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A sestina on sunsetting content

Note: The sestina is a poetic form. It’s constructed of six stanzas, of which each contain six lines. In the first stanza, the last word of each line is reused throughout the poem, to end the lines in each subsequent stanza, following a set pattern.

We’ve used our blog to write about creating new content,
but we haven’t discussed managing published pages. Specifically, when to delete them.
In the content design world, we call this concept “sunsetting.”
Sunsetting can be contentious in government. We manage websites for the public,
which feels like managing content for everyone’s needs.
When you have to think about everyone, that makes it a lot more complicated to delete things.

Additionally, there are unique consequences to the government “deleting things.”
Our websites impact citizenship, voting, taxes. This is life-changing content.
From broad swaths to tiny subgroups, when we see needs
we write for them,
and what we publish becomes official record that belongs to the public.
Knowing all this, how can we form a strategy for sunsetting?

Step one of sunsetting:
Look at your pages. When was the last time you reviewed or updated everything?
Policies change, procedures change; we need to reflect that to the public.
If something is outdated but historically important, you can make it “archived content,”
which can be as simple as taking outdated pages and putting the label “archived” on them.
Otherwise, update or delete information so it’s easier for readers to find what they need.

It’s trickier to prioritize information that people rarely look at or only sometimes need.
Don’t send pages over the horizon by sunsetting
just because it’s been awhile since readers visited them —
for example, caucus information or how to take part in the census, those kinds of things.
You shouldn’t delete and relaunch valuable, accurate content
because of the cyclical interest of the public.

Ultimately, you want to emphasize pages that are timely and draw the interest of the public.
But the foundation of your site should be built on ever-present (not transitory) needs.
Keep things up to date; trust that, in time, people will come back to important content.
That’ll save you the pain of sunsetting
and resuscitating and sunsetting and resuscitating things.
In short: Do your pages fit a clearly identified public need? If so, keep them.

And bear in mind that “keep them”
doesn’t necessarily mean keep them as is. You’ll see shifts in the needs of the public.
Usability testing, interviews, and analytics will illuminate things
you should change or update to meet the public’s needs.
Make iteration part of your strategy for sunsetting.
Your readers will thank you for not having to wade through unnecessary, outdated content.

Hopefully this sestina has inspired you to think about them (pages and needs).
Are you a member of the public or government with questions about sunsetting?
Reach out! We’d love to chat with you about content!

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