Your team has gone through the initial discovery analysis and you have selected your new web content management system. All is going well as you kick off the planning until someone on your team asks, “What about the content migration?”
You look to your agency and they just shake their heads, your guys from IT are staring back at you wide-eyed and your CMS vendor stutters back in response, “Uh..uh..uh well, that’s usually the customer’s responsibility.”
Obviously this is an exaggeration, but content migrations are often the dirty little secret that folks in the CMS world like to avoid. It’s hard, it’s messy and very few organizations do it well.
Truth be told, the content migration can often be the hardest part of implementing a new CMS. As a rule of thumb, you can estimate 20 to 60 minutes per page to make it happen. You can easily expect to cut that time in half if you use dedicated migration tools and reduce it much further still by working with a firm that specializes in web content migrations.
Here’s a list of things to consider if you need to price out your own web content migration project.
Develop a Detailed Content Inventory
A well planned content migration must begin with a content inventory. This isn’t a simple site map, or cursory glance at your file structure. This is a detailed listing of all of your site’s content, and the unique relationships that exist between the content. It identifies things such as the URLs, doctype (HTML, PDF, Image etc.), links to and from each piece of content, template identification & mapping, orphaned files, stale files (rarely accessed according to analytics), and potential meta data. Expect to spend several weeks on this if you are migrating a large web site.
Know the Systems Path Required to Migrate Content
Migrating content often requires logging into, and moving between several systems. This can include the source web server, the new CMS, the authoring tool of choice, the task tracking application, the VPN software and more. It all adds up and must be done for each piece of content.
Clean Your Content Prior to Migration
More often then not, legacy content must be cleaned before it can be imported into a new content management system. Frequently this can be automated, but even then a person is usually required to manually edit the content to make sure that the formatting is correct in the new system. This is one of the most time consuming steps in a migration.
Create Redirects to Avoid Breaking Bookmarks or Embedded Links
Often in a migration into a new content management system the URLs will change to reflect a new directory structure. When this occurs, any bookmarks to the old site that users might have, or any links embedded in online and offline advertisements will break. To resolve this, a 301 redirect will have to be created that points every old URL to the corresponding content asset in the new system.
Pay Attention to Migrating Hyperlinks Properly
Similar to the issue with redirects, if you migrate your site into a new directory structure, most of your hyperlinks will break. When these are fixed manually, it can be a very time consuming process.
Create Metadata Manually and Automatically
Content management systems often require a well defined metadata strategy (PDF)
to function properly. Some of this metadata can be defaulted automatically, but to be truly useful at least some of the metadata must be manually added to each piece of content. This step is especially prone to errors and even the smallest mistakes can require massive rework.
Break Up Content for Better Management and Display
Part and parcel to modern content management systems is the concept of one to many relationships between content. Essentially, you break your legacy content up into smaller chunks so that they can be reused across your site. The key time drain here is that when you break a piece of content up into chunks, you effectively create multiple new pieces of content, with each piece needing separate meta tagging and link resolution. This can compound the scope of your migration very quickly.
Perform Quality Assurance Tests
Performing quality assurance on a newly migrated web site is a significant task. Most organizations prefer to check every single page and without automation you can expect at least a few minutes per page that was migrated.
Determine the Opportunity Cost of Automation vs Outsourcing Migration Activities
This is an important consideration. What could you have done with the time that you had to spend executing your content migration? This is the opportunity cost of the project and is a key metric when you are considering investing in automation or working with a dedicated content migrations firm.
Content Migration is No Small Task
Often each of these tasks must be performed for each piece of content. Some of these tasks may only take 30 seconds to complete, but when you multiply that 30 seconds by the many thousands of content items regularly found in a migration you end up with a large chunk of time. When you take all of these tasks together, and consider all of your binary files too (GIF, JPG, PDF, EXE, Etc.) you start to see how big this effort can be.
About the Author
Kyle Short is a co-founder of Endstate Solutions
, a firm that provides managed web content migration services. Prior to Endstate, Kyle worked with a Fortune 100 company managing their content migrations department.