How to Migrate Content in a Website Redesign
If you’re thinking of redesigning your website, at some point – ideally early on in the process – you will have to make a decision about your existing content. You can look at this in terms of what you want to keep, any content that could be repurposed, and identifying any gaps where you may need completely new content. In fact, a website redesign is a great opportunity to rewrite, reorganize, and restructure a website.
The content you decide to keep will need to be migrated over to your new website.
What is content migration?
Content migration is the process of transferring information stored on a website’s content management system (CMS) to a new system. This content can include:
- Site structure
Depending on how much content you need to migrate and how complex it is, content migration can be a tricky part of the website redesign process.
Why do you need content migration?
There are a number of reasons aside from a website redesign when you may consider content migration. This is because it can solve a number of issues, including:
- Consolidation from multiple CMSs into a single system, resulting in centralized control and improved content management
- Reorganization of content due to a merger or acquisition
- Standardization of formatting, especially for old websites
- The original CMS is outdated and no longer supported
- You need better functionality
- To meet compliance requirements
How to migrate content
There are many ways to migrate content between websites and the process can be messy, so it’s definitely better left to web developers. As a general overview, the content migration process looks like this:
- Use Google Search Console to update or set up new site maps. Move your analytics tools over to the new site or set up new analytics so you can measure whether there’s been a spike or dip in traffic and know how successful the migration is
- Inventory the content, including text, images, videos, PDFs, etc.
- Decide what content you want to keep
- Determine how the content you want to keep will fit into the site structure of your new website and how the pages will be linked together, for example, parent and child pages
- Extract the content – there are lots of exporting options and helpful software tools, and it can be done manually or by programmatic scraping. For example, WordPress has an exporting function that allows you to export content as a .csv file. If you’re using another CMS, it’s likely that it will also have an export tool
- Extract the HTML content and store it locally
- Upload the content to the new CMS either by using the API or the web interface
- Upload and update the HTML to meet the new CMS’s standards
- Check, check, and check again
A note on redirects: if you move a site straight over to a new server you probably don’t need to set up redirects as the URLs will be the same, but it is important to resubmit site maps as a precaution. This will ensure that you are aware of any errors or SEO issues, e.g. if the site is no-indexed.
4 tips for successful content migration
- Analyze the data from your existing website before doing anything. If you use Google Analytics you’ll have a lot of data on the content that works – and the content that doesn’t work. Use this data to determine which content you should keep, which you should cut, and where you need new content.
- Make sure the content you keep is aligned with your business objectives. If you have an old website, it may have been written before your current business strategy, objectives, and goals were set. Your new priorities should drive the content and also the site structure.
- Create a new site map. When you’ve analyzed the data and reviewed it alongside your current business objectives, create a new site map and use it to determine the content you migrate over. A site map shouldn’t be complicated – less is more.
- Don’t be afraid to chop old content. A website redesign is a great opportunity to ensure you only have the content you need on your website, and that it’s relevant, engaging, and useful for your customers.
Common problems with content migration
As we’ve said, content migration can be tricky and it does throw up some common problems which it’s best to be aware of from the outset. These include:
- Compatibility with plugins and CMS versioning – you will need to make sure everything is up to date but if your current site is built on old technology there may be some complications or corruption during the transfer
- The impact on SEO, page rank, and how Google perceives your site. If any URLs change, they will need to be redirected to a new URL. It’s important to bring as much SEO value from your old pages across to your new ones as you can.
- Setting up 301 redirects (permanent redirects) and marking pages as 410 (a page that used to exist but no longer does). Ensuring this is done correctly actively tells search engines which pages have been removed so they will index the new site more quickly. It also helps avoid 404 errors (page not found).
- External references not being considered so you may get broken links to external content.
A website redesign is a technical process that requires expertise in web development as well as knowledge of content and design. While there are a lot of tools out there that can support you in content migration, it’s definitely a process that’s best left to an expert who can ensure that it is managed correctly without losing any value from your website.
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