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Three common content migration mistakes, and how to avoid them

Reap the benefits of a successful content migration with these three recommendations.
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Before we begin, a riddle: 

What is often misunderstood, lives right below the surface of any Content Management System (CMS) implementation, is often ignored or underestimated, and can take longer than the build?

Want to guess the answer?

Who wants to think about copying and pasting content when you could be admiring a site’s new visual design and features? Who wants to write migration scripts when you could be crafting launch memos? It’s often left out of the project plan altogether but can take longer than the build itself. Failing to adequately plan, schedule, and budget for content migration can sink any CMS project. A lot of work goes into designing and building a new system, and migration of the content is often the last hurdle—it’s one you don’t want to underestimate.

When it comes to content migration, here are three common mistakes, as well as our recommendations for avoiding them.

Mistake #1: Outsourcing your content migration.

While it can be tempting to outsource the pain of content migration, we don’t recommend it for every project. Outsourcing can distance an organization from its content, while missing out on learning opportunities. It’s also why some consulting firms that bid on website project work don’t include it in the estimate, as it may balloon the timeline or costs versus their competitors.

One of the biggest learning opportunities comes when the team responsible for the site is also the team who is working on the migration project. Because during migration, content contributors will have to learn the new CMS inside and out. 

To build and maintain momentum over the course of a long content migration process, it’s important to foster a focused, goal oriented, and teamwork-based culture. This includes having a dedicated space where the migration team can work together, free from distractions. If the process is lengthy, keep morale high by celebrating milestones, small victories, and daily progress. When possible, a migration project has a dedicated team, likely seconded from their regular duties. 

Recommendation: Manage your content migration internally and reap the short and long-term benefits.

OXD illustration of pink background with darker pink dotted line shapes of an X,O, and square with scissors.

Mistake #2: Delaying your content migration planning.

Include content migration in your holistic project plan from the very beginning. Be conservative and even pessimistic about the amount of time required. Resourcing for migration should be addressed early and booked in advance. The best case scenario has resources dedicated to the task until it is completed.

Determine if the migration approach is to be Automated versus. Hybrid versus. Manual (for more information on these approaches, please download our free Guide to a successful Content Migration). Even if your scenario is mostly Automated, there will still likely be at least some manual copy-and-paste style processes involved. So it’s important to include adequate time for manual migration into the project plan. 

If you’re working with an agency to build your website, it’s especially important to discuss content migration early and make sure it’s properly accounted for in their project plan. 

Recommendation: Make a migration plan, and do it as early as possible.

OXD illustration of red background with lighter red calendars showing concept of planning your content migration.

Mistake #3: Treating content management as a discreet project separate from the rest of the project team. 

It might feel redundant or over-communicative, but resist the urge to treat content migration as a need-to-know part of the project. Ultimately, content is your project and the more everyone knows what the plan is, the better it will be when problems arise. Set parameters early and talk through potential problems that might pop up during migration. Think about what migration requirements and issues might come up at all stages of the process.

  • Pre-migration: Agree on how you will reduce the inventory by culling old or irrelevant content, determine if there are any URLs that will not make the transition, and do a final update of the content before migration. If you are using automated migration scripts to move content from one system to another, do a dry run before risking permanent, irreversible damage to your existing content. And communicate these decisions with the entire project team.
  • During migration: What needs to be done to get the content into the new system? Communicate the migration start and end dates, as well as the date that content in the old system will be locked—a “content freeze”—meaning that there can be no further edits until the migration is complete and verified. If there are exceptions to the content freeze, make sure everyone knows about them and assign a contact to consult if any mission-critical issues arise. 
  • Post migration: Once the migration is complete, who will be responsible for a careful validation of the migration results? What type of clean-up needs to be done once content is migrated? Often hyperlinks fall into this category as frequently the final URL (or link variables that render a final URL at run time) are not known until all content is in the new system.
OXD illustration of two lightbulbs one with a checkmark and one with an X in support of content migration tracking
We recommend using a bug tracking tool as well as having a designated contact at the ready for any show-stopping issues. 

Make sure everyone on the project team—as well as your leadership and project sponsors—understands the plan, the goals, and the time frame. The process runs smoothest when team members can collaborate to solve problems as they come up.

Recommendation: Communicate the migration plan to everyone connected with the project, from the beginning.

OXD illustration in pinks and reds of a conveyer belt concept of content migration and content going through it

Take the mystery out of migrating content.

The answer to that riddle at the beginning? You guessed it: content migration. Keep your CMS migration on track and on time with careful planning, preparation, and clear communication. Foster a focused, goal oriented, and teamwork-based culture for the migration team where issues can be shared and resolved timely. Most importantly, keep morale high, especially if a lengthy migration period is required.

Avoid the common content migration mistakes by following these three recommendations. Your migration process will go much smoother, allowing you the peace of mind you’ll need to celebrate and admire your great new website.