To decommission a website means to remove it from service. This is an important final part of the website content removal process.
Each Government agency is responsible for its website information. This includes websites that are removed. Records and supporting website information must be complete and accurate. It must also follow Australian Government requirements.
Before you start
A business case should support the decommissioning of a website. A good place to start is to identify what business needs to look for.
If your agency website is being decommissioned, you must retain its online material. This is in accordance with the Archives Act 1983 and the requirements of the National Archives of Australia. Transferring Australian Government agency websites to the National Archives.
Develop a plan and get approval
Content that’s no longer required should follow your agency’s information and records management policy. Planning will help to coordinate activities, manage risk, and ensure you don't miss any critical issues. A clear plan will also help you get senior executive buy in
Communicate with other relevant areas of your agency. This may include business areas, information and records management, IT and communications staff.
A clear plan can help you with your:
- objectives for decommissioning
- key success criteria
- time frames
- stakeholder communications
- technology needs
- contracts and licences
- content audits and migration
- management of content records
- resources to manage the tasks
- risk assessment
Tasks, people, time
Decommissioning a website is not just a matter of pressing a button. You’ll likely need to engage several people or services in the process. You'll need to work out what the tasks are, who'll do them and approximately how long it will take.
When you take a website offline, there may be costs for things such as:
- auditing content
- migrating content
- managing content no longer required
- ending existing contracts or licences
- retraining staff as required
- stakeholder management
When you set up your governance processes, this includes the end stages of the content lifecycle. Be sure to follow the governance that you have set up when decommissioning a website. This will help you know who is responsible for what during the removal process.
Communicate with stakeholders
When you decommission a website, it may impact many people. You’ll want to make sure that communications are as clear as possible, with as minimal disruption to anyone involved.
You can minimise risk and fear by communicating clearly and in a timely way.
- Which groups the activity will affect.
- Have they had opportunity to have input?
- What is the message you’re communicating? Is it clear? Does it communicate your reason why?
- What is the best way to communicate your message?
- Establish working groups or forums before you decommission your website, so you can hear and respond to any concerns
Understand your users
Before you decommission a website, it’s useful to have a clear understanding of your users and their needs.
You can find this through:
- website analytics and measures of content success
- interviews and focus groups
- usability testing of your website
This will help you to understand how important each user group is to your agency. During this process, you’ll also find out what information if any, can safely be decommissioned.
Manage the content
This section covers content audit, migration, key links and retaining content.
Conduct a content audit
It's useful to audit content in the early stages of a project. A content audit will identify the owner of the content, its relevance, and how accurate it is.
Content that's relevant to some users may be better placed on another website. A content audit is useful for knowing which content can be safely migrated to another website. You might also place different parts of the content on other websites.
This may help you capture information in the correct management system such as an EDRMS or a CMS. It also helps to identify the content you'll need to store via the National Archives or National Library.
If you are migrating content to another website, you may wish to consider:
- reviewing content to ensure that it’s up to date and accurate
- ensuring that you store content correctly in an information management system such as a CMS
- documenting the details of the migration itself
- determining how and when the content will be migrated so that it has the least impact on users
- managing the different content management systems used by the old and new websites
- identifying potential risks such as loss of or damage to content in the transfer process
- key content being unavailable for a period of time
- the use of test, staging and live environments
- a strategy to redirect users to other webpages
- keeping statistics for the old and new locations, to work out the timing of removal of redirections
Identify key links
When you decommission a website, there may be links (internal and external) that still link to the website. If so, you’ll need to let the content managers of those websites know what’s happening. This will give them the opportunity to update their links. You can use a site analysis tool or a search engine for this.
It may also be useful to provide a redirect to the new site. Also consider how long you want the redirection in place. It’s also useful to provide a message to visitors. For example, “if you are not redirected automatically in x seconds, please use the above hyperlink”.
Retaining and managing content
You can keep your decommissioned website information in the National Library’s Australian Government Web Archive (AGWA).. You may also need to send a copy to the National Archives. Remember to use the correct systems for capturing content for the required retention periods.
If your agency can't do this, contact the National Archives Agency Service Centre for guidance.
Manage the system
This section covers technology audit, risk analysis, contracts and licences, disposing of hardware and software
Conduct a technology audit
You’ll need to know what technology you’re working with. For example, who is your website hosted with, what content management systems (CMS) do you use? Which areas of technology wll the decommissioning affect? Talk to your developers or IT team about this.
Conduct a risk analysis
What are the risks if any, of decommissioning your website? How will you manage them? Consider things like:
- How much technical support do you have?
- Who will set up any redirects?
- Do you have secure servers in place?
- How will you know if your content has been successfully migrated and/or stored?
- Are there any security risks?
Manage changes to contracts or licences
Closing down a website will impact some of your contracts or licences.
Consider conducting an audit of contracts and vendors that support the site that is being decommissioned. Review the scope of contract agreements and licences.
You should also consult with your legal team for advice regarding these changes.
Make a plan to dispose of hardware and software
There may be hardware and software that is no longer required or that that can be redeployed. Agencies are likely to have asset management plans which cover this issue. Agency financial management areas may be able to provide further advice.
When disposing of hardware, you may wish to document its configuration. This will help its reuse elsewhere.
Manage the domain name
You'll need to decide whether you'll keep the domain name, set up a redirect or deregister it.
- the profile of the domain name and how well users know it.
- how the URL performs in search engine results for popular relevant search terms.
- if the URL is also in printed form or in online (PDF) publications.
Consider other services may be reliant on the domain name. This includes email, file transfer protocol (FTP) and sub-domain names.
Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to arrange any redirections.
Visit Government Domain Names for further information about Australian Government domain names.
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