- Website Content
How to Successfully Manage a Website Content Migration
For any substantial website rebuild, the question of website content migration looms large.
Most larger websites undergoing any serious redesign are inherited, meaning the current website owner has not been responsible for the site since its original build.
That means that much of the website content itself might also have been inherited. In a site with several hundred pages of content (and often, several thousand) this can mean that no one in an organisation has full view of all of the content the site holds – much less full ownership.
Often this can be beyond the view of even the entire marketing team.
What does this mean for a large website rebuild? Primarily it means that the website content owner (whether they are in-house or part of the agency team working on the build) must determine what to do with the often hundreds of thousands of words of content. And either replicate, redeploy, restructure, rewrite or remove these years of built up organisational assets.
The reason we’ve written this guide is that this task often tests even the most seasoned marketing professionals.
If it’s looming ahead of you, firstly don’t panic. Secondly, don’t stick your head in the sand.
This guide contains practical, immediate actions and structures that you can use to manage your content migration.
Read on below to assess what principles make sense for your organisation to follow. And how to make best use of both the content – and the time – that you have.
What state is your website content in right now?
The best place to start if you are unsure how to approach your website’s content migration is to conduct an audit. This audit should be of your current content and its structure. It should assess what matters to you and your organisation about it.
Typically, this will be one of three aspects – its SEO benefits, its traffic benefits, and its conversion benefits.
If your site is currently performing well for SEO, this is an area to be careful around. Any website redesign will require higher than standard investment and you should talk to an agency who either has SEO practitioners in-house, or works closely with an SEO partner.
The reason for this is that the SEO benefits that your current content provides to you should be considered an asset of your organisation. This content drives you an amount of organic traffic via SEO that would require substantial advertising spend to replicate via other means.
This means that you should be careful. And work with specialists before deciding upon your approach to prioritising and managing any sort of migration for this content.
Similar to SEO benefits but from different sources, your content may currently be regularly shared via:
- Your mailing list
- On social media
- Via third parties
- Linked to from various other sites on the web
There is likely to be some overlap with SEO benefits here, but the considerations involved are distinct. You may want to amend content that is driving you website traffic in different ways to that which is driving you SEO benefits.
Most website content exists to act as a gateway for users to an organisation, and yours should be no different.
If your content is driving enough traffic, a small proportion of your users who are engaged in a content based (or ‘informational’) journey will become engaged in a commercial journey, if your website’s UX is strong.
An example might be a guide to your sector. Users reading this guide might learn more about your company, and add you to their list of potential providers as a result.
The above benefits are each important to your organisation in that they will be helping you drive new business. But how you should address these benefits with relation to your content overhaul and migration is another matter. It comes down to the following decision.
Replicate, Redeploy, Restructure, Rewrite, Remove
Your choice between these options has huge implications for the scale of the content task ahead of you. Don’t get overwhelmed! Using this guide and some of the scenarios we’ve laid out below, you should be able to decide how to approach the problem.
You’ve already got it made. Your website is in a really good place from a content standpoint. Many keystone articles are performing exceptionally well and much of your supporting content is playing directly into the strength of these journeys. You are deriving SEO, traffic and conversion benefits from your content across the board.
Is this you? We’re jealous. Replicate your site’s content and much of its structure as closely as possible. Be careful to do so in terms of URL structure or to set up redirects conscientiously. This is the major risk factor to your SEO and traffic when relaunching your website.
Really, though, ask yourself the question – you’re redesigning the site, is this really your position?
There must be more wrong with your current site than to just replicate every piece of content on the new site like for like, page for page. In our experience, 90% of people who think they want to fully replicate want to do a mix of replicate and…
Redeploying content is probably the most common approach that we come across as an agency. That is:
- Taking the content that you already have
- Assessing the changes to your sitemap that may be coming as a result of the new website design
- Placing the currently existing content in new places across the site
Say you run an antique books ecommerce site. You might previously have had a range of articles about recently acquired pieces all sitting under the URL structure /blog/article-title.
It may be that your web agency has recommended that some of these articles you’ve written come more under a new News section. And some come under more of an Insights section. Splitting up like this might have been recommended by them as part of your new SEO strategy.
If there are 40 articles in this /blog section about recently acquired pieces, it’s therefore your job to decide which of these are news (say, the announcement that you’ve got the book). And which of these are insights (for example, further writing about what makes the book important).
At the end of this process, you might have 23 pages in one section and 17 in another – and now you’re ready to redeploy this content.
Your agency may be able to help you to automate this process, depending on the complexity of the old and new designs and the differences between them.
Otherwise, though, it’s just a process of choosing which articles – and in many cases, which pages, products, features and functions – are deployed in which section of your new site.
