Beyond Copy and Paste: 5 Key Lessons for an Effective Content Migration

So, you’re thinking about redesigning your website, or maybe you want to move it to a new CMS. And you probably know that a content migration is in your future. I’m here to help you avoid a common trap – that it’s as easy as moving it from one place to another. While it may seem straightforward, content migration is often a complex and challenging process. It’s labor-intensive, time-consuming, and can be a real headache if you don’t plan. We’ve completed five content migrations recently and have learned a few lessons that might save you time, some headaches, and maybe even a few gray hairs. 

Lesson 1: Plan ahead

  • Set a timeline for you/your team to work through the content. 
  • Assign clear roles within your team to avoid any hiccups.
  • Define goals and milestones with your team to help you stay on track. Identify what the dependencies are and who you will need to consult (see next lesson for more info). 
  • Identify the content that needs to be migrated and how it’s structured (see more in Lesson 3). 

Lesson 2: Identify stakeholders

  • Determine who has meaningful (and possibly derailing) perspectives on your content and flows. This can be anyone from the content team, strategy, analytics, or even IT.
    • At some point during the life of your existing website, rules and flows were defined and you’ll want to know what those are, where they live, and why they were created in the first place. Knowing who to talk to to get this information will be very important!
    • During one of the content migrations we did, there was a specific flow we needed to replicate on the new site that only one person in the organization knew how it was set up. They walked us through the expectations for that piece of functionality, which enabled us to move forward. We quickly learned that they were a very important stakeholder that would help us define what exactly was needed along the way. Whether it’s one person or many, it’s important to identify who these people are so that they are consulted throughout the process. 

Lesson 3: Know what to migrate…and more importantly, what to leave behind. 

The inclination will almost always be to keep everything…but…is it all necessary? Likely not.

  • Start with your content strategist, who will know what types of content is valuable to your organization moving forward.
  • Migrate content that makes sense to migrate because there are a lot of them and they have common structural attributes – blog posts, resource library, press releases, etc. Pages like landing pages, about us pages, etc. are typically more bespoke and get overhauled anyway. Leave them out of the automated migration plan!
  • Take a hard look at your old content – Chances are that there are old blog posts or press releases that no longer get hits, provide minimal or no SEO value, and don’t reflect the voice and strategic direction of the organization. If you’ve got a LOT, evaluate whether migrating content from a certain date onwards is the right call. This is a good opportunity to involve your stakeholders, by the way!
  • Take some time to evaluate what you currently have – ROT tools can be super helpful for this! What are they? ROT stands for Redundant, Outdated, and Trivial. This tool can be added to your CMS (or you can do this on a simple excel spreadsheet) to help you tag each piece of content as R, O, or T and help you identify what’s still relevant, eliminate anything redundant or outdated, and see if there are any gaps that need to be addressed. (Read more about how to use ROT tools here!)
  • Pay special attention to content that impacts SEO in a meaningful way. Don’t forget URL structure and redirects since they also impact SEO.

Lesson 4: Be prepared for imperfection

  • Set expectations with your team(s) because it’s more than likely that once you migrate and see the content “live” with new designs, at least one thing will be off. You should know that that is totally normal, but also make sure you save some budget to fix these types of things at the end. 
  • Some things will be very hard to move over without some sort of manual intervention. One of our recent migrations had content that had a different design for each type of search result. However, the new design didn’t because there wasn’t enough budget to take care of this. We worked around it as best we could and once migrated, we had to decide how to adjust for this change and what each search result would look like. 
  • Be flexible! It’s not apples to apples, so it won’t migrate perfectly, and that’s ok. People on your team might have different solutions or approaches, make sure to listen to them because it might not be the solution you thought of, but it might be a good workaround and it can save you time & money. 

Lesson 5: Test, test, test!

  • Make sure everything is functioning correctly and the user experience (for both end-users & content managers) is smooth before making your website go live.
  • It’s easier to address issues when patterns have been identified during testing. For example, instead of noting that something is not working on a specific page, try to replicate on other pages to see what might be causing it. 
  • Prioritize! We’re all human and it’s likely you’ll miss some things along the way that will be discovered during the testing phase. When you do find these items, it’ll be important to prioritize them. It won’t be possible to address everything, but you likely will have time & budget to take care of some. Think: What is absolutely critical? What needs to change? What is a nice-to-have? Keeping these questions in mind will help you stay focused, on time & on budget. 

But let’s face it, a perfect content migration is like a unicorn – it only exists in our imagination. Even if you keep these lessons in mind, you’ll need to prioritize and make tough decisions based on your budget and timeline. So, don’t stress too much! Just remember these lessons (or save them for later) to help you tackle content migration like a pro.

Good luck! 🙂