Migrating content: strategies for success

Migrating content: strategies for success

10 minute read

Migrating content: strategies for success

10 minute read

Migrating content: strategies for success

Lizzie Bruce

Content Consultant, Content Design London

OK, so you have a website migration in front of you. My top tips are to stay strong, and get organised. This article is about how to do the second part.

Tidying up and preparing

Assuming you’ve researched your audience needs and know your organisation’s goals, the next step is to get out your spreadsheet of existing content and get rid of any duplicate and out of date content. Then look at what you’re left with and see if it maps to your audience needs.

If a piece of content doesn’t answer a need of someone using your website, get rid of it. As you’re going along, mark up what the need(s) the content corresponds in a new column in your spreadsheet. 

To save time, number the needs in a key at the top of your page and just pop in the relevant numbers on each row or use a colour coding system. Whatever approach you take, make sure it will be clear to someone else. You may need to create a separate sheet for your user needs list if you have a lot. Mark the content that doesn’t meet any user needs with “delete”.

Grouping by topic

Next, look at the needs and see how they can be grouped into topic areas. For example, for train company website content users would have various different needs around buying tickets. Like finding out destinations served, prices, times, journey length, accessibility assistance, station facilities.

There might be a lot of needs around station facilities, like bike parking or luggage storage. So you would group those into a separate topic area. There would also be needs around customer services, like cancellations or refunds. 

You might also find you have a topic which covers special offers on restaurants or accommodation at the destinations.

Prioritising topics

When you’ve grouped your content into topics, you need to decide which are the highest priority. Start with priorities for users. With our example of a train company, the primary need of the majority of users will be to book a train journey. Special offers are not as important to your users. And users would need to book a ticket before cancelling it. So booking a ticket is the priority. Carry on like that through the content.

As a side note, accessibility assistance would be part of the main booking journey, content for it would need to be directly linked. 

And resist the temptation to have a standalone topic for everything to do with, for example, bikes. How to book a place for your bike on the train is related to the main train booking journey so, like accessibility assistance, content around it would need to be directly linked. Ideally, there’d be a way to book a place for the bike online at the same time as you book your seat for the journey. Think from the user’s perspective. 

Bike parking, and car parking, at the station can be separate from the main booking journey, under station facilities, and doesn’t need to be directly linked, as that is about how the user chooses to get to the station, not something integral to their train journey.

Looking for gaps

When you’ve prioritised topics, get all your existing urls with relevant content for your number one priority topic, and print it all off. 

When you researched your user needs, you likely carried out a user journey mapping activity. Basically, this is a timeline representing the steps a user takes when fulfilling a task, like booking a rail ticket, and the needs and pain points they have along the way. You put it all down, chronologically, with post-its along a horizontal line. Their journey could start with a Google search, it could include recommendations from friends about competitor websites. 

Look at the competitor websites. Are those sites doing something that makes the online task of booking a rail ticket particularly easy? What do users need your website content to provide for them to perform this task smoothly?

Then look at the content your printed off. Does it fulfill all the user needs, assuage the pain points and make things as easy for users as your competitors do? Yes? Great! No? These are your content gaps. You might also spot the need for a tool or widget that would help users, like an easy way to compare journey lengths of different timetabled trains.

Project management

So now you know what content you’re taking with you to the new CMS and what content you need to create.

It’s time to get really, really organised. You thought you’d already been being organised? Oh no, that was just the start.

These are the things you need to organise:

  1. content ownership
  2. legal sign off
  3. a project timeline
  4. internal comms
  5. workflow and governance 
  6. page templates
  7. an up to date style guide
  8. content designers
  9. editors
  10. content updates
  11. possible dual publishing
  12. final date for new content on old site
  13. information architecture
  14. assets library
  15. user testing
  16. CMS training 
  17. software support terms
  18. redirection of urls
  19. contingency around launch
  20. maintenance schedule

Content ownership and legal sign off

This is one of the most important factors in a site migration, assuming your existing site content is not 100%:

  • up to date
  • accurate 
  • following content design and readability best practice  
  • meeting accessibility requirements

If it is, because of the amazing content review system you already have in place, move on. 

