If you’re in the midst of a CMS migration or content cleanup for a public government website, one big question is what to do with all the old stuff on your site.
Should you keep it in an archive or get rid of it?
This is a big deal, especially for a government site where people expect transparency and easy access to past information.
In this article, we’ll talk about everything from laws you need to follow to simple ways to get a page ready for archiving.
The need for archiving on government websites
When you run a government website, keeping old content is often more than just a good idea — it’s usually a must.
People use these websites to find important information, and sometimes they need to see older stuff too.
For example, someone might want to look at what was said in a city meeting last year or read an old rule or guideline.
Keeping an archive makes sure people can find this old information, which helps them trust the government more.
Let’s look at a real-world example. Think about a city’s website that has shared yearly budget plans for the last 10 years.
If a person wants to see how the city’s spending has changed over time, they would need those old budget plans.
Deleting them would not only hurt trust but could also get you into legal trouble.
Laws often say that you have to keep old records for a certain amount of time. If you don’t, you could face fines or other problems.
In the United States, for example, there’s a law called the Freedom of Information Act that says certain kinds of records have to be kept.
Ignoring these rules could lead to legal issues.
Factors to consider before archiving
Deciding what to do with old content isn’t as simple as choosing between keeping it or deleting it. There are several things you should think about first.
These factors can guide you in making the best choice for your website and its users.
First, you have to know if there are any laws that say you must keep certain types of content.
For example, some laws say you have to keep financial records for a certain number of years.
If you’re not sure about the rules, it’s a good idea to talk to a legal expert to make sure you’re doing everything right.
Traffic to the page
Another thing to look at is how many people are visiting the pages you’re thinking about archiving.
If a page hasn’t had many visitors for a long time, like a year or more, it might be a good candidate for archiving.
For instance, if you have a page about a community event that happened two years ago and it’s not getting much traffic, it’s probably safe to archive.
Links to the page
Are other pages on your website linking to the page you’re considering for archiving? If they are, you might want to keep it.
Pages that are linked to often provide important context for other content.
For example, a page about a past public health campaign might be linked from a current campaign page to show how strategies have evolved.
Some pages are only relevant at certain times of the year. Think about a page that gives information about voting locations.
It might not get much traffic most of the year, but it’s very important around election time. In cases like this, it makes sense to keep the page.
Practical steps for archiving
Once you’ve weighed all the factors and decided that a page should be archived, the next step is to actually do it.
But archiving isn’t just about moving a page to a different section of your website.
There are some practical steps you should follow to make sure the process goes smoothly and serves its purpose.
Preparing the page
Before you archive a page, make sure all the important information on it is up to date. If the page has links, check that they’re still working.
If there are any forms or interactive elements, decide if they should be kept or removed.
For example, if you’re archiving a page about a past event, you might want to remove the registration form but keep the event summary and photos.
It’s a good idea to check your archived pages from time to time to see if they’re still relevant or if they need updating.
You could set a reminder to do this every six months or once a year. This regular check helps you keep your archive useful and reliable.
When you archive a page, the URL often changes. This can mess up search engine rankings if not handled correctly.
To avoid this, set up redirects from the old URL to the new one.
This way, if someone finds the old link in a search engine or on another website, they’ll be taken to the archived page instead of getting an error message.
Why page ownership matters
Knowing who looks after each page on your website can really help when it’s time to archive.
The person who’s in charge of a page often knows it best and can give you useful advice on what to do with it.
Talk to the page owner
Before you decide to archive or delete a page, it’s a good idea to talk to the person who looks after it.
They can give you extra details that you won’t get just by looking at numbers or data.
For example, they might know that a page that seems old and not useful is actually going to be important again soon because of a coming event or new rule.
Figuring out the page’s priority
The person in charge of a page can also help you understand how important it is.
They might know how the page is used by other people in your organization, or how it fits into bigger plans.
For example, a page about a project from last year might still be useful for work that’s happening now or in the future.
When you know who’s responsible for each page, it’s easier to keep track of what happens.
If a mistake is made, like a page getting deleted when it shouldn’t be, you can find out how it happened and fix it more easily.
By paying attention to who’s in charge of each page and including them in your decisions, you’ll make better choices and end up with an archive that’s both useful and trustworthy.
Archiving isn’t just about cleaning up or making room for new stuff.
It’s about carefully choosing what stays and what goes so that you can offer the most value to the people who use your website.
It’s also about making sure you’re doing everything by the book, so you don’t run into any legal problems down the line.
By taking the time to think through each step and involve the right people, you’ll end up with an archive and website that serves everyone’s needs.