After living in the same place for a decade, I’m getting ready to move. That means I’m tackling the herculean task of sifting through 10 years worth of papers and possessions, trinkets and toys. I have to figure out what stays, what goes, what has value and what goes in the trash. You need to do the same thing, not with your house, but with your website. It’s not fun, but it could save you money and frustration, AND make your site more effective.
Closets, drawers, shelves and nooks
It’s amazing how we pack things in. After you live in a place for a while, you learn all the little corners and spaces, and you inevitably fill them all. Over time, we add furniture that gives us more places to put things while maintaining the appearance of tidiness. We do this with our websites too. We make new image folders for one-time email blasts. We post semi-private files so that business partners can download them if they’re too big to send as emails. We make microsites, landing pages and integration tools to support all manner of marketing campaigns.
And then there’s the "construction debris". As the site grows and changes (often with changing sets of developers), new functionality gets added and old functionality gets removed. But developers rarely clean up after themselves. Sometimes "removal" just means commenting something out of the code, or changing a link to point from an old script to a new one. What happens to the old files and the old code? Often it just sits there on the server. In many cases, it is still connected to databases and other functional systems.
Out of sight, out of mind
So what’s the harm in letting that stuff pile up? As long as the site looks good and works well, why should you care? There are multiple reasons why you should care:
- Security - The web isn’t the safest place. Hackers, detractors, troublemakers and cybercriminals force us to constantly improve the security we place around our sites and databases. Leaving old functional code sitting on a website can leave openings for the bad guys to exploit, even if your newer code is locked down. It doesn’t matter how many deadbolts you have on your front door if you leave a window open around the side!
- Efficiency - Your time is valuable. So is the money you spend to have outside providers help you maintain and improve your site. If the person who piled up all those files is the one doing the work, it probably doesn’t slow them down that much. On the other hand, if they disappear and you (or someone you hire) need to figure out how all those files and folders relate to each other, getting anything done could take twice the time, or more!
- Brand - Just because you removed the links to those old pages and files, doesn’t mean they have disappeared from the Internet. Once files are discovered by Google and other search bots, they can remain in the indexes forever, as long as the URL to reach the page still works. You’d be amazed at what you can find with a Google search. Old files may be simply embarrassing due to old, outdated designs, or they can be downright damaging if they tell a story that contradicts your current brand strategy.
- Liability - Every day brands manage conflicts that have legal implications. Often these issues require marketing materials to be changed or removed. It could be a trademark dispute, a regulatory compliance issue or a fight over an aggressive statement about a competitor. In these situations, leaving the offending information accessible to the web could leave the company open to future liability.
While you’re at it, give that wardrobe a once-over
Once you’re done cleaning out the things you don’t need, it’s not a bad idea to take a look through the pages and content that’s left. Does it reflect the current state of the brand? Is it accurate relative to your products, services and processes? Does it show a company that is in touch with the modern world? (Hint: If you have a page that still refers to a partnership with Lehman Brothers, you need to do some cleaning up)
Anything more than a year or two old could probably use a little editing and freshening by now. After all, the world is very different and your business probably is too. Outdated or inaccurate information could drive away potential business opportunities, and you’d probably never even know it! This type of cleaning is no substitute for the genuine remodeling that most sites need every 3-5 years, but it can help what you’ve already got go much farther.
It’s time for me to dive back into my boxes, trash bags and packing tape. If this article has your wheels turning but you don’t know where to start, feel free to contact me and I’ll be glad to offer some tips.