Imagine someone asked you to help them move house, but there were a few catches. First of all, the house belongs to your boss and they’re holding you very much responsible for the items. Secondly, the contents of the boxes are all priceless, so one mishandled box could spell disaster. Lastly, the boxes are all peculiar shapes and you’re not sure if they’ll fit in the new door. This is sort of what it’s like to be in charge of a company web content migration.
The migration of website content refers to when a website takes all of their content, consolidates it, and then moves it to a single and/or new Content Management System (CMS). This can be a tricky and even risky venture, but can also be a necessary step for a brand to move forward in its strategy. Luckily, as long as you know what you’re doing, content migration needn’t be an intimidating process.
So why would anyone want to migrate their content to a new CMS? Well, they might have content spread over several CMSs and want to centralise control of the site content to one location, such as if you are merging two separate sites after a merger or brand consolidation. Perhaps your current CMS isn’t accomplishing your objectives or is holding you back, and you need to move to a new one. Whatever your reasons, it’s important to understand that content migration is a huge part of moving to a new CMS. To help make the process easier, we’ve broken content migration down into the top five factors to consider.
1) Have you done an inventory?
A content inventory is an initial assessment of the content on your website, and it’s essential that it’s done at the beginning of your content migration. You’ll need to decide what pages and content you need to move over to the new CMS, including media files and external links. Out of the pages you intend to move, how many of them need to maintain their current format and how many of them need to be restructured to fit into a new section? Which pages will you not be taking over to your new site?
These decisions should be based on careful scrutiny of your analytics, so check the stats of the pages to get an initial idea of their value. You should also compare the page keywords to the keywords users in your target audience are searching for.
Be sure to also collect and organise your non-text content. Pictures are one thing, but what about videos? Are you embedding your videos, or are they to be uploaded directly to the CMS?
Take into consideration what value your content has in its current form. Some of it might be time-sensitive, while some of it might not help towards your brand objectives.
You’ll need the right tools to help you do the job, though. One popular method of getting an inventory of your content is to use Content Insight. This is a program that makes quick summaries of your file types and numbers and page-level details that includes images, documents, and media. This is only touching the surface of what the product offers but, although there is a free trial, if you intend to utilise the full potential of Content Insight then you will need to pony up some money. Another great tool for content inventory is DYNO Mapper, which automatically generates an inventory when you create a sitemap using the program. The inventory can then be searched, sorted, filtered, or exported to spreadsheets. You can try DYNO Mapper out for 14 days for free, and it also gives you tools for content planning, Google Analytics integration, keyword tracking, and various others.
2) What CMS are you moving to?
This is another thing that needs to be considered as early as possible, as it will have an effect on how you migrate your content. There are many CMSs out there, each with their own capabilities and limitations, but they are often designed with a specific kind of user in mind. When you are preparing your content, you need to know what CMS you are preparing it for, so do your research into which one works best for your strategy. For some, you can create content templates so that the content is produced in a way that matches the structure of the CMS.
Know what you are getting into with your CMS. Some require a fee to be paid for a license, and that can be an awkward thing to find out later on in the migration process when budgets have already been finalised.
3) Make a plan
Now that you know what you want to keep and what you can scrap, you’ll need to back up your content somewhere outside of your website. The cheapest way to do this is to copy the HTML from each page into a Word or Google Drive document, saved in folders that map out your website structure (e.g. a folder with About Us might have a document for the Awards page, one for the Careers page, another for Media, and so on).
Don’t forget about those who will be using your old URL – there could be potential leads missed if you haven’t put 301 redirects in place. A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one URL to another, making sure that if any users type in your old address or use an outdated HTTP URL, they will be redirected to your current site. You can utilise tools to help out, such as Screaming Frog. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s a very helpful site crawling tool with many great features, one of which is auditing redirections in a migration. It allows you to upload a list of your old URLs, and then Screaming Frog will crawl them and follow any redirection chains until the final target URL is reached. It’ll then give you a report on the results.
Your plan also needs to accommodate the other information associated with your content. This includes things like metadata, content location, any special coding, or any other items that need to be styled to fit your new website.
Ensure you have decided if your migration will be done automatically or manually before you start the development or implementation. Try to take some time to familiarise yourself with the new CMS when you get the chance – it will help you understand how the new platform will handle your content.
4) A content migration test plan will help
Testing your content migration is a great way to fine-tune the process and spot errors that could cause problems with the final migration. It can make sure your content is being put in the right place and is tagging correctly. It’s recommended that you break down your migration plan into individual test actions to make it easier to identify any problems.
Start by testing small amounts of content and see how it migrates. This should give you a better idea of what to expect from the final implementation. Your test should include a variety of content with different methods of migration to make sure there are no problems, including with imports, manual content entry, forms, and layout.
5) Automated or manual migration?
Finally, you will have the option of manually migrating to a new CMS or importing the content automatically. If you are intending to go through the process manually, then it’s recommended that you break this into sections or consecutive steps, because it’s a big job. This method is very time-consuming but comes with the advantage of being able to review all of your data as you go through it. That added level of fastidiousness could mean you spot things you may have forgotten about previously. But this might not work out as beneficial for much larger sites. In these cases, automated migration might be more appropriate.
Automated migration can be done with universal migration tools or you can create custom scripts for applications to run on your own system. If you’re intending to do the latter, you will need an experienced CMS professional to make sure it all runs smoothly. This method might be necessary for sites with a larger database, saving you time and resources. There might still be some content you need to move manually and, naturally, you will need to test the results once you are done. But generally, as long as you have been very thorough in your preparation, the actual migration process should be comparatively simple.
Those are our top five considerations for migrating content to a new CMS. We’ve done this many times and will gladly offer help if you’re worried about the safety of your content during the migration process. Get in touch if you have any questions.