Here's a golden rule for web publishing: You should only publish on your website the content that you can professionally manage.

Managing content involves managing its entire life cycle. The life of a particular piece of content begins with its first draft. It ends when that content is removed from publication. Removing content is as important as publishing it.

The Web has extended the life cycle of content. Many organizations have not established new processes and responsibilities to deal with this extension. Print content has well-established processes to remove from publication what is old or unnecessary.

If you are a newspaper, once your publication is a couple of days old, it gets dumped. If you are a book publisher, those books that don't sell are discounted or get returned and pulped.

It's different on the Web. When content is published it stays published unless there is a deliberate decision to remove it from publication. Publishing is about delivering the right content to the right person at the right time at the right cost.

Old content means that you are not publishing the right content. It also increases the amount of time your reader spends searching for your content. Old content is wrong content. It gives the wrong information. It's the wrong form, the wrong instructions, the wrong date, the wrong name for the head of marketing.

The objective of a website is to publish content that helps people make decisions. The Web uses content to drive actions. If your content is old, it's driving the wrong actions. You're better off having no website than one that drives the wrong actions.

You should only publish the content that is necessary to further your objectives. Old or unnecessary content is like weeds. It pollutes your website and chokes attention away from quality content.

Organizations publish vast quantities of unnecessary content. All this content confuses readers as they are presented with all these unnecessary choices. It increases the chances they will click on the wrong link, wasting more of their time, diverting them from the choices you want them to make.

Too many organizations are unwilling to invest the time to fully manage their content. Many web managers don't actually read their own websites. They may have thousands of pages, published for several years, which have never been read by a staff member since publication. This is unprofessional.

Here are a number of processes you can put in place to ensure that your website is kept fresh:

  1. Ensure that when new content is published, content that it replaces is removed from the website.
  2. Six months after publication of a document, send a notification to the author that the content needs to be reviewed.
  3. For event-type content, have expiration date metadata, so that the content is automatically removed at that date. (Points 2 and 3 can be automated using content management software.)
  4. Every month, check the critical content and applications (search, subscription forms, etc.) on your website to make sure they are up-to-date and working.
  5. Once a year, ensure every single piece of content on your website get a thorough read.

Only publish the content you can manage. If you can't manage to read the content you've published, you're not managing your content.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.