If the content you’ve written before and the pages you’ve created are all strong, but your agency is recommending substantial changes to the site’s user journeys and sitemap, you may need to restructure your content.
This is a much longer process than redeploying. In some cases certain pages may no longer exist, and in others, new pages may be being created as part of the new project.
Depending on the size of your site, this is unlikely to be a one person task. It involves:
- Reading through all of your existing content
- Potentially chopping up parts of it into separate pages and articles, combining other parts of it
- In some cases writing new sections
However, often the result will be far more rewarding. You will make the best use of the content you already have for the new user experience you will be designing with the new website project.
This can be a complex process. We would advise that you use a spreadsheet to help organise the decisions you’re making around different types of content.
Any restructure is likely to include some replication and redeployment. So deciding which process you are following for each piece of content you migrate is key, as is being systematic in your approach.
It’s rare that any rewrite will be across all pages. But in website projects where the existing site is 6-8 years old, much may have changed since the last time the content was audited.
Particularly in organisations and businesses in the technology sector, the educational sector, and the charities sector among others, entire value sets can change in this time and a change of a senior leader in the business may have led to a seismic shift in direction that has not yet been replicated in all archival content and pages.
Hopefully you are able to manage this type of content change to not require a full site rewrite. But in cases where one is required, it’s important to plan ahead to ensure it is possible to complete this work.
Writing 2-3,000 words a day is very good going for a marketer if this is their sole focus. And it’s important to remember that each article or page will still need to go through rounds of approval and feedback.
In a site with 100 or more pages requiring rewrites, it should be expected that this task is 2-3 team members’ full time jobs for at least two months prior to website launch.
In most cases, though, you will be able to restructure or redeploy some previous content and a complete rewrite won’t be needed, and can be limited to the most out of date pages on the site.
It might be that some pages on the site refer to services that your company no longer offers, or speak about obsolete topics.
Third party services that we might have relied upon 6-8 years ago can quickly become defunct. And any mention of them on your new site would mark you out as being an out of date organisation.
It might even be that you just got something wrong on your previous site or in your previous content. In 2013 we were all talking about how drone delivery was only a few years away, Vine was the next big thing and Elon Musk would put us on the moon by 2023.
A lot changes between website rebuilds and often a piece of writing that you or a colleague may have put a lot of effort into previously might now just be incorrect. You may decide to archive certain parts of this content for referring to in future or for legal reasons.
Other things to consider
If your site is changing considerably, the new wireframes and information architecture from your agency may be the first time you are aware of the required word counts for the new site.
This is likely to be fairly early on in the website project. And should give you at least 2-3 months to plan and deal with the outcomes of these decisions.
Divide the work
As long as your organisation has an established tone of voice and messaging structure for its content, there is no disadvantage (and several advantages) of dividing the work between your team members.
This will help you both to brainstorm and ideate as a team about how to get the best out of your content. But also to not let the work on your new website content completely take over your jobs.
Once you have rewritten the content and it is ready to go live, there are multiple rounds of QA you must go through before the page is published. Firstly, you should conduct a visual QA – that is, deciding whether the content you have written is aesthetically pleasing on the page.
You don’t want the content to be too long for the space provided and completely unbalance an image, for example. Secondly, you should conduct SEO QA. That is, checking over the page for keywords and ensuring that key focus phrases are prioritised.
This is possible to do before the QA stage. But seeing the content in situ will tend to help marketing teams understand the key priorities and actions for SEO.
In much larger organisations with dozens of marketers, it will be necessary to create an RACI matrix. This will help your primary content managers understand their accountability in terms of this task.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. The matrix is a strong way of delineating roles in terms of the amount of time investment and closeness to a task each team member is likely to have.
It may be useful to combine your RACI matrix with your content migration spreadsheet. This is so a senior marketer, who may be very keen to look over certain pieces of keystone content, is able to.
Website Content Migration Goals
In setting your goals and outcomes for your website content migration, it’s important to remember that the principle Garbage In, Garbage Out applies very much to this type of project.
If you are not achieving strong SEO with your current content, then you will not achieve it on the new site either unless you have gone through a strong SEO QA process.
The same applies to other principles – conversion rate, accessibility, traffic. Each of these will only show positive outcomes if you take key actions towards achieving them on a fairly granular basis.
Make sure that at the outset of this project you have set yourself KPIs and expectations. This is so you and your team have some key principles to work towards.
Managing a website content migration is one of the most important and challenging tasks that will be asked of you as a marketing manager.
You should leave more than enough time to ensure your project tracks are completed on time. As you may also be managing other aspects of the project with your website agency.
Above all else, if you stay systematic and track the team’s progress effectively, combined with starting well enough in advance, then your work on the content will be complete in time for the website to go live.
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