Website migrations are like spring cleaning your home. They represent an opportunity to take stock of the content you have and evaluate it in light of new goals and strategies. Let’s look at how your upcoming migration might be the perfect catalyst for the content overhaul you need and how to make the most of your migration by planning for it in advance.
A Migration Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
It is almost a universal inclination: migrating from an old CMS or application framework to a shiny new platform makes folks take a closer look at the content itself. It’s only natural. After all, we take stock of the contents of our home before we move into a new dwelling; no sense in moving stuff we don’t intend to use or keep, right?
What’s not always clear is why now? This question may come up often, especially when there is a large volume of content to begin with. “We’re already taking risks by migrating in the first place,” some might wonder. “Why add content changes to the pile of large daunting tasks involved in this effort?” It’s a reasonable concern.
Content Migration Triggers
Migrations tend to accompany a strategic milestone of some kind. Often they coincide with a large rebrand or a pivot into a new area of growth for your organization. More times than not, a migration from one CMS, framework, or platform to another is part of a larger strategic shift, and it stands to reason that any existing content should be evaluated in light of your new strategic goals.
Can content be organized or bundled differently to better align with the needs of your site visitors? Is there underperforming content that does not support your current goals and should therefore be moved, repurposed, or discarded? There are also SEO considerations to keep in mind. Are there opportunities to favor breadth over specificity? For example, if you have twenty articles that are about single-stroke engine maintenance, each with slight variations by manufacturer, the search ranking for those pages is likely very low. A single page on the topic would rank much much higher. If improving the SEO of your company website is part of your new strategic initiative, the website migration may be the right time to improve how your content is structured.
Make the Most of Automation
Even if your migration is not attached to a significant strategic shift for your organization, automated processes typically used during a migration can be used to modify content, often with minimal impact to the timeline or overall level of effort. If your migration project involves developers writing scripts to transfer hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of pages from an old website to a new one, a variety of content improvements can “tag along” that process, for example:
- Improve taxonomy and other content metadata, which can benefit your ad targeting strategy.
- Clean up messy and unwanted HTML from previous iterations of your site (styling markup that no longer aligns with your brand, video embeds that don’t work, social media embeds that no longer load).
- Strip away this unwanted markup to optimize format and presentation.
- Identify and correct broken links.
Automation doesn’t always need to impact your content immediately. It can also be used to triage your content and create a comprehensive catalog of issues that need attention. For example, maybe you’re vaguely aware that some of your content has images with missing alternative text. You know alternative text is important for accessibility, but you don’t have the faintest idea of where these images are nor how many there are. Automated migrations can identify these pieces of content and collect information that can later be used to plan manual remediations later. In this case, the automation itself may not have solved the problem, but it provided actionable information about the scope of the problem and where exactly it can be found.
Planning Is Paramount
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
As I’m sure most people can imagine, taking stock of all your content and tackling a clean-up effort might be a daunting task — especially when it accompanies other major efforts like CMS shifts. Thankfully, taking some small but critical steps ahead of time allows you to capture the opportunities a migration provides, and slot things seamlessly into the overall website migration schedule.
Identify Your Goals
First, make sure you and your team understand the goals of the content cleanup. Are you cleaning up your content to better align with new strategic initiatives within the company? Are you restructuring content to better align with a rebrand? Are you merely taking advantage of the migration process to do housekeeping? Document all the goals and work alongside all your stakeholders to agree on priority. It’s important for everyone on your team to be on the same page for your plan to work.
Address the Mess
Depending on the size of your website, you may find yourself looking at an overwhelming volume of content. What should you keep, trash, or update? Avoid analysis paralysis with a few strategies that can help make sense of the mess.
First, it’s helpful to divide your content into categories. The nature of these categories will depend on the kinds of content in your website, but they can generally be defined along the lines of their purpose, their audience, and how they align with your organization’s value proposition. For example, a company with lots of user manual PDFs and documentation pages to support physical products that are used on the field has an incentive to preserve the accessibility of that content. On the other hand, a software-as-a-service company that’s launching a whole new dashboard for their online platform will want to update or delete references to old versions of their product. Oftentimes, you’ll find that each category has its own set of content update needs, which will be helpful as you decide how to prioritize the changes.
Site analytics will help you understand which pieces of content are getting the most traffic, how visitors are getting there, and where they are dropping off. Likewise, past results from A/B testing or user engagement tracking tools can also help you discern where you should best direct your efforts.
Looking at your content through the lens of the organization’s strategic goals can also help drive prioritization — either by focusing on the content that is best suited to accomplish what you need, or by dedicating time to level up the content that doesn’t.
Discuss Automation Early
As you plan the content cleanup in the lead up to your website migration, consider what changes could be automated and discuss them with your migration team. Automated migration scripts are typically crafted early in the migration project, often weeks or even months before the final switch is flipped, so it is best to have those conversations as early as possible to get the most out of the effort.
Consider the Content Freeze
Depending on several factors, the automated migration effort will likely require some sort of content freeze period during which the migration scripts that have been painstakingly written over the course of weeks or months will finally get run once and for all. Make your manual content changes before the content freeze if you are able to and the changes aren’t tied to some kind of big reveal (a product launch, a rebrand, etc). Conversely, if the content changes are tied to some larger event with a specific launch date, you’ll want to make those changes in the new website after the automated migration has been completed, and before site traffic is directed to the new site.
So is it worth tackling the cleanup? Absolutely.
A website migration is an excellent time to give your content a good cleaning and make it work harder for you. It presents unique opportunities to improve large swaths of content either via automation or manually, and can even yield insights into content issues that you can work to address at a later date. As with most things, communication, collaboration, and planning are key! When content teams speak up and join the conversation early, migration teams can offer a great deal of value with relatively little effort.