If it is not, you will need someone to approve changes you make. That person is known as the content owner. You need to contact them, and get a reply, or physically find them. Beware, this figure is sometimes a mythical beast. Don’t be satisfied with obtaining a list of content owners to contact when the time comes. You may well discover many have left the organisation. That’s definitely happened to me. If you are coming in to an organisation to manage the migration on a project contract, get to know someone who’s been there a while and can tell you who’s left. It will save a lot of time.

Find out early on which topics will need legal sign off, where the legal team are and how much turnaround time your legal colleagues will need. The same for your content owners. Find out if and when they have leave booked.

This is why this item is first on our list!

Project timeline

You’ll probably have been given a launch date. If possible, push for that to be flexible. Hopefully you will not arrive to be told that the launch date has already been published and distributed nationwide on posters, flyers and in a physical newsletter. As I once did.

So now back to the excel spreadsheet. Project management timeline software exists. Some find it simpler to keep it all together in the same excel spreadsheet with the existing urls, user needs and list of content owners.

For your timeline you work backwards from launch. You’ll need 2 weeks before launch to test everything is working and fix things that aren’t. If you work for a charity and the content will be changing a lot from what’s live, you may need final approval on the content by the Board of Directors.

Put in time periods for content updates by topic, allowing for some re-drafting and discussion with content owners to reach approval point. You’ll need to add timeslots for editors to enter the content into the new CMS.

Add contingency time. Be prepared to have another sheet in your spreadsheet for Phase 2 considerations. 

You also need to factor in all the other things in the numbered list from earlier on. Put in everything project-related that needs attention – or may impact the project timings. Put in bank holidays. Put in taking your dog to the vet for a check up or your MOT.

I cannot state this enough: the more organised you are in advance the easier the process over the following few months will be.

Internal comms

Let the rest of the organisation know what’s happening. If they know in well in advance there’ll be a few days or a week where they cannot put any new content onto the website they will be more accepting than if you tell them the week or day before.

If members of teams other than the web or digital team will need to be involved with content updates, it helps for the whole organisation to know what’s happening and that some people’s time will be divided between business as usual and the web project. 

Invite them all the content owners and legal sign off people to a meeting. Bring the nice biscuits. Make them feel involved and valued in the process. Go for coffee with them. The ultimate goal is to engage them in the project enough that they will consider spending time pair-writing with your content designers or at least giving feedback in person. Try to avoid back and forth through comments in the margins of documents. Get your approvers their own log in to the CMS to review in situ, and walk them through logging in.

Workflow and governance

Having engaged people throughout the organisation will help you achieve what you need to improve workflow and governance for web content. These issues typically come up as part of a content migration because often it’s the first time in a long while anyone has thought about, nevermind questioned, the processes behind content publication at your organisation.

Governance and workflow can create a hugely helpful or hugely painful publication process. In your role hopefully you can influence things to make sure it’s the good one. 

If you meet resistance, tell your bosses that governance and workflow is at least as important as choosing the CMS. If it’s user-friendly for editors, you might not necessarily need a new CMS. But if how things get decided and who does it is a complex, illogical, restrictive and generally headache-inducing mess, then you definitely need a new strategy for governance and workflow.

Consistency

After answering user needs and meeting organisation goals, the most important consideration for your website content is consistency. Page templates, a style guide, content patterns and reusable design components are your tools for consistency. Content designers and designers are your consistency gurus.

Style guide

Your organisation’s style guide determines how your organisation presents language elements. Rob Mills has recently carried out a lot of research into style guides.

