Content Migration: A lot like moving from house to house

One of the biggest parts of creating a new website is bringing over your legacy content to your new website. This is generally called a "content migration," in which you quite literally migrate your content from the old website into the new one. Some of this may look like simply copy and pasting paragraphs of text into new pages and within your CMS. However, a majority of the work comes from the preparation of the migration, rather than the migration itself. In order to have an effective content migration, it is important to make sure legacy content fits the new frameworks and designs of your almost-complete website.

When moving from your old site to your new site, the content migration phase can be a messy one. Much like actually moving from one house to another, items can get lost in the process, it can take a lot longer than expected, and it might be messy for a few days while you pack and unpack. Some of this is part and parcel of the process. Migrating hundreds of pages without a single hiccup is rare. Even more so when there are multiple content types, such as news, blogs, and documents, and a handful of custom features that your web vendor has developed as part of your website redesign. But, we can also do our due diligence when it comes to making the move, or migration, as smooth as possible.

Here are some "moving" tips to chew on, and questions to ask yourself as you prepare and complete a content migration.

Make a Checklist (Content Auditing/Inventory)

Before you move, it's helpful to take inventory of everything you have. And I mean everything - Images, documents, pages, custom functions (did you forget I was talking about websites here for a second?), forms, and whatever else might be on your website. It's too easy to make mistakes and lose content if you try to migrate without making a list - and especially without checking it twice.

Now, even if you don't think you'll need it on your new website, consider the following:

  1. We need several lists to check so we can make sure we have everything we need in preparation for the move. The bigger document that captures all of this is usually called a Content Inventory or a Content Audit. This helps us answer…
    1. Do we have all of the custom functionality in place to bring the content over? (This can become your specifications document)
    2. Do we have the appropriate templates?
    3. What content do we need to rewrite?
    4. What content do we need to toss? (Love letters from your exes? Those definitely go in the trash. Along with those pages on membership that haven't been updated since 2008.)
  2. We need a list to help us decide where everything goes.
    1. This is your content migration spreadsheet/matrix. This is used to determine your sites new architecture, and where everything from the content inventory goes.

It can often feel like Content Audits and Content Inventories are another boring chore to complete. This isn't entirely wrong, but it can also undermine the importance and helpfulness that comes with doing one. Going through with a content audit/inventory can also help your web vendor get a better handle on what they're working with. Think of it like slapping the "Caution: Fragile" stickers on your moving boxes. If your movers know what they're working with, they'll have a better handle on the best way to get the job done.

Preparing for the move

Preparation is most likely the meat of your new website being created. I won't go over most of this because this could be another whole series of blog posts. But, it's also very important to note that the content audit/inventory will inform most, if not all of what happens during the website discovery, design, and development process. The content you have will always determine what needs to be done, and not the other way around. Artists don't often, if ever, paint paintings to go along with a nice frame. Like artists, we always ideate and imagine spaces, frameworks, houses, and especially websites based on what will fill those spaces.

The last step before making the move, however, is creating/filling out the Content Migration Matrix.

This is now where you fill all the gaps and place all of your old content into your new sitemap/architecture. It's also time to finally make cuts and decide what needs to be rewritten.

Making the move (Content Migration Matrix and Migration)

So, the time has come. You have your inventory, your new content migration checklist, your rewrites to pages that need to be migrated, and everything's ready to go. But here is where some of the headaches may begin:

Sometimes, some of the content might not fit the new frameworks you've created, and you need to either massage the content or be flexible with how you envisioned things to go. Oftentimes I've had to use different templates to better fit content than what clients originally wanted. Once the content is finally on the page, you'll actually be able to see how things fit - or don't.

Some content can just get lost in the fray. Migration can be a long, grueling, and oftentimes repetitive process. Small bumps in the road can make for an annoying process. But like any road trip, or move - getting to your beautiful new home can make it all worth the wait and effort.

content_matrix_example Example Content Matrix

As an example, this is what your content matrix may look like. For this particular one, the light blue row indicates an additional page created to account for content that wasn't originally marked for migration. The red indicates that there was an issue that needed to be resolved before migrating the page. The green line means this was a successfully migrated page, and the yellow means that the page was migrated but requires a small fix.

As you work through your content matrix, migrating your content, marking down the pages similarly to what's above allows you to go back and see what needs to be fixed or addressed during a period of content adjustment.

Some migrations have mostly "green" pages, and some migrations might have more "yellow" and "red." No one migration is the same in how fast, easily, and thoroughly it gets done - especially the first round.

So this holiday season, when you think about your new website, make sure to make a list, and definitely make sure to check it twice, because even if Migration is a messy and long process, it definitely doesn't have to be.

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Sean Norton

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