When to say ‘goodbye’ - developing an archive strategy

Diana Stow's picture
Diana Stow

A major challenge for online editors is how to keep content fresh and up-to-date. As websites and intranets grow there is a real danger that new and relevant content will be smothered by old, stale and distracting historical content. This can be confusing for users and even dangerous, if staff are not following the most up-to-date policies or legal guidance. Our research tells us that a real turn off for users is not knowing which set of documents are the latest or where to go to find the most up-to-date policies.

There are a number of simple ways you can take control and reduce the burden of keeping your sites updated. Start by drawing up some simple guidelines for when documents should be reviewed, updated or removed. You could do this with a spreadsheet, but there are some great tools you can use to automate this. For example, you can set expiry dates on content when it is posted so that it is automatically removed or archived when it is out-of-date.

Websites and intranets built with Drupal can easily incorporate publishing rules and workflows to automate this process and produce reports to help prompt publishers to review their content. If time pressure prevents timely review, then expired documents can be simply hidden until they have been updated and then republished.

It can be tempting to keep everything available on your site - perhaps to present a complete picture of the evolution of your organisation. You may have to be pretty brutal to push through a policy of removing historical information if others are keen to keep it. Documents can be hidden from view indefinitely, but it is good housekeeping policy to have a process of removing them entirely after a certain time period. We keep snapshots of our clients' sites so can resurrect documents from the archives if you cannot locate them in your back-up files.

They key thing is to plan a system that will work for your organisation and the time and resources available to manage it. Archiving can seem like a major chore but it is essential if websites and intranets are to stay relevant and not become a jumble of historic and unreliable information. Setting out clear guidelines on archiving and getting buy-in from senior management at the outset is a good way to avoid future headaches.

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