By Erik J. Martin, special to The Content Wrangler

Moving into a new house is a big deal. You’ve got to clear out the clutter, check that your belongings fit into the new space, pack your possessions with care, enlist some movers with muscle, and ensure that nothing is damaged or lost on moving day.

When you need to move your digital goods to a new website, content management system (CMS), or both, the job requires even more careful planning and preparation. And though no literal heavy lifting is involved, this task can be even more labor intensive and taxing on your resources than a physical relocation.

Indeed, content migration—the process of moving content and digital assets from one system to another—can be more challenging than anticipated, especially when the move from your old CMS to a new one doesn’t allow for easy extraction, importation, compatibility and resolution.

Bone of Content-tion

A content migration is typically needed when a current system, platform, or website has become outdated or is no longer able to keep up with business needs. Deciding to migrate content is, of course, the easy part. The multiple hurdles you have to clear to accomplish it are where it gets tricky.

Image: Challenges Ahead
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

“Challenges include the differences between legacy and modern solutions, resource design differences, incorporating graphic and media elements, and quality assurance of the before-and-after,” says David Squibb, chief sales and marketing officer and document management expert at Xpertdoc.

Deane Barker, chief strategy officer for Blend Interactive, says existing content often does not “fit” into a new web design or new CMS without considerable modification.

“The idea that you can just drop a bunch of existing content onto a new website is simply fiction. Often, an enormous amount of surgery has to be done to fit square content into round holes,” says Barker. “Also, content migrations can get political because they’re usually the time when people throw out a bunch of content—the easiest content to migrate, after all, is content you simply delete. Other people in your organization might fight to keep that stuff, leading to awkward and politically-charged disagreements.”

Another major difficulty involved is “setting the scope,” says Charles Cooper, vice president of The Rockley Group. “You may have a multitude of content stored across many different systems over the years. How are you going to decide what is and isn’t worthy of migrating? What approach are you going to use to evaluate all this different type of content? This takes a lot of time to figure out.”

Learning the Lingo of Content Migration

To better understand what’s involved with content migration, it’s important first to differentiate platform migration from content migration: the former means switching the CMS out from under a website, which includes building the website on the new CMS. The latter assumes the new website is built and you’re focused on moving content.

“Platform migration means you have to build the new house, while content migration means the new house is there—you just need to move the furniture,” says Barker.

Image: Furniture movers moving a sofa
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest

It’s also necessary to comprehend the difference between content conversion and content migration, says Tim Maciejewski, president of Maciejewski Group, LLC.

“The process of formatting content from plain text to the medium in which it will be used is content conversion. But when you already have posted content that you are moving from one CMS to another, this is content migration,” Maciejewski says. “For example, if you were changing your website from running on Joomla to WordPress, you would still want all your posts to list the original posting dates, you would want the comments to transfer over along with the posts, and so on. This type of content migration will likely involve some content conversion, too, as most CMS platforms utilize proprietary formatting options.”

Preparing for the Move

Migrating content can involve manual migration (whereby one or more persons copy-and-paste content and manually fix errors), automated migration (trusting in software to do the job), or, as is often the case, a combination of both.

If you have a massive arsenal of content to migrate, automating this effort by selecting a powerful new CMS (open source platforms like WordPress and Drupal offer user-friendly “import content”-like buttons) and/or supplemental apps can be more efficient, although expensive. If you have less content to move, you can entrust an employee or intern with this tedious task, which provides the benefit of a real person making real-time editorial choices about how best to adapt content.

Common prep steps recommended before you can successfully undertake a content migration include:

  • Create a content migration team. Involve key decision makers from editorial, marketing, business/account management, and IT, and assign ownership so each person knows what they’re responsible for.
  • Inventory and organize your content. Determine where all your content is located, what is still relevant, what can be retired, and what format each content component is in. Organize your content pieces to ensure a smoother migration. Identify outliers or hard-coded workarounds required outside the core solution.
  • Evaluate content compatibility and integrity. Is the content backwards- and forwards-compatible? Can you migrate existing content as is or does it need to be converted? “You need to test the content you intend to migrate to see if it meets your upfront requirements,” says Cooper. “That means checking that the metadata will remain intact, the links will still work, the file will open as intended, etcetera.”
  • Create an overall content migration strategy. This includes selecting the right CMS/apps/tools for the job, prioritizing and flowcharting the steps and timetable required, and determining your budget.

Hitting the “Migrate” Button

When it’s time to actually do the migrating, be prepared for six crucial steps to ensure success, suggests Barker:

  1. Extraction—completed either via your program’s export function, from the repository (using the system’s API or going directly to the database via SQL), or from the actual website (writing code to request pages followed by extracting pieces of the HTML produced).
  2. Transformation—changing or cleaning up the extracted content (e.g., removing extra HTML tags and inappropriate structure) for it to function properly in its new environment.
  3. Reassembly—aggregating and organizing content objects to properly mesh together within the new environment and establishing correct relationships between content.
  4. Import—using custom programming or another process to import the reassembled content into your new CMS.
  5. Resolution—identifying and fixing internal links between content objects (by storing old identifiers within the new content objects, parsing the HTML, and other means) to conform to the new URL structure.
  6. Quality assurance—testing and confirming the accuracy of the imported content.

If completed correctly, all this hard work will pay off, say the experts.

“A successful content migration can help you gain efficiency and improve communication and customer engagement,” says Squibb.