Dealing with ROT content

A lot of big websites have ROT (Redundant, out-of-date, trivial) content, and it can make maintaining and improving websites incredibly difficult.

If you've ever worked on a website with a few thousand pages you know what I mean; but the problem can be much bigger. Many corporate websites can have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of unique URLs, and sometimes even millions.

Paul Boag discusses the issue on Smashing Magazine:

Although there is a cost to producing this content in the first place, there is a far higher cost in maintaining that content over time. It costs huge amounts of money and time to review content on a regular basis and ensure it is still accurate and relevant. This is especially true when some organizations have millions of pages online. In the end, many companies just give up. We often forget content once we hit “Publish”, unless it is a particularly prominent piece.

The hidden cost is not just limited to maintenance. It also impacts the usability of sites. With so much content online it can be hard for users to find content that is useful. For example, at one point microsoft.com had over 10 million pages online, over 3 million of which a user had never visited. This clutter only succeeded in damaging findability and lowering customer satisfaction.

But there is a final hidden cost: a cost to an organization’s ability to evolve its site over time. Take, for example, a company that wants to make its site responsive. In theory we can do this with some updates to the CSS or, at most, the templates in the content management system. But when you have millions of pages produced over an extended period of time this is often not the case. Content producers will have marked up content in a variety of different ways making design changes hard.

He then goes on to talk about ways to address it: from scrapping it all and restarting, to archiving, to creating new content policies, and more.

There isn't a single solution to dealing with ROT content, but as Paul notes, analytics can help a great deal. Know what's being used and what's not being used goes a long way in identifying priorities.

If you ever find yourself working on a very content-heavy project, keep this article in mind.

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