ROT: The Low-Hanging Fruit of Content Analysis

Low-hanging papayas

Papayas have a shelf life. So does most web content. Start picking before they rot.

Content analysis is an essential part of creating and sustaining effective web content. How do you know if your content is any good if you don’t analyze it? Yet the process quickly becomes complex as you evaluate content against branding, usefulness, relevance, usability, voice and tone, format, search engine optimization, delivery channel and many other criteria. Let’s face it, quality content takes work.

However, many content problems are obvious and simply overlooked because web content owners don’t take the time to find them. While content owners may not be looking at their bad content, you can be sure web visitors are.

A great method for finding content problems is identifying ROT (Redundant, Outdated, Trivial) content. Like food in your fridge, most content has a shelf life or is spoiled by new content that overlaps or contradicts it. Other content is simply not useful. Reviewing your website for ROT content is an excellent early step toward sustaining fresh, quality content that doesn’t disappoint users and leave a bad taste in their mouth.

A ROT content audit

Identifying ROT content is a precursor to a comprehensive content analysis. It can be addressed during a content audit and helps spot obvious content problems. Along with identifying page titles, links, document types, keywords and other facts about your web pages, add a column for ROT in your content audit spreadsheet. List here redundant, outdated and trivial content that should be updated or removed. ROT content can include:

  • Outdated news or events that are represented as new
  • Welcome or overview pages that repeat content on lower-level pages
  • Useless information and unrelated links
  • Broken links or missing content
  • Mislabeled headers and page titles
  • Missing or duplicate meta page descriptions and keywords
  • Outdated contact information

Many ROT content problems can be resolved easily, including broken links and missing and incorrect information, while other insights may identify a need for a comprehensive content analysis that addresses problems related to the value and efficacy of your content. In Content Analysis: A Practical Approach, Colleen Jones states:

For me, a ROT analysis is just the beginning. While it tells you what content is stale or woefully unimportant, it does not tell you what content is mediocre, inappropriate, inconsistent, or off brand.

Content problems or content symptoms?

ROT content is common but not coincidental. Without a content governance plan, content problems will persist. As described on the WelchmanPierpoint blog,

ROT is never a problem on it’s own; it is always symptomatic of a greater problem. Chances are, if you start to inventory all of the bad content on your site, you will start to notice patterns.

So, while a ROT content audit is a useful exercise to identify poor quality content, it often raises larger content problems to the surface. But this is a good thing—it provides fodder to justify a comprehensive content strategy, which is needed to solve these systemic content problems. Pretty sweet, right?

To learn more, check out content audits and analysis in Our Library for great resources on these topics.

What types of ROT content commonly appear on your college website? What hurdles do you face when tackling them?

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »


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