One resource that Rob came across is a free, evidence-based, readability wiki that I helped Content Design London grow. It’s the Readability Guidelines. If you’re interested in how it came to exist, with global input from content professionals, you can read my GatherContent blog post on creating a collaborative, evidence-based style guide

Content patterns

Using content patterns is a good strategy to ensure consistency across multiple pieces of content. You can read all about those in my previous GatherContent blog post on content patterns.

Content patterns build on your organisation’s style guide. The style guide and content patterns should can all be part of a Design System. 

Content in progress

Having worked on content migrations with GatherContent software and without, I would highly recommend the former: working with GatherContent software. Using it allows you to do the following things, which you should try to achieve, as they really make a huge difference for the success, efficiency and smooth running of the project:

  • have all your content, research findings and user needs in a central repository 
  • include templates for layout and any set copy on different page types
  • include exemplar content to use as a model
  • allow content designers and editors to easily access colleagues’ content
  • allow comments on draft content
  • have an area for suggested new content pattern and updates to existing ones
  • automatically update set copy on templates, and any page created using the template
  • easily transfer all the content to your new CMS
  • allow stakeholders and subject matter experts to see work in progress
  • avoid version control nightmares


Yes, Google docs can achieve a lot of these things. But not all.

Communications

Closely linked to orderly and easy to access content-in-progress is good communication. This is also vital for consistency and progress with minimal hiccups, especially if some or all of the editorial team are working remotely.

Daily check-ins

During the content writing phase, I’d recommend morning conference calls daily with all the main editors. As early as possible, but respecting flexible work hours if your organisation as those in place.

Being contactable 

Equally important is everyone in the team being contactable, for example by email, Hangouts, Slack, phone or video call, at some point during the day. You don’t have to be available all the time, of course. Writing needs concentration, and a sudden focus shift could mean you need to spend an extra 10 minutes after an interruption to get your head back to where it was.

One approach is that all editors block out times when they are not available, highlighting times when they are, and adjust setting of whatever channel your team’s chosen to keep in touch. On that, it’s best to choose one preferred comms channel so that people don’t have to check multiple places. 

Or you might like to attempt to agree set “I’m available for a call” times across your team. Like just after lunch, or at 3:30pm. Suggesting it’s tied in with a cuppa could help swing this enormously. This is just a half hour availability slot for any content frets, quick updates or progress checks from other team members.

Why staying in touch is good

Regular calls and catch-ups can avoid:

  • miscommunication: if something was misunderstood it’s quickly and easily caught on the next call or a check in during the day
  • team members going off on a tangent that may not be the best path
  • editors getting stuck
  • editors running out of tasks
  • style guidance and new content pattern updates being missed
  • feeling of isolation if some are working from home: wellbeing of team members is important

Making your website content work in the future

When your content migration project is finished, you can breathe out and celebrate, sure. But the content itself is never “done” or “finished”. 

Content maintenance

Plan a maintenance schedule with regular checks of all your live content. Remember it needs to stay:

  • up to date
  • accurate 
  • following content design and readability best practice  
  • meeting accessibility requirements

And user needs change over time. So you need to keep carrying out regular user research to make sure your content is meeting user needs. 

Content development

During the migration project, you might have some good content development ideas which are completely out of scope for the current project. But could be brilliant to work through in future. Another sheet in the spreadsheet please.

That sheet is also a handy place to put slightly outlandish ideas non-web colleagues who’ve heard about the project might come up to you with. Adding their ideas to a possible future development list keeps everyone happy. They’re satisfied that they’ve been listened to and their ideas noted. Not having to justify why you know their ideas are not suitable keeps you sane, too. For persistent callers, just keep mentioning the b word, budget and the s word, scope.

That’s it! Happy migrating. These recommendations are all from my own professional experiences of leading and working on a wide variety of content migrations, large and small, in all sectors. Applying them should make things easier for you.

Resources to help your next migration

OK, so you have a website migration in front of you. My top tips are to stay strong, and get organised. This article is about how to do the second part.

