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What Librarians Can Teach Marketers About Weeding Out ROT

Editor’s note: This article grew out of a post published on the Content Strategy Inc. blog May 16, 2016.

Librarians can’t keep everything; bookshelves have only so much space. As books come in, books must go out. Librarians call the process of removing books from their collection “de-accessioning” or, more casually, “weeding.”

Marketers may use the term weeding, or they may talk about getting rid of ROT (redundant, outdated, trivial content). Whichever term you prefer, you probably know that you should archive or delete content that hurts you more than it helps. Who’s going to land a good job today with career tips from the 1970s?

Removing content from your site doesn’t mean it’s bad. It may have been perfectly good when it originally went up. But times change, and so should content.

Think of this process the way you think about buying clothes: Every time you add a piece, you’d be wise to consider removing something to make room in your closet.

Do you think of digital space (unlike closet space) as unlimited? Do you ever find yourself wanting to keep certain pieces of content because they could maybe someday be useful to someone — like that one user who needs to know a particular detail about the history of your organization or who may find a post helpful even if it talks about programs you no longer support? If so, keep in mind that just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it costs nothing to keep. Every link, paragraph, picture, and video that you keep — even though your priority audience doesn’t need it — makes it harder for that audience to find what it does need.

If you’re a content professional, you owe it to your customers — just as librarians owe it to theirs — to regularly inventory and audit your collection and then weed out the ROT.

Decide what to pitch

Librarians take various things into account in deciding which books are important enough to keep on the shelf. A book is not necessarily irrelevant just because it gets old, and it’s not necessarily unhelpful just because it’s rarely checked out.

When you’re considering which content to retire, look not just at its publication date but also at its relevance. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do the tips work as well today as they did before? If they do, consider keeping the piece and refreshing anything that makes it look dated, like old screenshots or photographs.
  • Is something making your still-useful content hard to find? Maybe it lacks the metadata that search-engine robots need to find it. Consider retagging or re-categorizing that content or otherwise updating its metadata to support findability.
  • Are you promoting your content adequately? Maybe you can surface it on your company’s home page or social media.

Here are four more tips to simplify your weeding:

  • Try the Content Analysis Tool (CAT) by Content Insight or the Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool to get started with a content inventory of your site (a tip from Peter Kelly, director of content strategy at Content Strategy Inc.).
  • Can’t tell which section of your content needs the most weeding? To get a snapshot of how your content is doing at a high level, try the content scorecard template that Content Strategy Inc. has developed.
  • Have trouble deciding whether a particular piece of content is worth keeping? Ask a knowledgeable colleague.
  • Want to see how much your site has improved since you first started weeding? Check the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to see how your site used to look, and celebrate how much better it has become.

Create a weeding schedule

Your content team may want to create a schedule for reviewing pages or sections of your site. If you don’t weed your collection regularly, before long you’ll be buried.

You might schedule content reviews to align with the following:

  • Major updates or policy changes in your industry, company, or department
  • Product-development cycles – For example, if you write about software technology and your app developers make small updates on a two-week scrum cycle and significant updates once or twice a year, you might schedule minor updates of your content (revising or deleting old articles) every two weeks to stay on top of the small changes, while scheduling more significant updates every six months or annually.
  • Events – Let’s say that your company holds an event every month to attract new customers. Review your website content before every event to make sure that it hasn’t gone stale.

Make a schedule that addresses when different sections need to be audited. Some content rarely needs updating. If content on a page is likely to remain stable, such as a brand’s history (on an About page for example), you probably don’t need to check for accuracy and usefulness often. Other content may need to be checked for accuracy regularly.

Create an archiving strategy

Make sure that the right people can still find the content you take away from public-facing platforms. You don’t want your audience to feel abandoned. Even if your priority audience will be OK with the change, some stakeholders might not be.

To make sure that audiences who need the content hosted on your site don’t run into problems after you remove it, consider alternative homes for that content. Appropriate places may be intranets, wikis, shared file servers, or even print pieces.

Notify people who might need your archived content so that they know where to find it.

Pace yourself

When Jeff Scott, the director of the public library in Berkeley, California, pulled 40,000 books from the shelves in one year, patrons were so angry, they demanded that he resign.

To avoid outcries like that, librarians Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner (authors of the hilarious blog Awful Library Books) recommend weeding gradually. Removing a book or two a week keeps a library moving in the right direction, making space for new books without shocking the system.

Besides, it’s easier to audit content a little at a time than to audit everything at once. If you remove content regularly, you don’t have to tackle all your digital properties at the same time.


Weeding out ROT isn’t easy. It’s easier to keep everything and avoid the following challenges:

  • Dealing with the emotions wrapped up in content — like the first post you ever published or the materials that helped one of your friends who isn’t part of the priority audience
  • Figuring out who is going to need those materials or miss them
  • Providing alternatives for people who may need archived content

For hundreds of years, librarians have taken on those challenges so that they could keep people coming back for more. Marketers can, too.

How do you keep the ROT out?

All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute