Maintaining a current website is key to increasing user satisfaction, ensuring a good user experience, and enhancing the confidence in the content instilled in the reader. There are simple tasks that can be built into the web content creation and update process to help keep content current or to give the impression that the content has not become stale.
Ideally the content on a site should be updated at least once a week. While it may not be possible to create new articles or images every week, there are ways to achieve this goal outlined below. If these techniques cannot be used then it is important to review content at least monthly to ensure that: all links are still working; content doesn’t appear to be out-of-date; and date specific events are clearly understandable to the reader.
Special Event Websites: A special case
Creating a website for an annual special event has unique opportunities. An annual event website requires special attention after the event to ensure the reader knows that the event has already occurred. If the event truly recurs annually then proper maintenance of the site can help increase attendance for the future events.
Prior to the event:
- Be sure that you’re building the site with content that clearly shows that the event is in the future. Add the year into the copy so that the reader is sure that they aren’t reading a stale site. For example you might say, “The 2019 Science Everywhere” instead of “This year’s Science Everywhere.”
- If you are using images from previous years, it may look dated because of the season, or some other identifying element. Therefore, be sure to identify the timing of the image in the caption, i.e. “Transforming liquid into gas was a show stopper at the 2019 Science Everywhere festival.”
After the event:
- This is when the real work pays off. Go through the site and remove anything that was projecting forward in time for the event. Even the tense in verbs can cause the reader to wonder if the event has already occurred or is upcoming.
- Take out content that is specific to the past event.
- Update the introduction and invite the reader to the next year’s event. Give a date of the event if possible even if it is tentative (and say so).
- Thank sponsors but be clear which year’s event they sponsored (also a great time to start reaching out to new sponsors for the upcoming event.)
- Update contact information.
- Remove any links to outside sites that may no longer apply or that you suspect may become broken.
- If you want to show a recap of the event via video or an article be clear that you’re speaking of a past event. Recap the event within one month following the date of the event, unless there is a unique news angle or novelty related to the timing of the recap.
Ongoing events or year-round website
Year-round websites for ongoing events don’t require the concerted post-event clean up that an annual event requires. But year-round sites can make taking the time to review the site harder to schedule.
Look for ways to add new content near the top of the page near the “front” of the site as easily as possible.
Tips for this include:
- Republishing content you’re already creating for another distribution method.
- Put in a newsfeed from an outside source, or another one of your sites, to automatically post content.
- Add images showing events or changes in the office if you don’t have time to write articles.
- Publish a feed from your social media channels.
Whether you do this or not you should review your site once a month to ensure it isn’t looking stale to the reader.
Key things to look for are:
- Images that “look” out of season. Don’t show winter scenes on your homepage when it is July. Outdated images communicate to the reader that you haven’t updated the images, and often makes them wonder if the content is no longer accurate too.
- Watch for events that don’t show the year. An article that gives the date of an event as March 15th is confusing when someone is reading the site in October. They wonder if this is a story about the upcoming event or last year’s event.
- Links that are broken because content has moved.
- Quotes from key personnel that are referenced but are no longer on staff. These can be edited to say “former director” or you can use the opportunity to get a new quote from an existing staff member.
- Test forms to ensure that they are still working and the recipients are handling them properly.
- Key responsibilities have not changed. If your department is no longer monitoring the parking lot then update that story to help the reader know who is now responsible.
- Redirect any pages that you have to remove or change their URL. Many times other sites will build what is called a backlink into your site if they find content that they feel their readers would be interested in. If you remove a page with one of these backlinks then when their reader tries to visit your site they get a “page not found” error. It would be a better user experience if they were automatically redirected to a similar page or to your homepage so that they could find more content from you. You do this through a 301 redirect.
- Style changes that haven’t been kept up. Has the organization changed brand style and your site no longer looks like the rest of the University? Have trends changed and the way your site is styled looks dated and gives the impression to the reader that no one is working on the site? Has technology changed and you’re still using tools and techniques that don’t reflect the current capabilities?