Attack of the Rotten Content

Your content is rotten.

Okay, maybe it’s not.

When did you last check it? It won’t turn green and fuzzy or smell funky. But it can still “go bad.”

The New York Times recently featured a story about Emory University’s efforts to preserve for posterity the works of noted author Salman Rushdie. While content like Rushdie’s notes have a long lifespan, a great deal of content on the web has a much more limited life cycle. Neither the creators nor the consumers wish to have certain content live past its expiration date.

When Good Content Goes Bad

The acronym used to describe content’s Redundancy, Outdated-ness, or Triviality is ROT. Cheeky!

ROT happens without anyone even realizing it. There is no content on your website that is completely immune to ROT. Certain kinds of content are more prone to it than others:

  • News items
  • Political items
  • Events
  • Press releases
  • Product descriptions

We’ve all witnessed particularly egregious examples of it in the past. Maybe it was a press release from two years ago on the homepage.  Or an invitation to an “upcoming event” that took place two weeks ago. Or a banner for a new product from two updates ago. They are often painfully clear and a pain to deal with from a user perspective.

Outside factors can also have a major impact on the currency of your content. You can plan for internal changes, but some things will force your content into a world of ROT:

  • Product recalls
  • News stories / current events
  • Competitor’s activities and advances

What is the worst than can happen?

So what if the content is a little moldy?

People visit website to accomplish tasks. Do things. Buy stuff. With content that is redundant, outdated, or trivial, your site will become hard-to-use. Tedious. Visitors will have to decide on their own what may or may not be accurate. Or, even worse, the content becomes an active liability. Lawsuits! Unmet business obligations! Other concerns:

  • Negatively impacts brand
  • Bad experience overall for the user
  • Causes doubts about your content’s veracity
  • Endangers relationships with partners and third parties involved
  • Legal liability
  • It just looks bad

Customers can be misinformed. They can realize that your website, and by extension, the experience and information you are providing for them is not a priority. Worse yet, they can go elsewhere.

Content Strategy Can Help

A solid content strategy has a clearly defined governance plan. Once content is created, it cannot be neglected.

The content creation workflows in a content strategy will take into account the life cycle of the material created. That life expectancy can be incorporated into the metadata to facilitate a certain degree of automation. Even a modest CMS can lend a hand with managing content with a set expiration date.

Since outside factors are not on a set timetable, another approach may help. Properly tagging content with keywords will grant you the option to search.  As current events warrant, these keyword searches may prove very valuable. [Think “oil” or “spill,” for example.]

Regular, scheduled reviews of tagged content will ensure that the end result is content that is non-duplicative, up-to-date, and relevant.

Gross, dude

You wouldn’t intentionally serve your dinner guests rotten food as pictured above, right? Neither should you serve content suffering from ROT to the lovely folks coming to your website. Fresh content, like fresh food, will delight those that get to enjoy it.

[“rotten apples” image via Flickr upload from maceolepage (cc: by-nc)]

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