Tools and tips for planning a content migration

This is the sum of many emails sent over the years to prepare clients for their impending content migration. I may make it feel like it’s going to be horrendous and lots of work to scare people into action, on purpose, but it always seems to be a lot of hard work!

As an aside, I’m not a big fan of automagically migrating content to new templates or CMS’s, it never works properly - unstructured content shouldn’t be treated like data. This is the perfect time to cull, clean and reformat.  


Content strategy outputs and tools you will need to for the migration:

How to write for “ORGNAME” - tone of voice guidelines. - these are very different to 'how to update a page' technical guidelines  they remind the content editors they are writing for actual people, who have a way of seeing the world of their own! -This needs to be defined based on brand, and how people read online (and not very long). The editors will use it to update content.

Content Templates - this is an example of a page and example content in each part of the page with a little explanation of how to write, who it's for and what its for.

Content Schedule - this is every page that needs to be migrated/created and where it goes in the new structure, what it needs done to it and who is doing it - and then if it's done!

Asset Schedule - this is all the new images/video etc that need to be created.

Migration Plan - This is what will be migrated, created, when and by who. You need this to ensure access and resources.

It is important to start planning as soon as possible as there is a fair bit of work to do to successfully migrate content.


Steps for Content Migration:

  1. Plan your migration, as it will be hand migration create a team, will you use students or just an A-team? Create a timeline allocate a budget
  2. Start a brown out phase where all new pages created, have to be communicated to the content migration team
  3. Do a full content inventory, there is no short cut for this, you must go through all the pages and mark their status and source an owner for them. Validate the contents validity – create a set of rules e.g. 
    • Content over 5yrs - will not be migrated unless it is still relevant and accessed
    • Content with no owner - a department content expert must make a call on its relevance, if it’s not brought across and someone can’t find it on the new site and asks you can always add it!
    • Redundant, Outdated, or Trivial – mark the content as such till you get sign off from the department content expert or content owner, you then update it as ‘migrate, archive, delete’
    • You can divvy this task up to sections and give it to your content champions for each of the topic areas (they should leave out the destinations for the new content, this should be added after site/content map has been finalised)
  4. Map where the good pages need to go in the new architecture. If there are new metadata standards it can be handy to add these to the spreadsheet if people who don’t understand the metadata strategy will be migrating the content.
  5. Start the blackout no more new content is to be created
  6. Trial the migration process, with a couple of your A-Team members go through copy and pasting the old content into the new site, make sure to add the relevant and required new metadata find out the problems and create a process.
  7. Get the rest of the team or some students to complete the migration following the process you devise in part 6 using the content inventory spreadsheet as the source of truth, create section versions for each of the team members to use.

The plan eventually needs to cover the following:

Timeline and budget

  • The timeline will be dependent on the main project timeline
  • If migration is staged then this should be added to the timeline
  • The date for the content freeze should be made very 
    clear to everyone

The migration team – internal resources or external resources such as students or maybe a mix of both

  • How many will be required?
  • What training will they need?
  •  What mix of skills are needed?
  •  Who will do what?

What content needs to be migrated / edited / created (This will come from carrying out a content inventory)

Process for migration – trial this process when you are able to  and adapt if necessary

  • A content governance plan (how content is created approved, published, updated and retired) will also be important here
  • Any content / metadata standards – it is a good idea to start developing a content style guide early on as these need to be clearly understood by the team during editing and migration

The plan will not be able to be finalised overnight and should be kept current.


As I’ve been constructing this  over the last few years some of this may/may not have been appropriated from great content sages from around the internet, if you see your thoughts here it’s not referenced so please let me know. Thanks!

Comment