Don’t Delete it. Draft it! [Update: or Archive it!]

Update May 5, 2015: Since writing this post, a new plugin Archived Post Status has come out to fill in this exact gap. The new “Archived” status works just like “Draft,” as described below, but is made for this single purpose. I was so excited by this plugin that I added explicit support for it in Post Status Menu Items.

I do a lot of trainings. Just about every project I do ends with one. One really easy to use tip I always give is this:

Don’t delete something; make it a draft.

Why Not Delete?

WordPress does have a “Trash” feature. Once you delete a post, it’s held in a “trash can” for 30 days before it is permanently deleted. ((If you have old database backups and a lot of patience, you might be able to get it back, but not easily.)) However, there are many easily-imaginable scenarios where a deleted post might be re-used or needed later:

  • Internal miscommunication – One editor deleted something. Another wished they hadn’t.
  • Recurring content – An event is only relevant for a few months a year…until it comes again next year.
  • “What did I say?” – An old page you took down might contain language that’s re-usable.
  • Audit! – For one reason or another, you need records of what your website said last year.
  • “I wish I still had that” – A staff member leaves and returns later. “On second thought, that page was useful to visitors.”

In each case, what’s important is not that the content doesn’t exist anymore—literally—but that website visitors can’t access it. Storage is cheap and your time is not, so keep the posts, just don’t make them accessible.

Drafts and How to Make Them

In the WordPress interface, ignoring old content is much easier than rewriting lost content. That’s where the draft comes in.

WordPress & Post Statuses

WordPress has multiple “post statuses” that identify where a post is in its editing process and who can see it. By default those statuses are:

  • Draft
  • Pending Review
  • Scheduled
  • Published
  • Trashed

Out of that whole list, website visitors can only see content with the “Published” status. All other statuses indicate editorial states of content that only site administrators can see and use.

In this post, we’re just focusing on Draft (good!), Published (good!), and Trashed (bad!).

Saving Drafts & Publishing Posts

When a post is set as a Draft, you have two ways to save it. If you click the big, bright “Publish” button ((In all these screenshots, the “Publish” button is red because I use the “Midnight” admin color scheme on my site. You can choose from one of eight color schemes on your user profile. No matter what, though, that button is in the same place and in a bright, contrasting color.)), you’ll save the post and make it visible to the whole world [wide web]:

The default "Publish" box in WordPress

Alternately, you can click the “Save Draft” button to keep the post private in WordPress for later use.

The "Save Draft" button in the WordPress "Publish" box

Changing a Published Post Back to Draft

On any post that’s already published, the “Publish” button changes to “Update.”. If you want to change a published post back to a draft, you’ll use the “Edit” link next to the “Status” field to set the post back to “Draft” and then click “Update.”

Changing a Published Post back to "Draft" in WordPress

When your page reloads, you’ll see the first of the above screenshots again and use the “Save Draft” button to save changes without making the page publicly viewable.

That’s the basics and all you need to know. However, there are a few plugins that make managing all these posts a little easier.

Use Post Statuses Better in WordPress

WordPress makes it possible to see only posts of one status, but it’s not as easy as I wanted, so a few years ago, I built the Post Status Menu Items plugin for WordPress. The plugin adds each status to your WordPress admin menus so you easily view only Published posts or only Draft posts.

A WordPress admin menu with Post Status Menu Items

Once you stop deleting posts and start keeping old ones, you may find this simple plugin makes it a little easier to manage your growing lists of content in the WordPress backend. It also comes with a couple other features to add the statuses to your “At a Glance” dashboard widget and show icons for each status in the “All Posts” screen.

Advanced: Custom Statuses

If you really want to get fancy, you may want to create a new status for previously-published-now-unpublished posts. You might call this custom status “Deleted,” “Archived,” or “Removed.” It would function just list the “Draft” status that comes with WordPress but would allow you to separate posts that you’re actively editing before publishing from the old posts.

There is a great plugin called Edit Flow that does this! Edit Flow comes with a set of “modules” to make managing site content easier including “Custom Statuses.” Using Edit Flow’s Custom Statuses feature, you can make that “Archived” status to use when removing content from your public site. Better yet, Post Status Menu Items will recognize that new status immediately and add it to the menu for you!

Don’t Forget The Point

That may seem like a lot to take it, but don’t forget the main point: Don’t delete something; make it a draft. The advanced stuff can come later, but start keeping your old content today. You’ll never know when you need it.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Delete it. Draft it! [Update: or Archive it!]”

  1. I had read that around 2012, a lot of people noticed that previously-published Draft status posts were still publicly viewable by anyone with the URL. Do you know if this is still a problem?

    1. Tracey, Thanks for commenting. I can’t say I remember that issue back then. While I know that it’s easy to make a draft post publicly viewable if you wanted to, I hadn’t heard that about an actual bug in core WordPress.

  2. Thank you for the blog.I wonder if changing the page status from Published to draft will not hurt the website SEO or it’s ranking??

    1. Great question, even if it’s a bit beyond the scope of the article :)

      I’d say you generally should only be removing old and unpopular pages in this manner. If the page you’re removing has a lot of traffic and is important to your search presence, then you’ll need to set up a custom 301 redirect to a new, appropriate page.

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