Website Migrations: How You Save Your Website

What to Do When Your Website is No Longer Supported

Many people think that a CMS (Content Management System) is a software, complete and enclosed, but that’s not true. You do own your website, but only the surface of it; the data, the design. Six feet below, down to the molten, mysterious, nickel core of the internet there are modules, data layers, and millions of lines of code that you do not own, but that are responsible for keeping your CMS functioning and up-to-date.

It’s a space that developers live in, and your website will not be able to automatically receive all of those updates without the support of those developers. If the developers move to a new space... well, then you have an unsupported CMS (which is mainly a big security risk).

The CMS is actually a pretty fragile system. If only one of your CMS’s products stops interacting with the others, your CMS becomes what’s called a “legacy system”–outdated, and no longer supported.

How You Save Your Website

For many website administrators, the realization that your CMS platform could stop being supported is surprising, and maybe a little alarming. After all, you purchased the software. It’s yours, does it matter if your CMS is no longer being supported?

If (or when) you learn your CMS is no longer being supported, we recommend you take a deep breath. Losing your CMS platform doesn’t mean losing your website.

And that’s fantastic news, because after operating a website for years, building out countless webpages, and accumulating a vast database of client information, the last thing you want to do is start over from scratch. You can save your database, web content, and web designs by migrating your data from your old platform to your new one.

Having an unsupported CMS is something that becomes more and more obvious over time. It’s not until your website performance decreases, your user experience begins to malfunction, or security breaches on your website increase that you’ll even begin to notice something’s wrong.

The first step is of course, knowing when your CMS is no longer supported.

Step 1: Catching an Unsupported CMS

Usually, an unsupported CMS goes unnoticed until problems begin to crop up. To catch an unsupported CMS before it starts causing problems, here’s what we recommend:

  • Research your CMS. Become knowledgeable about the systems your CMS runs on.
  • Subscribe to notification lists. We recommend that you subscribe to both your CMS and each of the supporting systems. You’ll receive updates on the latest developments, and immediately catch when something is no longer supported. Otherwise, discontinued CMS tech is hard to catch.
  • Work with a web development team. If you are unfamiliar with the technical details of your CMS, scheduling an annual check in with web developers can be a good solution for ensuring the continuing support of your system, and analyzing its viability.

Step 2: What To Do After Your CMS Has Become a Legacy

Regardless whether you catch an unsupported CMS immediately, or after a few months, what’s most important is:

  • Understanding the timeline you’re working with. The amount of time your CMS has been unsupported determines the immediacy of migration. This is because, as time goes on, it becomes more likely that your website can be shut down.
  • Building a roadmap for your website’s migration. Once you understand your CMS’s timeline, you can begin to plan out how and when you should migrate your website.

The roadmap you create for your website’s migration will be influenced by how dated your unsupported CMS is, as well as the kind of data you’re migrating, and what your new platform’s system looks like.

Typically, migrations fall into three different categories:

When You’re Migrating Between Different Versions of the Same CMS

When new versions of CMS platforms are released, the platform provider stops supporting older versions over time. Lately, for example, our development firm has been assisting a number of clients with migrating their websites to the newest release of Drupal (we call these “Drupalcentric” migrations).

Often because these CMS’s are being updated with new version releases, they’ll provide a plugin to help with migration. This is one of the fastest ways to migrate content, and for websites with a large amount of content, it’s a much simpler process than migrating manually.

When You’re Migrating Between Different CMS Platforms

You’ll need to use a programmatic migration to transform your database to a format that fits with your new system. A programmatic migration attempts to mimic the process of a “CMS-centric” migration, but it’s unlikely your old data will be organized the same way it was. Arranging your content and putting it in order will be required.

While it’s not a total solution, it’s a good start, and works as long as the data is usable. Some platforms even provide plugins to assist with migrating content from specific platforms, like Drupal’s module for WordPress migrations.

The Third Option: Manual Migrations

Sometimes the best way to approach a content migration is by going through your website’s content manually. This means going through every page and moving it by hand–cut and paste. Having a content manager manually move your content means that they can simultaneously review it as it goes up–checking to ensure images are in the right place and content is correctly formatted. This is considered to be the cleanest option.

Is There Any Way to Avoid Migrating?

Long-term viability is part of the reason why choosing a CMS is such a complicated decision. Building a website is incredibly intensive–requiring time, resources, and constant management. The last thing you want is for your website to stop being supported.

Everything online is in the process of going away. The landscape of the internet ten years, even a year into the future, will look very different to how it does now. There’s always going to be a better software coming, and there’s always going to be a better way of doing things. Trying to create a website that can withstand time is a lot like reinforcing sandcastles against the rise and fall of the tide. The best thing you can do is anticipate change and build on CMS platforms with wide adoption and strong communities.


For more guidance on website migrations and CMS platforms, feel free to download our white paper, How to Evaluate Website Technology, for more information about finding the ideal platform for your web strategy.