When you have to pack all your stuff up, you uncover all sorts of things you’ve been hanging onto for reasons you can’t recall: take-out menus to restaurants that have closed, keys that open unknown doors, ticket stubs to plays you can’t remember watching.
Redesigning a website can be a similar experience - tools for projects that are no longer done, guides to courses that aren’t part of the curriculum anymore, links that go to web sites that are no longer there.
Check your links
Approaching this project - especially if you haven’t done it before - can seem overwhelming. A good place to start is to check for dead links. Dead links send a signal to visitors that no one is checking on this website, not a reassuring notion! In addition to links that just dead-end, you should make sure that everything still goes where it says it goes. As in, the link may work, but redirect to a custom “page not found” or “we’ve redesigned our site” message.
This can be time-consuming! Depending on the size of your website, you may want to look for tools that will help you with the project, like Check My Links extension for Chrome or Integrity for MacOS, both of which can quickly scan links and images to find problems. You should also check with your tech department to see if the content management system or web site software has a built in checker. If you have a smaller web site, it may be easiest to just manually click on all your links and make sure they actually go where they say they do.
What to Keep?
Now that you’ve fixed all the broken spots, it’s time to decide what to keep and what to ditch. This is a good time to check in with your district - are you required to have a link to the district home page, or have cybersafety or copyright information posted? If so, make sure you have the latest copies available.
Once you know what you have to have, you need to start evaluating everything else. Again, it can seem overwhelming, but I suggest approaching it with the same rules and procedures you would approach your physical collection. If your district doesn’t have a formal collection policy, try the MUSTIE rules: ditch anything that is misleading, ugly, superceded, trivial, inaccurate, or available elsewhere.
It’s tempting to hang onto every web page you designed, or every link you collected. But take a critical eye to all your pages! Ask yourself: why is this link here? Is anyone using it? Your web hosting program may be able to give you statistics on traffic to your website; look at what pages your users are actually visiting on a regular basis. Tools like Google Analytics or StatCounter, or plug-ins for WordPress can also give you basic counters to see what’s popular, and what you can eliminate.
You should also look at how often you are visiting this page. When was the last time it was updated? If a page is really important for you to have, shouldn’t you be keeping it up to date?
There may be some pages that don’t get a lot of traffic year-round, but pop at certain times of the year - that special 5th grade project, the junior thesis research guide, your poetry month creation. You don’t have to get rid of these pages, but you may consider hiding or unpublishing them when they’re not in use, if your software allows it. At the very least, you can create an “archives” or “past projects” section of your web site to store them in until you need them. Think of it like your physical collection - you pull a cart of books or a table of resources together when you need to do a project, then put everything away until next year.
Throwing stuff out is hard! This is when you may be thinking “But I have this great link/project/cool resource - no one is using it now, but they may want it later?” Archive it - use tools like Diigo or Delicious to bookmark collections of links, or just save the web site as an html file that you can rebuild later. You will still have access to it, but doesn’t need to be out. Just like you only put up the physical Valentine’s display up in February, you don’t need to have the Valentine’s project up on your web site all year.
Keeping your web site up to date isn’t just about throwing things out! This is also the time to think about how to keep your site fresh and interesting. It can be helpful to think of your web site the way you think of your physical library. Some things are constant - the books don’t move around week to week, and the link to the catalog shouldn’t move week to week. But some things change on a regular basis - your website is a digital display space that should get regularly refreshed. Remember - you don’t leave a bulletin board up all year, why is your web site display the same all year?
Your web site can be a great way to show off student work, by making slideshows of projects or productions; or uploading book reviews. In my former library I had NO bulletin boards, and my web site was a wonderful way to show off what the students had been working on.
Once you’ve got the big work accomplished, set up a process for regular maintenance. If you have a regular weeding process, add the web site to the schedule. But even if you don’t do a major overhaul on a regular basis, try to stay on-top of linkrot: dead links on your page make people mistrust the content you do have.
Keeping track of your weeding also lets you update your website’s “last edited” information. This lets viewers know that you are checking up on the site on a regular basis.
It may seem like an overwhelming task, but weeding a web site can actually be quite a satisfying task. And at the very least, it’s far less dusty than weeding the books!