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006 – Should I delete old pages from my non-profit website?

Audio recording

In this episode David explores a question from Alisha asking what she should do with old pages on her non-profit’s website? Is it okay to delete them?

Some quick highlights:

  • Yes, you can delete pages over 3-years, but only if… (listen to find out)
  • Or keep them how they are
  • Or update and retain
  • Reviewing Google Analytics
  • Talking with donation, foundation, major gift officers, and foundation staff
  • Create a static version of your website
  • 301 directs, 410 deleted response, and 404 error pages
  • And more…
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Episode Transcription

You spend hours, over weeks, over months, over years writing content, drafting content for your website and it just sits there and it gets stale. You’re in the situation right now where you’re thinking about redesigning the website, and what do you do with the thousands of posts and news releases that your website has in the repository of information from the last decade? From the last 6 years, 8 years, or whatever it happens to be? In short, you should delete your old posts and your old content, but it’s not quite that easy. Listen to this episode and I’ll explain how you should decide what you keep and what you get rid of.

Welcome, you are listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host David from Wow Digital.

Today’s question comes from Alisha and she asked: “What do you do with old blog posts? Do you delete them every few years? Do you keep them all?” Her blog posts go back to 2015 and she said that it seems unnecessary to have that many blog posts on the website unless it’s an evergreen piece of content. She’s curious about what she should do about it. Well, Alisha, the answer isn’t exactly so straightforward, but in a nutshell, you have a few options: You can delete, you can keep them how they are, or you can edit them and update.

I’m going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each of those in this episode, so I hope you’re listening. Before we get into this I just wanted to mention that if you have any questions you’d like answered you can reach me by emailing [email protected] and I’ll set it up for one of our upcoming episodes.

When a question like this comes up, I need to look at where I’ve worked in the past so that I can help provide the best insight and opinion as to what you should do. I have 16 years of working in the non-profit sector professionally prior to starting Wow Digital, and what I found works the best is taking a look at the amount of content that you have and going “Okay, we’re going to keep this current year of data, this current year of content, and we’re going to keep the two previous years” Typically, depending on your organization, any press releases or any blog posts that you have are likely out of date if they’re three years or older.

So should you hit delete to any posts that are older than 3 years? It’s currently 2021, so what I’m saying is keep 2021, 2020, 2019, so anything 2018 and older, should you hit delete? Let’s talk about that for a second, absolutely not, do not just arbitrarily delete the content on your website. Doing so can have some very negative impacts on your search engine optimization and your ranking by Google. In addition, very often people that work in marketing and communication departments at non-profits and charities, and NGOs want to go back and look at the historical information that they’ve posted. This usually has to do with partnerships that your organization has had with others. It could be the hiring of a new president or CEO or a big donation that was made to the foundation. That type of information you want to likely keep on your site, and I’m going to talk about how you determine whether you should keep it or not.

So step one would be to talk to the people that run your fundraising. It’s quite likely that there’s a bit of content, a news release, a blog post about a donation that was made to your organization, and every non-profit has their own unique sizes and what they determine is a large donation. What might be a 10 million dollar donation to a 1 billion dollar organization, is very different than a $50,000 donation to a $150,000 organization. So go and talk to the donation and fundraising teams to see if there have been any major donations that have been made to your organization, and look at the pages on your site and see if there’s anything in there that talks about those donations. They might want to go and take a look at any paperwork and any donation agreements that were made between that person, or family, or sister organization, or corporate sponsor.

The second thing you want to look at in your journey to find out whether content should be kept on the site or not is to take a look at your website analytics. I’ve mentioned it in other episodes, if you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your website make sure you have some other package so that you can determine what content, what pages people are looking at on your website, how long they’re looking at the pages for, and if they’re doing anything else from that page. On large sites I would classify those as over 2,000 pages, I always recommend taking a look at Google analytics and the All Pages Report located under Site Content, which is under Behavior. So, 2000 pages sites or larger, take a look at that and I would say to run a report based on the last year of data, or the last 12 months of data and see if there’s any blog post, or articles, or content that have under 5 page views. If it’s an even larger site you might want to take a look at pages that have 10 page views, and those are the pages that I would first look at to determine whether or not they need to be kept on the website.

