There’s two months left in 2016, and the web team wanted to set a couple goals for the Lane website before we close out the year. An important part of our mission is to keep our pages as readable and relevant to our visitors as possible. One way to do that is to prevent and remove ROT – redundant, outdated, or trivial content on the web.
Redundant content is dangerous content. If the same content appears in multiple places online, it’s only a matter of time until only one place is updated and the content is out of sync. Then we’re providing conflicting messages. Beyond that, redundant content makes it confusing for search engines to know which pages to serve. Pages are scored by search engines primarily by the number of other pages that link to them.
Here’s a (super simplified) scenario. Say we have two different places that describe our refund policies, and both of those pages link to the same page of meeting notes about changing those policies. Sites, both internal (on the www.lanecc.edu site) and external (including sites run by other organizations, but also places like moodle), link to a page on refund policy. But some link to the first place, and others link to the second page. When you search for refund policies, what do you get in your results?
We can’t be sure – and you might even get the PDF, because it’s getting some page rank from each of the two other pages. But if we had that content on just one page, everyone would link to it correctly, letting search engines value it correctly and making search better for everyone.
That outdated content is an issue should be obvious, but even content that’s just several years old and no longer relevant can be an issue. We have 732 pages that haven’t been updated in over 4 years. Some of that content has certainly changed since then, and is now incorrect. It’s going to be a tremendous effort for us to go through and figure out which of those pages need updating, and which can just be removed.
Trivial content is a difficult one. It might be content that you find really important – say, a photo album of an event a few years ago. But if that content isn’t helping the mission of your site and of the website as a whole and isn’t required to be there by law or by grant conditions, ultimately it’s trivial and should probably be removed..
Trivial content doesn’t need to be an entire page. Sometimes it’s just a line, like “Welcome to the Underwater Basketweaving Department!” that purports to make the department look friendly but falls flat. This excess content confuses search, and makes it dififcult for people to find what they need, ultimately leading people to feel like website is cluttered and difficult to navigate.
We also have a problem with content length on our site. Sometimes pages are necessarily long, like COPPS policies (though there’s certainly some of those that could use help!). But often pages are so long they make it difficult to find what you need. Due to the way we store our pages, I don’t have an easy way to count words on pages, but I can count letters. These aren’t perfect counts, because they include some of the HTML that helps to style the page, but they’re a great estimate. I did a count of our pages last night and found some crazy pages: 50,000 characters. 80,000 characters. 90,000 characters. If we use an average of 6 letters per word, that’s as much as 15,000 words on a page! Positively insane. How can students find what they need?
As editors on the website, we’re enlisting you for help! Here’s the goals we’d love you to help us meet this year:
- Reduce the total number of pages on the Lane website by 5% (from 5768 to 5475).
- Reduce the number of pages with more than 20,000 characters by 20% (from 193 to 155)
- Reduce the average character count of our pages by 10.5%, from 4803 to 4300.
- improve the average age of our pages by 6 months, from roughly 24 months old to 18 months old.
Except for the total page count, these goals and statistics are actually calculated against what we call a “basic page”. So these don’t include news releases, COPPS pages, or the landing pages.
On December 1st, we’ll post an update with how we’re doing on each of the goals, then check in again on January 1st to see if we met them.
And of course, if you need any help getting back into editing your pages, let us know! Just contact Lori, Jim, or me and we’ll be happy to help.