Migrating content to a new CMS is a tremendous pain in the rear,
there’s no way around it. If a vendor or consultant tries to downplay
the difficulty or time required in the process, take your business
elsewhere. They aren’t being honest with you.  

A few years ago, migrating content to a new site wasn’t a huge deal.
Most publishers had a limited amount of content on their site and it
was primarily text. Today, that same site may house thousands and
thousands of files including video, images and slideshows.

Many publishers have existing staff or temps manually migrate stories
into the new CMS. Others are turning to automated migration systems
such as eTouch and Indigen Vector but that can be pricey, depending on
how much content is involved (prices range wildly but think $30,00 for
a large job). Either way, it can be a complicated, frustrating task.
“There’s not a whole lot that’s positive about migrations until they’re
done,” says developer Randy Funke.

Below are five rules to keep in mind when migrating content to a new CMS.

1. Understand What Type of Content You Have  

The first step is to take inventory of what kind of files you have (text, HTML, PDF, etc.) as well as related meta data.

“The big question on every development team’s mind is what is the
preferred format of the exported file?” says Funke. “File preference is
the primary factor that determines the nature of the migration. It
could be in XML, or SQL or it could be raw HTML (which is a complete
nightmare). The way things get mapped depends completely on the file
type. You’re a slave to that file.”

2. Map It Out
Think of the CMS as giant Excel spreadsheet that divvies up content by
type as well as title field, author field, date, category, topic,
subtopic, tags, metadata, keywords, body copy and related articles. The trick to migrating is creating relationships among the tables and databases.

Field mapping is the key to how your CMS accesses data. “When you have
content tagged to different areas of your site, it becomes infinitely
complicated very quickly,” says Funke. “If an article has 10 different
categories and three stages of each category, how do you define that
relationship across across the CMS? Each CMS does their sequence ID a
completely different way.”

3. Clean Up the Content

Make sure the coding is updated and compatible, particularly with
character sets. Moving to a new CMS may require lots of content
clean-up to both optimize for search and work correctly with a new
system. “The previous class of content management systems frequently
handled content by storing it in database tables,” says Joe Bachana,
president of Web firm DPCI. “In that case you could do straight content
migration. The challenge is, with sites where HTML was created, you
need to create scripts to run conversions to the new system. Publishers
especially have to be worried about SEO. How can we amplify the content
so that so it’s more discoverable? People also have to make sure the
quality of content is there so there are no weird styling issues that
make the site look like a pasted-together ransom note. Some of that can
be cleaned up with scripts but editors have to scan pages.”

Make sure you re-link your media or import it into the same kind of
directory structure. “A lot of people have bookmarks to an old
site—this is the icing on the cake of why migrations are hell—and after
the data gets migrated, the lovely tasks of access rewrite rules come
into play,” says Funke. “Old bookmarks now have to redirect to new
ones. It’s not like the ID numbers in the CMS will be in sync with each
other. On the new one, an article might be #10,000, while on the old
one it was article #3,658. If you can’t construct rules that will allow
the old pages to find the articles on the new CMS, you have to manually
import over those articles. Even after data is migrated, you still get
slapped in the face.”

4. Migrate the Best Content—Dump the Rest
Let old content go unless it’s premium content. “Take a look at
evergreen content for migration,” says Bachana. “If you have a high
degree of complexity with migration and cleanup, look only at the best
quality content. See what content is highly trafficked and maybe throw
out the stuff on your long tail. If people looked at migration as a
process to get the best quality materials out, then they wouldn’t have
to dig deep into that other set of assets that don’t get searched.”

5. Choose a System You Can Walk Away From

It may sound strange but part of choosing a new CMS today is selecting
one you can walk away from fairly easily in the future. “Migration has
a lot to do with where you’re coming from as opposed to where you’re
going,” says Bachana. “When picking the platform you’re migrating to,
think about how it handles content today in case you have to migrate
away tomorrow. Understand what structure that content is in. If it’s in
XML, you’ll be in pretty good shape.”