Three Steps to a Successful Content Migration

How to structure your website content migration project.

During a website redesign or new build project, one task that is critical but not always factored in is migrating the content from the old website to the new website. For some sites, the migration process can be quick and seamless if the new and old sites are structurally similar or if there isn’t too much content to begin with. But for sites with a significant amount of content that needs to fit in more complex layouts, migration can actually take more time than the actual build.

There are several considerations we underscore to clients for approaching content migration that are dictated by the new site design, new information architecture, and ease of site building. The content migration structure outlined here will ensure a successful new website.

#1 Create a Master List

It’s always ideal to start with a spreadsheet of all pages you plan to migrate with separate columns for links (old & new), status (open, in progress, done) and notes highlighting, for example, if the page, needs copyediting, should be rewritten entirely, etc. (Note this is also a good time to review your meta titles and description and update them as well. But we’ll cover that more in a different post!)

Shared Google Spreadsheets are incredibly useful for creating the master list of content and tracking what pages to migrate, their migration status (To Do, In Progress, Done), and notes (e.g. “We still need to add updated images to fit into the new design”, etc). Google Docs is a great collaborative tool since users with access can correspond by commenting in cells using @useremail.

We often talk about the “top 50” pages of content during information architecture discussions. With the context of the new design and/or build in mind, we strongly recommend reviewing and revising these pages accordingly so they’re as effective and engaging as possible.

#2 Determine the Strategy (Programmatic Migration Vs. Hand Migration)

For most large migrations projects, the answer is it takes a little of both. Those top 50 pages where there is a lot of cleanup, it makes the most sense to have a content manager clean up (grammar, formatting, inline styles) and then manually integrate those pages into the new CMS. Bear Group often assists in large migrations, but it is also a great way for client’s editorial staff to get their feet wet in the new CMS.

On many sites, there will be 100s or 1000s of pages that need to be migrated to keep an archive, or provide SEO value as part of a website’s footprint. We encourage a fairly basic page layout for these pages and need the ability to get at the source content. Ideally we’re provided with a CSV export or access to the old site’s database. When that is not available, there are screen-scraping tools that can parse through a list and capture content.

Typically body (page) content created 3+ years back will have issues with older forms of HTML. For example using table structures to contain areas in a page was in vogue seven years ago, and inline styles are common issues. These require some data scrubbing prior to import to cleanse problematic inline styles. etc., but keeps the good content.

From there we use the Migrate API & Feeds Module in Drupal. This is a robust module that can handle mapping of content in a CSV over to specific fields and content types in the new site. The Migrate API supports very custom import scenarios that we often utilize when coming from a very different content structure.

It can often take several days or weeks pull content from an old site, scrub it, and write the code for the import. And it is rarely perfect - so we recommend that clients still conduct a review pass of every page. Moreover, we weigh the setup time involved when deciding to go with a programmatic migration over just having a content manager work for 40 hours on the migration by hand. Typically when a site’s page count gets upward of 200-250 pages, some programmatic migration makes a lot of sense.

#3 Clean Up Content

Content migrations can be a great thing in terms of reviewing your content & ditching any old, obsolete, unused content. We suggest using Google Analytics, to view most popular pages (so you don’t accidentally ditch an old page that’s getting a lot of traffic!). We advise our clients to avoid copying directly from Word or PDF's into text area fields, since copying from these programs will add in specific, unwanted styles into your new site.

Often the quickest way to migrate content is to have a small team in charge, instead of spread out among a lot of people. It prevents confusion over who’s doing what, makes content integration more consistent structurally, visually, and textually.

Content Migration Tools

We’ve pulled together a couple example spreadsheets that can be used for content migration templates. Just copy to your own Google Drive!

Content strategy and migration is a topic that we love to discuss, because there are always ways to improve the process and the better the content is, the more successful the website is, so feel free to contact us directly to discuss more!