Tidying up and preparing

Assuming you’ve researched your audience needs and know your organisation’s goals, the next step is to get out your spreadsheet of existing content and get rid of any duplicate and out of date content. Then look at what you’re left with and see if it maps to your audience needs.

If a piece of content doesn’t answer a need of someone using your website, get rid of it. As you’re going along, mark up what the need(s) the content corresponds in a new column in your spreadsheet. 

To save time, number the needs in a key at the top of your page and just pop in the relevant numbers on each row or use a colour coding system. Whatever approach you take, make sure it will be clear to someone else. You may need to create a separate sheet for your user needs list if you have a lot. Mark the content that doesn’t meet any user needs with “delete”.

Grouping by topic

Next, look at the needs and see how they can be grouped into topic areas. For example, for train company website content users would have various different needs around buying tickets. Like finding out destinations served, prices, times, journey length, accessibility assistance, station facilities.

There might be a lot of needs around station facilities, like bike parking or luggage storage. So you would group those into a separate topic area. There would also be needs around customer services, like cancellations or refunds. 

You might also find you have a topic which covers special offers on restaurants or accommodation at the destinations.

Prioritising topics

When you’ve grouped your content into topics, you need to decide which are the highest priority. Start with priorities for users. With our example of a train company, the primary need of the majority of users will be to book a train journey. Special offers are not as important to your users. And users would need to book a ticket before cancelling it. So booking a ticket is the priority. Carry on like that through the content.

As a side note, accessibility assistance would be part of the main booking journey, content for it would need to be directly linked. 

And resist the temptation to have a standalone topic for everything to do with, for example, bikes. How to book a place for your bike on the train is related to the main train booking journey so, like accessibility assistance, content around it would need to be directly linked. Ideally, there’d be a way to book a place for the bike online at the same time as you book your seat for the journey. Think from the user’s perspective. 

Bike parking, and car parking, at the station can be separate from the main booking journey, under station facilities, and doesn’t need to be directly linked, as that is about how the user chooses to get to the station, not something integral to their train journey.

Looking for gaps

When you’ve prioritised topics, get all your existing urls with relevant content for your number one priority topic, and print it all off. 

When you researched your user needs, you likely carried out a user journey mapping activity. Basically, this is a timeline representing the steps a user takes when fulfilling a task, like booking a rail ticket, and the needs and pain points they have along the way. You put it all down, chronologically, with post-its along a horizontal line. Their journey could start with a Google search, it could include recommendations from friends about competitor websites. 

Look at the competitor websites. Are those sites doing something that makes the online task of booking a rail ticket particularly easy? What do users need your website content to provide for them to perform this task smoothly?

Then look at the content your printed off. Does it fulfill all the user needs, assuage the pain points and make things as easy for users as your competitors do? Yes? Great! No? These are your content gaps. You might also spot the need for a tool or widget that would help users, like an easy way to compare journey lengths of different timetabled trains.

Project management

So now you know what content you’re taking with you to the new CMS and what content you need to create.

It’s time to get really, really organised. You thought you’d already been being organised? Oh no, that was just the start.

These are the things you need to organise:

  1. content ownership
  2. legal sign off
  3. a project timeline
  4. internal comms
  5. workflow and governance 
  6. page templates
  7. an up to date style guide
  8. content designers
  9. editors
  10. content updates
  11. possible dual publishing
  12. final date for new content on old site
  13. information architecture
  14. assets library
  15. user testing
  16. CMS training 
  17. software support terms
  18. redirection of urls
  19. contingency around launch
  20. maintenance schedule

Content ownership and legal sign off

This is one of the most important factors in a site migration, assuming your existing site content is not 100%:

  • up to date
  • accurate 
  • following content design and readability best practice  
  • meeting accessibility requirements

If it is, because of the amazing content review system you already have in place, move on. 

