Content design is an ongoing process, and even published content isn’t really “done,” in a traditional sense — it’s not a static entity. To ensure that your content is helping users, you need to keep refining it over time.
When you’re creating content, it’s best to base your refinements on insights from users. This section addresses ways to test your content’s effectiveness and includes tips for archiving and deleting content without disrupting the user experience.
Testing and ongoing research
Set aside time regularly to make sure your content works for users. If you’re not sure where to start, check your web analytics to identify:
- Pages with high or low traffic
- Pages with high or low reading times
- Common search terms
- Common user flows within your site
You can also review:
- User feedback from surveys, call center logs, and support emails
- Recurring themes from channels like Twitter, Facebook, and tech blogs
You should make a habit of listening to users, too. Conduct usability testing sessions regularly to understand how people access, use, and interpret key pieces of content on your site. See Looking at the different ways to test content on the 18F Blog for more details.
- Usability Testing, 18F Method Cards
- Testing Content, A List Apart
- What Does This Mean? Tips for Testing Your Words, GDS Blog
- Testing Web Content for Accessibility, WebAim
- Cloze Test for Reading Comprehension, Nielsen Norman Group
Archiving and deleting content
You may occasionally need to archive or delete outdated content. Maybe it’s irrelevant after a recent policy change or redundant with other pages on your site. Avoid moving or deleting content without a good reason, because it can cause a lot of frustration for users. Changes to site structure may also slow down users who’ve learned specific navigation paths on your site.
As part of ongoing site maintenance, you should audit your content to keep everything updated and identify potential duplication. Depending on the size of your site, you may want to review everything on a yearly basis, for example, or look at one or two sections at a time.
Before you archive or delete anything, review your site analytics to understand how users are accessing the content now, and check in with the content owner or author to come up with a plan together. Be sure to consider cases that may not show up in analytics data too, such as:
- Search engine results
- User bookmarks
- Links from external sites
Each of these can be addressed by ensuring you have redirects from the old URLs to the latest content.
When you’re looking at a particular page, think about the best way to meet user needs:
- Who is this content for?
- Is there a legal requirement for having it?
- How often do people visit this page?
- Are there any incoming links to it, either within your site or from popular referrers?
- Are there other pages that cover this topic? Can you combine them? Which one shows up higher in search results?
- Can you hide or archive the page instead of deleting it?
- Was this content meant to expire quickly? Was the website the right channel for this type of content — or should posts like this move to a blog, newsletter, or social media account in the future?
If you genuinely need to delete something, give users a path to find what they need. This could include:
- URL redirects
- Ceding ownership of the content to another organization who can maintain it
- Keeping content around and adding context that it is depreciated or no longer maintained
- Making the content available elsewhere with an archiving service like the National Archives and Records Administration’s Government Web Harvests or the Internet Archive
- Custom 404 pages to help users find what they’re looking for
- A Sestina on Sunsetting Content, 18F Blog
- Guidance on Managing Web Records, National Archives and Records Administration
- Withdrawing and Unpublishing Content, and Labelling Content from Previous Governments, GOV.UK
- Unpublishing and Withdrawing (‘Archiving’), GOV.UK
- Best Practice for Archiving and Deleting Content, Content Strategy Inc.
- How Should You Handle Expired Content?, Moz