Website Archiving: A Guide

Website archiving creates a stable, authentic and independent version of web content.

Written by Harriet Christie
Published on May. 31, 2023
Website Archiving: A Guide
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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Website archiving is the only way to preserve website content in a form that lets it be revisited as it was at a particular point in time. It’s the only means of creating and maintaining a stable, time-stamped, verifiably authentic and independent version of web content. 

4 Reasons To Archive Your Website

  • To comply with increasing regulation.
  • To have a complete and accurate record of electronic communications.
  • To protect IP and brand assets.
  • To preserve material for cultural and historical reasons.

As the archives are independent, they are completely separate from the original website architecture and will only include the elements that were live at the time of archive, creating an iteration as close to its original form as possible.

An organization should archive its website for many reasons, but in all cases it must ensure that the archives are complete, secure and legally admissible.

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Why Archive a Website?

As the digital landscape becomes more expansive, the level of regulation is following suit. Organizations such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Australian Securities & Investments Commission have recently made significant alterations to reflect the increasing reliance on online platforms and how easily valuable information can be lost, given the swaths of it we encounter daily.

Website archiving fulfills so many functions for so many different types of organization that it has become a fundamental requirement for a growing proportion of modern businesses. Whether satisfying regulators, retaining your brand’s accumulation of digital output or preserving information of cultural and historical significance, it applies to industries from the public sector to financial services, retail brands and many in between.

As archiving demands have increased, certain features have become indispensable, which are almost always provided by third-party compliance vendors. Automated website capture allows companies to crawl their entire site at regular, pre-set intervals and capture an accurate version of the site as it existed at that point, each time. Full text search further reduces the manual burden to a manageable level should a specific page be requested for litigation purposes. If this data is not stored in a legally admissible format, the entire process is worthless, at least from a compliance perspective.

 

The Difference Between Archiving and Backing Up

Before starting the archiving process, it is important to understand the objective behind it and whether your team has the tools to handle it themselves. Only then will you begin figuring out the correct approach to take from a resource perspective and who is equipped to help you achieve those goals. If your objectives are legal obligations, err on the side of caution in an increasingly brutal regulatory climate.

There are several ways to archive website content. Free online tools like the Wayback Machine are options, but require users to manually save every page individually. This simply isn’t feasible for the majority of organizations, given the frequency with which captures must take place to satisfy regulators; namely every time a change is made.

While some businesses rely on content management system (CMS) backups for record-keeping purposes, there are some major differences between a backup and an archive. Most importantly, data taken from a CMS backup won’t have a digital signature and therefore won’t be authenticatable, or admissible in court. Further, CMS backups don’t allow legal teams to easily export a record with all of its crucial metadata.

CMS backups will not provide a full-text search feature. Auditors can request information at a moment’s notice. When manually capturing your site, the reams of data captured can make it difficult to locate specific data quickly. And for regulated industries that have specific record-keeping rules, for instance the public sector and financial services, a CMS backup does not meet requirements.

Alternatively, an automated website archiving service allows businesses to keep a complete record of their website content, while relieving the manual burden and ensuring legal admissibility.

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What Website Archiving Achieves

Website archiving allows companies in the financial, public and retail sectors to store immutable records of their web pages. This helps ensure that records and information are compliant. Regulated companies and firms worldwide must record and retain all electronic communications under FINRA and the SEC (United States), MiFID II (European Union), FCA (United Kingdom) and ASIC (Australia) rules. MiFID II, for instance, states that the recorded electronic communications must be:

Complete. An organization must be aware of all types of electronic communications that are used and by whom. In addition to this, they must have a system and processes in place designed to capture and retain all records of those communications.

Accurate. Organizations must be fully confident in the recorded electronic communications’ content and metadata which can demonstrate the exact dates and times that anything took place.

High quality. An organization should be able to reproduce records of electronic communications in as close to their original form as possible.

The leash is tightening globally. As of November 2022, the SEC’s Marketing Rule expanded the definition of what constitutes an advertisement to include website content, which must now be captured and archived in its entirety. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has begun requesting records of historical website price promises from insurance companies, and administering fines to those that are unable to provide them.

Archiving also creates legally admissible material. Companies could be required to provide authenticated evidence of electronic data when in court. The records must demonstrate that the data has been stored in a format that is unalterable, and when it was archived. These requirements are covered in the following rules and regulations:

Federal Rules of Evidence (rule 901): The requirement of authenticating or identifying an item of evidence.

The Code of Practice on Evidential Weight and Legal Admissibility of Electronic Information (BS 10008:2014): Ensuring the authenticity and integrity of electronic information.

SEC rule 17a-4: Requires firms to archive electronic business communications in non-rewritable and non-erasable (WORM) format.

Archiving also protects intellectual property and brand assets. Brands have a clear incentive to keep a long-term record of their activity to inform future campaigns. However, as more business activity occurs online, they will be continuously creating and publishing large amounts of digital content at speed which can be difficult to keep track of. Website archiving can be carried out on a regular basis, and with unlimited cloud storage and the ability to archive large data sets, it can ensure that nothing of value is lost.

Finally, archiving preserves historically and culturally significant records. Public-sector organizations and archivists may require the preservation of culturally important website content for instant access for historical public record data. Website archiving is the ideal solution to preserving these large amounts of data and storing it in an unalterable WORM file format.

To sum it all up, the sheer proliferation of digital content heightens the need for web archiving. Organizations can archive for legal or regulatory reasons,  keep records of their website content for dispute resolution purposes or simply to preserve website pages for posterity. Whatever the reason, this is the year to start archiving your website.

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