If it is not, you will need someone to approve changes you make. That person is known as the content owner. You need to contact them, and get a reply, or physically find them. Beware, this figure is sometimes a mythical beast. Don’t be satisfied with obtaining a list of content owners to contact when the time comes. You may well discover many have left the organisation. That’s definitely happened to me. If you are coming in to an organisation to manage the migration on a project contract, get to know someone who’s been there a while and can tell you who’s left. It will save a lot of time.

Find out early on which topics will need legal sign off, where the legal team are and how much turnaround time your legal colleagues will need. The same for your content owners. Find out if and when they have leave booked.

This is why this item is first on our list!

Project timeline

You’ll probably have been given a launch date. If possible, push for that to be flexible. Hopefully you will not arrive to be told that the launch date has already been published and distributed nationwide on posters, flyers and in a physical newsletter. As I once did.

So now back to the excel spreadsheet. Project management timeline software exists. Some find it simpler to keep it all together in the same excel spreadsheet with the existing urls, user needs and list of content owners.

For your timeline you work backwards from launch. You’ll need 2 weeks before launch to test everything is working and fix things that aren’t. If you work for a charity and the content will be changing a lot from what’s live, you may need final approval on the content by the Board of Directors.

Put in time periods for content updates by topic, allowing for some re-drafting and discussion with content owners to reach approval point. You’ll need to add timeslots for editors to enter the content into the new CMS.

Add contingency time. Be prepared to have another sheet in your spreadsheet for Phase 2 considerations. 

You also need to factor in all the other things in the numbered list from earlier on. Put in everything project-related that needs attention – or may impact the project timings. Put in bank holidays. Put in taking your dog to the vet for a check up or your MOT.

I cannot state this enough: the more organised you are in advance the easier the process over the following few months will be.

Internal comms

Let the rest of the organisation know what’s happening. If they know in well in advance there’ll be a few days or a week where they cannot put any new content onto the website they will be more accepting than if you tell them the week or day before.

If members of teams other than the web or digital team will need to be involved with content updates, it helps for the whole organisation to know what’s happening and that some people’s time will be divided between business as usual and the web project. 

Invite them all the content owners and legal sign off people to a meeting. Bring the nice biscuits. Make them feel involved and valued in the process. Go for coffee with them. The ultimate goal is to engage them in the project enough that they will consider spending time pair-writing with your content designers or at least giving feedback in person. Try to avoid back and forth through comments in the margins of documents. Get your approvers their own log in to the CMS to review in situ, and walk them through logging in.

Workflow and governance

Having engaged people throughout the organisation will help you achieve what you need to improve workflow and governance for web content. These issues typically come up as part of a content migration because often it’s the first time in a long while anyone has thought about, nevermind questioned, the processes behind content publication at your organisation.

Governance and workflow can create a hugely helpful or hugely painful publication process. In your role hopefully you can influence things to make sure it’s the good one. 

If you meet resistance, tell your bosses that governance and workflow is at least as important as choosing the CMS. If it’s user-friendly for editors, you might not necessarily need a new CMS. But if how things get decided and who does it is a complex, illogical, restrictive and generally headache-inducing mess, then you definitely need a new strategy for governance and workflow.

Consistency

After answering user needs and meeting organisation goals, the most important consideration for your website content is consistency. Page templates, a style guide, content patterns and reusable design components are your tools for consistency. Content designers and designers are your consistency gurus.

Style guide

Your organisation’s style guide determines how your organisation presents language elements. Rob Mills has recently carried out a lot of research into style guides.

One resource that Rob came across is a free, evidence-based, readability wiki that I helped Content Design London grow. It’s the Readability Guidelines. If you’re interested in how it came to exist, with global input from content professionals, you can read my GatherContent blog post on creating a collaborative, evidence-based style guide

Content patterns

Using content patterns is a good strategy to ensure consistency across multiple pieces of content. You can read all about those in my previous GatherContent blog post on content patterns.