If it’s an important page and it only has 10 views over the last year, if it hasn’t been put up recently, you should really question whether that page is valid for your website. Is that something that has any kind of real useful information for your website? If it does, and chances are that it doesn’t, but if it happens to have some kind of use then you need to figure out how to promote that page elsewhere in the website to get the eyes on it from your visitors that are coming to your website.

I should mention right now that if you’re going to run a GA report in reverse sorted by page views, that you want to change it from showing the page URL to the page title if you’re doing anything with Facebook, Pixel ID, or any other kind of tracking between platforms, because the Pixel ID is going to be unique every time there’s a different user that clicks through and that is going to make a lot of pages show as one view when it’s likely much higher than that.

At this point, you almost have my blessing to start deleting content from your site, but you’re not quite done yet.

You need to take a look at pages that show up in the report from GA and determine if there’s any value in still having those pages on your website. Maybe they used to get lots of hits and you could take a look at a much longer time frame of your analytics report.

It’s very possible that there’s some kind of evergreen content, something that is still very relevant in the content of some of the older pages on your website. That’s the next step, you need to take a look at those pages, review the content and if there’s anything that is still of some kind of value, whether it’s an event that happened 4 or 5 years ago that got a lot of people and eyes and media publicity, that’s an important page to still retain on your website.

So is now the right time to delete content from your site? No, not quite there yet. What I always recommend before you undertake major redevelopment of a website and removing large chunks of content, is to create a static HTML version of your site so that you have an archive of what was on the site previously. I found that this has come in very handy in the past when I’ve been working with larger groups with multiple media and editorial staff, and over time they want to refer to what they had written years ago and they remember that it was on the website.

Typically, with the static version of the site created, I load that up on a subdomain of my client something like “Archive 2021” and then their domain name dot com, dot org, dot CA, whatever it happens to be, and I make sure that is password-protected so only those staff that has the password can access it, and Google will not be indexing and including any pages from that archive in the search results.

The added benefit of the static content is that if there was something that was accidentally deleted that you can go in, find it, copy it, and create a new page in your website with that content. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress you can go and change the date to whatever it was historically, so you could make a page that was from 2015 if that’s when it was posted.

The downside to deleting pages from your website is that inevitably somebody is going to be missing the content they were looking for. Eventually, in the coming months after deleting a page, Google will remove the results from the search engine but you also have other places that might be linking to your website. There might be somebody that referenced it on their website, there might be another sister organization that has an old news release on their site that is pointing to a specific piece of content on your site. So what you want to make sure that you do is having a really great Error 404 page, and what that is, is a page that people will see when they go to your website and the content is no longer there. You can redirect them to your homepage, you can create a great 404 page that has all kinds of different navigational links or graphics on it to help them find the information they’re looking for, but you want to make sure that page exists and it meets your brand.

You don’t want to have just a white page that shows up with some text that says “Error page not found”.

So you finally decided after listening to everything that I’ve been rambling on about that it’s okay to delete a page from your site, that’s awesome. Get rid of it, blow it up, throw it in the garbage, and forget about it, or you can just unpublish the page from your website which will make it not visible by the front end but you’ll still have access to it in the back end. If you have a website that is running on thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of pages, the old pages you probably actually want to delete and then you can clean up the database and keep the site running thin. If your server is a little bit underpowered you might find that working around in the back end of your website is a little bit sluggish or slow, and this can actually speed it up by getting rid of all content and old versions of pages of your website, that will help speed it up.

