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You may watch the reality show “Hoarders” or the news stories about these extreme collectors — lots of folks do. Many of us have basements or attics with too many mementos or too much stuff, but hoarders take this to the extreme. They can’t bear to throw anything away — even trash — and their homes become so filled with junk that they can no longer live there comfortably.

Some websites are like those hoarders’ homes. We keep content “just in case” — just in case someone (a staff member or a customer) ever needs it, even though only a handful of people have used it in years. I remember a statistic shared by usability expert Gerry McGovern that Microsoft had literally millions of pages on its site that had zero visits in a one-year period, although they have changed their ways in the last few years.

Why do we do this? I think it’s because we think there’s a valid business or technical reason to keep the information. On a project I worked on for a large association, we had many old pages with low traffic. For a time, we chose to keep those pages for two reasons:

  • If we removed them, we would be breaking any links to them.
  • Even if the information wasn’t current or popular, we needed it to capture the organization’s history, and there was no other place to put the content so we could link to it when it was necessary.

Eventually, we realized that even if those links were broken, no one was clicking on them, so it wouldn’t really matter. We also created an online archive to store historical content.

How hoarding hurts:

  • Old content has a negative effect on search, especially on-site search. Unless tweaked, on-site search engines favor legacy content with many inbound links over new information.
  • It is a drag on systems. Even though storage is cheap, having too many pages is still eating up too much space.
  • Search engine crawling, communications audits, tagging efforts, etc. take longer if there are more pages, especially ones that the site owners know are no longer needed.
  • It poses legal and business risks. If users are acting on last year’s information, they may not be aware that the rules may have changed. If they see an outdated price on a product or event, they may demand that it be honored.

So, it’s time to declutter!

In part 2, we discuss how to declutter and also how to prevent hoarding from creeping in again in the future: How to recover from being a content hoarder

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