Content patterns build on your organisation’s style guide. The style guide and content patterns should can all be part of a Design System. 

Content in progress

Having worked on content migrations with GatherContent software and without, I would highly recommend the former: working with GatherContent software. Using it allows you to do the following things, which you should try to achieve, as they really make a huge difference for the success, efficiency and smooth running of the project:

  • have all your content, research findings and user needs in a central repository 
  • include templates for layout and any set copy on different page types
  • include exemplar content to use as a model
  • allow content designers and editors to easily access colleagues’ content
  • allow comments on draft content
  • have an area for suggested new content pattern and updates to existing ones
  • automatically update set copy on templates, and any page created using the template
  • easily transfer all the content to your new CMS
  • allow stakeholders and subject matter experts to see work in progress
  • avoid version control nightmares


Yes, Google docs can achieve a lot of these things. But not all.

Communications

Closely linked to orderly and easy to access content-in-progress is good communication. This is also vital for consistency and progress with minimal hiccups, especially if some or all of the editorial team are working remotely.

Daily check-ins

During the content writing phase, I’d recommend morning conference calls daily with all the main editors. As early as possible, but respecting flexible work hours if your organisation as those in place.

Being contactable 

Equally important is everyone in the team being contactable, for example by email, Hangouts, Slack, phone or video call, at some point during the day. You don’t have to be available all the time, of course. Writing needs concentration, and a sudden focus shift could mean you need to spend an extra 10 minutes after an interruption to get your head back to where it was.

One approach is that all editors block out times when they are not available, highlighting times when they are, and adjust setting of whatever channel your team’s chosen to keep in touch. On that, it’s best to choose one preferred comms channel so that people don’t have to check multiple places. 

Or you might like to attempt to agree set “I’m available for a call” times across your team. Like just after lunch, or at 3:30pm. Suggesting it’s tied in with a cuppa could help swing this enormously. This is just a half hour availability slot for any content frets, quick updates or progress checks from other team members.

Why staying in touch is good

Regular calls and catch-ups can avoid:

  • miscommunication: if something was misunderstood it’s quickly and easily caught on the next call or a check in during the day
  • team members going off on a tangent that may not be the best path
  • editors getting stuck
  • editors running out of tasks
  • style guidance and new content pattern updates being missed
  • feeling of isolation if some are working from home: wellbeing of team members is important

Making your website content work in the future

When your content migration project is finished, you can breathe out and celebrate, sure. But the content itself is never “done” or “finished”. 

Content maintenance

Plan a maintenance schedule with regular checks of all your live content. Remember it needs to stay:

  • up to date
  • accurate 
  • following content design and readability best practice  
  • meeting accessibility requirements

And user needs change over time. So you need to keep carrying out regular user research to make sure your content is meeting user needs. 

Content development

During the migration project, you might have some good content development ideas which are completely out of scope for the current project. But could be brilliant to work through in future. Another sheet in the spreadsheet please.

That sheet is also a handy place to put slightly outlandish ideas non-web colleagues who’ve heard about the project might come up to you with. Adding their ideas to a possible future development list keeps everyone happy. They’re satisfied that they’ve been listened to and their ideas noted. Not having to justify why you know their ideas are not suitable keeps you sane, too. For persistent callers, just keep mentioning the b word, budget and the s word, scope.

That’s it! Happy migrating. These recommendations are all from my own professional experiences of leading and working on a wide variety of content migrations, large and small, in all sectors. Applying them should make things easier for you.

Resources to help your next migration

No items found.

About the author

Lizzie Bruce

Lizzie is a content consultant at Content Design London, where she runs workshops and training courses. She’s previously worked at GDS and has 15 years’ content experience in the charity, public and private sectors. She is motivated by creating user-focused, inclusive content design and is currently coordinating research for the collaborative Readability Guidelines project. She also writes content UX articles for Prototypr and Digital Drum, and has created a set of writing for web best practice tip cards.

Related posts you might like