From time to time, some of my colleages that use our college’s Content Management System have a desire to remove all traces of certain content from the web site. For example, sometimes a course or program gets cancelled, and staff are concerned that students will try to sign up for the cancelled offering. Let me offer an alternative perspective.
Purging information from your website has some seriously negative consequences with respect to your ability to control your content, encourage external links to your site, improving keyword indexing, and potential re-introduction of the program.
Controlling your content
Google, archive.org and other sites will archive copies of your website. If savvy users poke around, they will find historical information on the web that is no longer under your control. If you delete the comparable information from your website, you lose the ability to explain why that information no longer appears on your site. This can lead to loss of trust and credibility for your organisation. Users could easily imagine an Orwellian scenario of information being “thrown down the memory hole” with its connotations of suppression and secrecy. By keeping the content on the web, clearly identified as “a historical program that ran from 19xx to 2008”, you have the opportunity to demonstrate honesty, openness and integrity.
External Links to your site
Your Marketing departments work hard to encourage other web sites to create links to your web content. Of enormous value are “deep links” that go not to the generic home page, but to information deeply nested in your site that relates specifically to the other site. When you delete or hide content from your websites, those deep links go to your 404 page instead of the original content. That page, while nicely designed, has no valuable information on it relevant to the original content. Thus it’s much harder to direct prospective users to related content that may interest them.
Every page on your site contains words. Those words are indexed by Google and other search engines and contribute to your overall site rankings. When you delete information, there is nothing left of that page that can benefit the organisation. By leaving the page(s) in place, we maintain that page’s ranking in Google and the full benefits of any keywords that Google identifies with the page. By adding a clear disclaimer on that page, you can limit the number of visitors that complain about “outdated” information, but all its benefits remain.
One factor in page rank is “how long has this page existed”. Pages that have been indexed by Google for longer have a tendency to be ranked more favourably. When you move rapidly to remove a page from the site, it has a small grace window while Google is unaware that it’s gone. But once it’s gone, if you ever choose to reintroduce the content, the timeline starts over.
Let’s use Selkirk’s Golf program, for example. Awhile back, the program was cancelled. At that time, there was a desire in some camps to delete the Golf pages. I convinced the Powers That Be to keep the pages with modified content and a disclaimer. When the Golf Club Operations OnLine (GCOOL) program was introduced, we put that content in the Golf pages, so it could piggyback on any rankings or benefits of the earlier version of the program. Had we deleted them, GCOOL would have had to start over from scratch in building its rankings in Google.
I urge all those involved in controlling content on the Web to avoid at all costs the deletion (or “making invisible”) of your content. It is much better to leave the information in place and clearly add disclaimers if the offerings are not currently available.