational goals. Not deleting as much content as possible.
  • Deleting content be a relatively-easy and high-impact way to improve a digital presence.
  • There are different ways of deleting, and sometimes treatment that's not quite deleting is best.
Related resource
Dispositions Cheat Sheet | Use this sheet on your projects.

We should certainly delete whatever content is not helping achieve organizational goals. That said, in our zeal to delete content we may be blind to the subtleties of deleting. Deleting better requires taking a slightly different stance than solely evaluating our efforts by how much content we're deleting. 

We need to do four things:   

  1. Delete only what should be deleted. 
  2. When deleting content, think creatively to delete the content in as effective a manner as is reasonable. 
  3. Consider what will happen if someone requests the content that has been deleted. 
  4. Make sure that whatever led to the creation or longevity of the content we delete doesn't recur.

Delete Only What Should Be Deleted

Our goal in transforming our digital presence content is achieving organizational goals. Not deleting as much content as possible. 

There are tons of advantages of deleting content: 

  • It's easy to implement. 
  • It's easy to explain what we're doing. 
  • It sounds terrific, especially when there's widespread agreement that a lot of the content is poor. 
  • It sometimes naturally leaves an opening for lots of new content. 

Of course, we should delete whatever is not furthering organizational goals. But no more than that. We should not be deleting content that is achieving goals. 

Consider deleting if the content is...

  • Inaccurate
    I list this separate from poor quality since it is particularly problematic and needs to be resolved.
  • Rarely viewed
  • When viewed, doesn't lead to conversion
  • Poor quality (Redundant, Outdated, Trivial, or other quality issues)
  • Unsustainable operationally
  • Few external links into the content
  • Easy to "disentangle" from other content
  • Low in search results
Also: Dispositions Cheat Sheet

Note two common problems with using these criteria blindly: 

  • The content could be improved (for example if it's inaccurate or poor quality)
  • The problem may not be with the content itself but how it is promoted and/or linked on the site (for example, low conversions could be because the lead-gen form is terrible)

Which leads us to our next point: we need to think creatively about handling content that we're considering deleting. 

Approach Deleting Creatively 

I mentioned above that deleting is easy. But there are lots of ways of doing it (and some kinds of deleting take more effort than others). Here are some ways to consider — some of these are not deletes but alternative treatments that may make more sense than a delete: 

  • Archive, but visibly indicate it's archived content
  • Archive, but only keep the content available internally (you still don't show the content on the renewed site, but you have a ready copy should key customers end up requesting it)
  • Delete from existing site (go ahead and delete on current site, before migrating to the new one)
  • Just don't move to the new system (there's no active "delete" but the content just isn't on the new site)
  • Leave as is (just leave the content where it is, as it is — usually this should be avoided)
  • Rewrite, and Regroup Pages (although in one sense you might be deleting pages, in this approach you are taking a set of pages and grouping, combining, rewriting into a new group of pages)

Redirect Appropriately

Let's say:

  • You have the site Fancy Flamingo. 
  • You are moving from one CMS to another as part of a big redesign and want to clean up the content in the process. 
  • Your pages at https://fancyflamingo.com/1999/old-approach-to-pink-feathers-1 and https://fancyflamingo.com/1999/old-approach-to-pink-feathers-2 should be deleted. 
  • On your new site you have https://fancyflamingo.com/approaches (for a listing of all your tips about fancy flamingos) and https://fancyflamingo/approaches/pink-feathers (combining the two old pages above into one, rewritten page — this is an example of "Rewrite, and Regroup Pages" above)

What happens when someone points their browser at https://fancyflamingo.com/1999/old-approach-to-pink-feathers-1 or https://fancyflamingo.com/1999/old-approach-to-pink-feathers-2 ?

Some options include: 

  • Just send the site visitor to your 404 page
  • Redirect shallowly to another relevant page (for instance, to /approaches)
  • Deeply redirect (for instance to /approaches/pink-feathers)

Clearly the last option is the most desirable from the site visitor perspective, but that takes more effort and also only works if there's something specifically relevant to the original URL. Regardless of your approach, you need to think through redirects. Also see The Redirect Engine.

Don't Slide Right Back to the Same Problems

Who cares if you delete a lot of content if you immediately start growing content that shouldn't be there? This can happen either because 1) content is created that should have never been generated in the first place or 2) it isn't deleted when it should. In any large content transformation and/or redesign, you want to define an approach to not wind up in the same situation again. This is a complex problem (that I help organizations with — let's talk!) but some methods of dealing with it include: 

  • Using rules to define what content gets deleted, and implementing the system to have the same rules on an ongoing basis.
  • Create a "should I publish this" list.
  • Thinking through content lifecycles, and build the system to support them. 
  • Don't create microsites.
Dispositions Cheat Sheet Use this sheet on your projects.