Content Management, Technology & Development

Website Content Migration Dos and Don’ts

thumbs up and thumbs downRedesigning a website or moving to a new content management system (CMS)—or both simultaneously—is exciting. It’s a chance to introduce a new look and feel, to imagine streamlined production workflows, and to implement long-sought functionality.

But one of the most complex pieces of any redesign or CMS change—content migration, or porting text, images, and the like from one site/system to the next—is decidedly less exciting. For sites with tens of thousands of pages, it can be downright daunting. But, it doesn’t have to be.

Here are top tips for managing the process and avoiding missteps:

DO plan for content migration up front

Migrating your content may be one of the last steps you take before launching your new site or system, but it’s never too early to establish your migration plan.

Migration considerations can shape decisions about architecture and design. In general, the more your new site/system resembles its predecessor, the easier it is to migrate content.

Even when you’re making dramatic architecture/design changes, migration may influence how you deal with specific site sections. For example, you might choose to keep familiar structures for academic program pages to facilitate their transition.

Thinking about migration up front also helps you build your web team. Review who owns and maintains each piece of content, then pull them into the update and migration process to share the work and learn new systems.

DON’T put it off

Postponing thought about migration until after pages are designed, templates built, and roles established can cost you serious time. You risk undoing architecture/design decisions, missing weeks or months that could be spent on content fixes, and ultimately delaying your launch.

DO plan migration in the context of overall content strategy

Making the jump to a new design or CMS presents the perfect opportunity to address current content issues and establish goals for future content development. Why not make fixes before you need to pick up and move?

With redesign especially, develop content strategy in conjunction with architecture and design concepts. Draft style guides and other resources for contributors, then immediately start putting them to use.

Remember that “content” covers behind-the-scenes metadata (page titles, descriptions, etc.) and page structure considerations (e.g., use of headings) that affect search engine optimization (SEO). Make pre-migration revisions a chance to fix SEO, too.

The need to migrate can be a powerful tool for change management. It’s a chance to ask questions like “Do we really need this?” or “What are we missing?”

DON’T migrate it just because you have it

Use migration as a reason to clean house, abandoning content that’s out of date or duplicative. Also, take a close look at your site’s analytics and consider purging seldom-viewed pages, unless they’re essential and can be relocated to a more visible spot.

DO create a content inventory

A content inventory or migration map takes stock of every page on your site. It can go even further, breaking down discrete elements within a page—for example, logging which pages have strong visuals (and which pages need them).

When it comes to actual migration, your inventory’s attention to URLs is key. For every page you intend to keep—in whole or in part—identify both current and future URLs. This will prove extremely valuable whether you’re moving content manually or using scripts to automate the process.

DON’T try to wing it

Inventorying content on a big college or university site can be a huge undertaking, but the effort will pay off. Without this step, you’ll risk missing essential pages or sections, duplicating content (and taking a corresponding hit on your SEO), or discovering flaws in your architecture.

DO take advantage of automation

Manual migration—actually copying and pasting from an old page to a new one—is laborious. It offers complete control, but can tax your schedule and resources.

Automated approaches can speed up the process. The process is easiest when there’s a 1-to-1 relationship between old and new pages, but automation can support more complex moves, too, especially if you’ve taken time to clean up your current content and ensure clean and consistent HTML or XML.

DON’T think you can automate everything

Even the most robust automated migration will demand a human touch. Plan to conduct post-migration review and apply a little polish where needed.

Content migration may not rate especially high on the excitement scale, but it can be satisfying, especially if you seize the chance to establish future-oriented strategy, enlist support, and enhance the way you tell your institution’s story. Start early, make a plan, take stock, and automate where you can—you’ll be glad you did.

Learn more about migration methods in our ebook, Taking the Migraine our of Website Content Migration.

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Marcel Ayers

Director of Web Development

Marcel is a California native who has called Camarillo home for the past 19 years. A lover of both coffee and tech, he founded an online coffee bean and home roasting supply business in 2003 and then an IT and web development company in 2004. Today, as Director of Web Development at OmniUpdate, Marcel oversees the process of bringing customer sites into the OU Campus system. In his free time, you’ll find him taking advantage of the California outdoors from mountain biking and skiing, to surfing and hiking.