Web Development

Does your website ROT?

Ryan Boudreaux explains why ROT (redundant, outdated, trivial) content is bad for your website and provides some tips to get rid of it.

ROT stands for Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial (ROT) content, and it can be one of the biggest challenges for a the team responsible for keeping a website up to date. The trick is learning how to spot the ROT, how to get rid of it, and how you prevent it from happening again. A program of content analysis can help to identify the ROT on your website, and help you create a plan to reduce and streamline your site's bloat due to ROT.

"R" is for Redundant

This is characterized by content that is verbose or unnecessarily repetitious in expressing ideas, thoughts, and concepts. An example of redundant content would be having four web pages, each linked or bread crumbed from four other web pages and all representing the same, similar or related content and information.

"O" is for Outdated

Includes content that is no longer in use, currently inaccurate, or otherwise antiquated. An example of outdated content might include several links to PowerPoint presentations that were part of a seminar for a regional conference dating back to 2004 -- and it is a good bet that most of the content on those presentations is outdated and no longer relevant to contemporary standards or operations for the organization.

"T" is for Trivial

Any content that is of little importance or value, and is considered insignificant to the overall scheme or purpose doesn't help your website. An example of trivial content would include specific local city information for a conference or event which occurred several months or years ago and has no value today. A specific example would be the event times and information about after hour activities for attendees of the conference, such as a restaurant location, directions, and special menu selections.

Why it's bad

The problems with ROT are numerous, including creating confusion for visitors and eroding user confidence with multiple versions or outdated content. It can cause problems with internal searches resulting in multiple results of the same content. It is costly to maintain multiple copies of the same content, especially with the costs of backup and data storage. And ROT can cause issues when migrating to a new look and feel, or into a new CMS. Removing the ROT can improve performance and the total user experience, and helps simplify the effort when adopting a new web strategy,

Attacking the ROT

When you know your content, you can manage your content. Several ways to approach the ROT include taking a manual content inventory, incorporating a web diagnostic tool, or utilizing other web analytics tools to sort out the fray.

  • You can start with a content inventory using a simple spreadsheet and recording all relevant information for each URL or web page to include a link ID, link name, the link URL, document type, topics and keywords, owner, and ROT.
  • Larger sites can use tools such as Accenture Digital Diagnostics Engine, which measures and evaluates the characteristics of a website, including the factors that contribute to better user experience and total website effectiveness. This tool is currently used by federal agencies such as the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Microsoft Windows Azure platform.
  • WebMan is a tool designed for web managers and is a content centric-CMS tool. The complete modeling of a website starts with modeling the content, not the pages. WebMan uses a process called content engineering, where after the content is set, one starts to define the publishing of the content.
  • Make identifying and attacking the ROT a part of your checklist before major migrations or look-and-feel updates. This will ensure your content is cleaned up and makes for an easier and faster transition.

What methods do you use to keep website content fresh and accurate? Share your plan and any tools that you use to help analyze content.

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

4 comments
davisg
davisg

Thank you Professor. I have just done this exercise by preparing the content inventory sheet. This will help me a great deal everytime I have to meet my director and brief him about the web site activities of ANDI, http://www.andi-africa.org

bigjude
bigjude

It's amazing how easily the ROT sets in. I think your spread sheet suggestion, attention to detail and a proper maintenance schedule is the simple answer for anything other than corporate or government websites. Humans are forgetful animals. Most websites need checking for topicality at least once a month because information gets dated or irrelevant. Then, whenever I have to change anything, I check the complete website against the WC3 validators which are online, free and pick up broken links and errors in syntax. I then make a new sitemap. I think that's good enough for most sites. The discipline needed to do it is another thing.

jebswebs
jebswebs

Bottom line - you have to work at keeping your website looking and working good. There are no software solutions for this.

tomclark
tomclark

... but Webman is really old, no? (2003) Does it still work, or is there an update?

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