How to Host a Website Cleanup Event

Make cleaning up a website into a group effort

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a library website must be in want of a good cleanup. Web pages can seem to proliferate of their own accord, especially for libraries. Research guides, blog posts, event pages, yearly reports, staff profiles, database descriptions—librarians generate a lot of content. Among the important items, however, are plenty of outdated, forgotten, and even inaccurate pages that should be deleted or heavily revised. Just like your collections, your library’s website should be weeded regularly.

Cleaning up web content often feels like a chore. But you can make it feel fun with a collaborative event! In this post, I’ll share a few examples that I’ve participated in, and I’ll provide strategies for scoping the event and ensuring that you target the content that is truly useless and outdated.

Example events

Ol’ Fashioned Website Cleanup

NC State University Libraries’ Web Team, which I’m on, held this event earlier this year. We set aside 1.5 hours to gather with our laptops in a conference room with a view. Each of us took on a certain aspect of cleanup, such as:

  • Outdated announcements: Search your site for the phrase “as of.” For example, we unpublished (removed from public view) a page that started with, “As of October 2001….” That notice was 22 years old! Yikes. You can also search for other alerts or policies that may no longer apply by searching for terms like “coronavirus.”

  • Least-accessed pages: Use your web analytics app to find pages that have had zero page views in the past year. If it’s old and useless (and it probably is), delete or unpublish it.

  • Outdated pages: Use your content management system (CMS, such as WordPress or Drupal) to identify pages that haven’t been updated in a long time. If a page hasn’t been updated in, say, five years, evaluate it for deletion or unpublishing.

At the end of the event, we recapped our progress for the team. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the room erupted in cheers for every set of pages that had been unpublished or deleted. We agreed to do this annually, if not more often.

The techniques we used are ones I learned from Rebecca Blakiston’s excellent Spring Cleaning Workshop at Designing for Digital 2023.

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Writing for the Web Workshop

Deleting pages isn’t the only way to clean up a website. Your current pages could do with some sprucing up, too! If your website is collaboratively written, it’s a good idea to use a style guide so that your content looks and sounds consistent. Duke University Libraries has a fantastic style guide. They note that their guide is for web writing—that’s different from writing scholarly articles. It can be hard for librarians trained in penning academic papers to override some of our instincts. We love to be comprehensive and thorough, but users will often skip over long, tedious walls of text. Holding a workshop specifically about writing for the web will help you and your colleagues communicate more effectively on your website.

Before leading this workshop, familiarize yourself with your library’s style guide (or use another library’s). Invite colleagues who tend to write lots of web content, especially research guides. At the workshop, focus on just a handful of web writing strategies, such as:

  • Using headings
  • Breaking walls of text into short paragraphs and lists
  • Using descriptive links (no “click here” links)
  • Using plain language (examples)

Review these tips with your colleagues, and provide good and bad examples. Ask participants to pick out a page or guide that they want to work on. Then put on some thinking music (if that’s okay with the group) to let everybody get into the writing zone.

You don’t have to hold an event for this, but it’s a great way to dedicate time to cleaning up content, especially if you suspect that an email won’t give a big enough nudge to content authors. And if you’re concerned that people may feel resistant to or insulted by the idea that their content needs editing, you can frame this event as a way to pilot test a style guide.

The Great PDF Purge

NC State University’s IT Accessibility Office coordinated this event across campus for several years. Why? PDFs are one of the most common document formats—and unfortunately, it’s way too easy to make a PDF that is inaccessible for people who use assistive technologies like screen readers. Moreover, PDFs are likelier than other forms of web content to become outdated, in my experience. Think of handouts or maps that get updated and re-uploaded without deleting the older versions.

Your website may store PDFs in the CMS or in a separate folder that your website admin can access. You and your colleagues can make a list of these PDFs and ascertain whether they should be deleted, converted to a plain web page, or made accessible using a program like Microsoft Word (if you have the editable document file) or Adobe Acrobat. (Warning, this last option is difficult and time-consuming.) A shared spreadsheet is the best way to keep track of your work.

This event might be one three-hour long working meeting, or you could split up the work into three or four hour-long meetings over the course of a month. On our campus, participants received a certificate for completing the challenge. A similar certificate, or prize for most PDFs deleted, is a great incentive.

Summer is a wonderful time to clean up your website, especially for academic libraries. Try out one of these events with your colleagues. You’ll be amazed at how great it feels to get rid of old web content!

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