A speaker at a conference I attended recently eloquently proclaimed, “If the internet was a digestive system, it wouldn’t have the capacity to poop.” While he (Gerry McGovern, a marketing consultant) received a good laugh from the audience, he also made an important point. Website redesigns tend to focus on creating new content, while they rarely give much thought to archiving—or “sunsetting”—content that is no longer needed. If you’re worried your website might uncomfortably “backed up,” we would prescribe taking a look at your archival strategy.
What is an archival strategy?
A process and workflow for removing pages from your website.
Why an archival strategy is important.
At first glance, archiving may seem like a low priority. However, too many pages on your site that receive few page views or receive low quality ratings by search algorithms is called “index bloating.” This extra weight can negatively impact search equity and impede otherwise beneficial SEO efforts. Ever changing and evolving search crawlers impact your website’s SEO performance, and by ensuring your site is as lean as possible, you’re both providing the best user experience, and satisfying search crawlers with one effort.
^true example from current client
I don’t have an archival strategy, what do I do!?
Assess Page Views: Our clients are often surprised at how a handful of pages make up the lion’s share of overall views, which is the case more often than not. Most (effective) sites are designed for users to engage with a limited amount of pages with the intent to achieving defined goals.
Finding out how many pages comprise of 25%, 50%, 75% and 90% of your overall page views will help determine the size of the archiving effort, and determine what is truly important to those visiting your site. If there are any great surprises about where users are going (or not going), it may be an indication that a greater effort into your site goals and user journeys are needed.
*yet another true example from current client
Pro Tip: Using these benchmarks is a great way to make this a manageable process if you’re discovering more URLs than anticipated. We would not recommend a blanket archival of pages that may have low views in case they do have important information. (Doing the heavier lifting now and putting a process in place will make this a one time effort and set you up for success moving forward*.)
*For most organizations going through thousands of URLs individually is just not possible, taking the largest sample you can and making decisions based off that is likely the best way to move forward
Take an inventory: Using Google Analytics or a page crawler like Screaming Frog. You may be surprised to find some pages lead to dead ends, but search crawlers are still counting them as part of your index. Identifying pages that are no longer needed and can be archived immediately is a great place to start.
Some questions you can ask yourself to help determine page necessity
Does this page fulfill a customer need? – If a page does not satisfy or validate a customer need, based off of your current web personas, it may be deemed unnecessary.
Is there a goal or intended action? – Each page should have a clear action for users. to take, or goal for users to attain. If not, one should be added, or the page may be archivable.
Is information still accurate? – Any information that is no longer accurate should be updated or taken down.
Is information evergreen? – Similar to assessing accuracy, if you’re assessing content that is still helpful, but has an expiration date, make a note of it and define responsibilities and timing for sunsetting this content when it’s time.
Don’t leave us hanging!
Once a page has been archived, make sure you don’t leave users in the dark. Using a 303 redirect to move users to another page, be that the homepage, a related page, or a landing page to help them find their way, ensure that this becomes a part of the customer journey, not the end of it.
While it may be easy to get caught up in the more flashy aspects of web design, developing and practicing an effective archival strategy will help your website perform better with search crawlers, create a streamlined user experience, and ensure you don’t have a constipated website.