What is content migration?

Content migration is the process of moving website content from one content management system (CMS) to another.

When moving to a new house or apartment, even going across street is quite a bit of work. You need to re-evaluate, pack up, transport, unpack and reorganize all your stuff (how did you accumulate so much stuff?!) into your new home’s layout. Moving your website to a new platform isn’t that different. However, knowing what to expect ahead of time can help alleviate (some of) the pain of migrating your content.


What is website content?

  • Text
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Links
  • Documents

Above is a general list of what we refer to as website content. To drill down into further detail, we can point out that text is anything from page titles to event categories. Or that images can be regular images wrapped in paragraphs or slide show images expanded as banners. The point is, almost all elements of a website that aren’t design or development are considered “content”.


Can content migration play a part in cleaning up your new site?

Yes! It is often the case that website managers use the content migration process as an opportunity to clean up their website. Depending on the project and its leadership, a content inventory plan is usually put in place.

Content inventory is the collection and assessment of all the content on your website. This can be done at any time in the project but is typically best to complete before migration, since using results from the content inventory may change your migration strategy. For example, an organization might decide to not migrate a certain piece of content because it was never actually used on the old site. The only way of finding unused or stale content is through a content inventory.

Our team at Clarity Partners saw a prime example of this on a recent project, when our content audit found numerous taxonomies that were never used on the client’s old website.

In case you don’t know, website taxonomy refers to the specific vocabulary used to classify pieces of content. Taxonomies are synonymous with categories, tags or metadata. In websites, they are used to connect, relate and organize your website’s content.

Since there was no content tagged with certain taxonomy terms, the client had two options: migrate those taxonomies and encourage administrators to use them, or DON’T migrate and remove them as an option within the system. They chose the latter.

Additionally, a review of content often forces an organization to identify ownership for each piece of content. Who is making the decision to retire this content? Who is responsible for maintaining this content? Asking these questions during migration helps hold people accountable for specific sections of the website and determine roles and permissions for content authors.


What goes into migrating content?

The process of migrating web content can be automated or manual and, in most cases, a combination of both.

Usually, the bulk of the data can be transferred from one CMS to another via an import tool engineered by developers. An import tool will map fields from the previous CMS to the new CMS and subsequently transfer the content in these fields automatically. This is a wonderfully efficient process; however, it is nearly impossible to do with all content. At this point, manual work comes into play. This means that designated administrators will go into the system and copy content from the old website and paste it into the new site. Although manual work may seem tedious, it is important that human eyes are in the new CMS to find any bugs and to ensure that content is being migrated properly.

While the web team is working on migration, there are a few strategies available to prevent new content from missing the migration and old content from getting in. The most straightforward is called a “content freeze”. In this option, content administrators hold off on adding or editing anything until the web team has finished the migration. Once migration is complete, administrators enter their content updates in both the current system and the new system until the new website goes live.

If your team is not comfortable with a content freeze, another option is to have the development team perform multiple content migrations. WARNING: this may be a costly effort and only makes sense if you are migrating a very large site that changes often. In this situation, the developers would set up an automated tool to sweep the current site for changes and copy them onto the new platform.

If your team is opposed to the extra time and effort it takes to do multiple migrations but can’t wait for a content freeze, you can perform duplicate updates in real time. So rather than saving the content edits for later, like in a content freeze, you make changes in both the current (live) system and the new system as migration is happening. In this situation, you avoid any data disruption since the administrator is keeping content up-to-date in both the new and old platforms.


How can a content freeze help in training?

Although it can be minor inconvenience to halt all changes to your website — especially when a higher-up requests a tweak or two – have no fear! Saving these necessary edits during a content freeze can play a vital role in the training phase down the road.

In some of our projects at Clarity, we suggest that clients record their desired content changes in a personal document throughout the freeze. Once migration ends and training starts, we recommend bringing that personal document to training so that trainees can practice what they’ve learned by entering the actual content edits into the new CMS. This is extremely helpful because not only is the trainer present and able to assist, but trainees are performing edits they would have to make in the future and solidifying their training at the same time. Same goes for duplicate entry – although tedious, it gives administrators the opportunity to learn the system before going live.

If you’re having trouble with the idea of managing content outside of the CMS before implementation, there are external tools available. One such tool is GatherContent. This tool has many features that help simplify content inventory, content migration and content management. Basically, it’s an interface that stores and organizes website content. It can be constantly updated by employees and not only reminds them of the collective effort, but also aids the content freeze.


Who is involved in content migration?

On the client side, only decision makers who played a part in the content inventory need to be involved. Once the content for migration has been selected, the web development team takes over. Those involved from the web team include the project manager to oversee the process’ wellbeing, the developers to perform the automated migration, and the analysts to perform any manual migration.

In short, content migration is a very big task in any re-platforming project but can be used to understand your content and ultimately better your website.

Gienna Gaeta is a Project Manager at Clarity Partners, overseeing many of our longer term, city-based projects.  Here, she discusses the process of content migration as it relates to moving your website to a new platform.