It’s essential to maintain your content. Removing outdated elements and refreshing your content builds trust with your readers. While some things will inevitably require updating, there are things you can do to limit the amount of work you need to do to keep things up-to-date.
Thinking about your future content will help your future self, I promise. This is especially true for evergreen content, or content that is relevant for a long time after it’s published. You don’t want to have to keep going back to that content just because you need to update the latest catchphrase from a popular television series.
Remember to make your internal content future-proof as well. Recently, I made some updates in the internal documentation for my department and I ended up having to make a bunch of silly changes because our team went through a reorg, which included a name change, and so many references were made to our team name…including filenames using it, which then had to be renamed…and then links to those files needed to be updated. It was just ridiculous, especially since I’m sure that team name only lasted a few years or so.
Things to avoid
- Team names If your team has a name that isn’t “Content Team”, an acronym for example, then don’t use it in your content. It doesn’t help anything and it will change.
- Job titles Instead of using a job title, use a title that describes your role. These may end up being the same, e.g., Senior Writer, but specific titles may be more confusing than helpful to your reader. I mean, what even is a Technical Evangelist?
- Current events Mentioning things that either just happened or are happening soon (that are irrelevant to your content, of course) do nothing but date your content. Is school starting soon? Unless you’re writing about something related to school starting, it won’t help your content stay fresh for long.
- Pop culture Specifically, niche pop culture. The GIF about something that happened in 2015 doesn’t translate as well as you think it does. For example, I don’t understand the following meme. At all.
- Colloquialisms These are particularly tough because they are so steeped in our (and every) culture; sometimes we don’t even know we’re using them. Crap…is “steeped in” a colloquialism??? I don’t even know! Ugh! Anyway, you will find, that if you pay attention to what you’re writing and when you’re speaking, some phrases seem odd and really only mean something if, well, you already know what they mean. However, sometimes you’ll be thrown a curve ball (this is an example of a colloquialism, by the way, which for non-American readers, means you received something unexpected). A former colleague of mine who was from India was telling me about how confused he felt the first time he heard the phrase “continental US”. He’d already been living in the States for a few years at this point but simply hadn’t heard it and it just didn’t track for him. So, be especially careful here, and if you must, optimize for clarity rather than brevity.
Things you maybe can’t avoid
Sometimes, you need to ship some content that violates the guidelines above. Perhaps you have a new release coming out and you need to hype it up or a product is being sunset and you need to warn your users. Inevitably, you’ll be putting some reference in your content that will either not be relevant for long or will potentially change as your roadmap shifts. Here are (some) ways you can help future you with updates.
Use comments in your markup
A good way to keep track of things you know will change is to mark it right in the file, albeit hidden from your users. In Markdown, for example, you can create a comment in your file using the syntax
<!---Your comment here---> You can add the comment in a line just preceding your time-sensitive text. Something like
<!---UPDATE---> could be sufficient. It’ll trigger anyone’s attention who is looking through the article, and if you have to do it a lot, using a CTRL F search on “UPDATE” could help you find all those instances.
Relegate time-sensitive text
What exactly do I mean here? If you have a separate area where you can write time-sensitive text, go for it. This will remove it from your main body of content, which will limit the potential impact on your user. One way to do this is with alert boxes, which you can customize to fit your needs. You can learn how to create them in HTML on W3 Schools.
If you plan on having your content live for more than a few months, do yourself a favor and take every precaution against going out-of-date you can. You won’t always succeed and in some cases, it won’t matter, but either way, you’ll save future you a bit of time.