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to delete pages, and you remove them, it’s a great idea to create a 410 Deleted status for Google to update to know that the content was actually deleted intentionally, that it’s not just a page that’s temporarily missing from your website. When you first delete a page if you don’t do this your web server will show a 404 error, however, over time Google will realize that the page is no longer there and will eventually work out to remove the URL from any search results that it might be showing up in. What you can now do is update the old posts that are still somewhat relevant. I spoke earlier in this episode about having content that is evergreen, and that might be a research study that was done, or health tips, or recipes for example, and you might want to have that even more relevant.

So what I recommend my clients to do it’s to actually go into those pages, those post, those articles, whatever the content happens to be, remove and update any date so that it’s current and relevant, do a quick search in Google for the type of page that you’re looking at updating, and see what shows up on the first one or two pages of the results.

Use some of the words and ideas that are there to update your page so that it appears more relevant. While you’re at it you should go through it, make sure that you fixed any potential spelling errors or grammatical mistakes that are on the website, and this will help improve your content’s accuracy, and Google loves fresh, updated content that is accurate and is relevant.

Something else you can do to help improve the “freshness” of your website is to link to other websites that have relevant, new, updated, fresh content on it as well and this will help skyrocket your traffic. It’s also important while you’re going through and editing pages of your website to make sure that none of the links are dead. Having broken links on your site shows Google that your website isn’t up-to-date, so you may have published a new article today and if it has two, three, four, or even one broken link on it, Google will think that it’s not as up-to-date as it should be. So make sure that you’re constantly running checks on your website to make sure that all the links are valid and click-through to the right place. There’s a number of tools that can be used for this and I’ll put them into the show notes, so come to Wowdigital.com/006 which is this podcast episode, and you’ll see the show notes and the transcription right there, and I’ll have a link or two for some tools that you can use to continue to monitor your website.

After going through this, and updating pages, and republishing them to your website, if you find that you need to change the URL so it’s more consistent with the messaging of the new, revised content, make sure that you have redirect set up in your CMS, hopefully, you have a CMS, or on the server to manage moving and updating Google so that they know that the page has been updated.

If you’re using WordPress there are some great plugins that you can utilize to automatically create these redirects whenever you change the URL of a page. WordPress calls it a “Page Slug”, so if you ever update that this will automatically create the redirects in the system for you so you don’t have to think about it. I’ll include a link to one or two of those as well in the show notes.

Once you’ve done this, it’s important to make sure that the published date of this new updated post is from today or this week, or maybe you want to have it published in the future in a week or two from now. You don’t want to have hundreds of new, updated pages on your website that are published all at the same time. The added benefit of revitalizing old content is that you’ve now created some new content that you can send out to your marketing list as some extra value-added content, on top of your messaging that you should hopefully already be doing.

So, Alisha, I hope I was able to answer your question for you. Yes, it’s okay to delete old content, however, you need to be careful and very selective about the content that you are deleting, and you need to do it with purpose and intent. You shouldn’t just delete things for the sake of deleting it because you have lots of pages on your website. If the page is getting traffic, keep it, if the page is useful in any way, keep it, and if there’s any kind of rationale to retain an old page for nostalgic or archival purposes, you should keep it. Other than that you’ve got my blessing and I hope that this answers your question for you. If you or anybody else have any more questions, again as I mentioned earlier, send me an email to [email protected].

Head over to wowdigital.com/podcast and join in the conversation. We’ve also started a Facebook group to go along with this podcast that we can engage in conversation day to day about everything to do with non-profit digital success, I’ll see you there.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I’m looking forward to having you listen to the next ones that we’ve got coming up. If you’ve enjoyed this episode please leave feedback on iTunes or wherever you listen to this podcast, I’d love to hear your feedback and it would also help others find the show.

Be sure to check out the show notes for the episode, head over to wowdigital.com, click on podcast, and search for this episode number and you’ll find all the links, details, and other information that has been discussed in this episode.

Are there any other topics that you would like to hear about? Just send an email to [email protected]. Thanks for listening to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast!

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