Preventing the Migration Migraine

Posted: August 25, 2015

Carissa Hoel Web Account Director

There are few things in life more thrilling than a new website. Well, maybe that’s just me. However, a new website is certainly something to be excited about! The shiny new design and ultra-intuitive user experience have got you jumping for joy. Then there’s the content. Oh, that content… Maybe everything isn’t quite ready to launch as planned. Since an institution’s website is the mechanism used to serve content to various target audiences, the content on your site is kind of a big deal.

Whether you are writing new content or aiming for a one-to-one content migration, planning the content movement can be a very daunting task. I know how you feel and I have been there before.

At first you are certain there must be a simple, automatic transfer process that scoops up content and drops it perfectly into the new CMS. Then you remember you have added, reorganized, renamed and even deleted pages as well as created totally new designs with new content areas and styles. (If you haven’t done any of that then this blog might not be that helpful.) From this point on, everything becomes more complex, maybe even migraine worthy.

Fear not, migration is challenging but not impossible and I have a few tips for you beyond purchasing extra Tylenol and investing in some relaxing instrumental music. There are many ways to create a well-organized migration, it just takes some planning and decision making.

Note: I’m not saying you shouldn’t look into and consider automatic migration tools, I’m just saying make sure you are completely clear with what those tools offer and what steps you will need to take to be sure content was migrated into the new site correctly.

Get the Picture

The picture includes knowing how many pages still need to be written or rewritten before migration, how many total pages you plan to migrate and where those pages will live within the sitemap. You may already have the big picture if you have completed your information architecture. If not, here are a few steps to take.

  1. If time allows, request content owners review their own sites and remove old content.
  2. Do a complete audit of the existing website. Your current CMS maybe have this functionality included or you might look into a 3rd party system. Taking a consistent approach will be important to help ensure sections weren’t left out.
  3. From the audit list, remove any content from the existing website that will not make the cut for the new website. We’ve also got advice on slimming down your site.
  4. Make a sitemap. We suggest starting out by going 2-3 levels deep.
  5. Have the sitemap reviewed by content owners and subject matter experts. Anyone else who may have a final say in the final product should be involved here as well.
  6. Make adjustments and add remaining levels. This should ideally be a collaborative effort.
  7. Have the sitemap reviewed again.
  8. Make adjustments and get approval from leadership.

Do the Math

This step is absolutely necessary when gathering support for your plan and timeline. Now that you have the big picture, about how long will it take to execute the migration? Can you execute with your existing resources? (Hint: Probably not if you want to get this site launched while the new design is still fresh.)

Content Creation:

This is a bit hard to estimate since the actual content creation process can be vastly different from page to page. Set a standard hourly estimate per page to get a ballpark. Say you already know the template design and limitations and your content creator or contractor is a fast and knowledgeable writer who follows a process similar to this:

  • Creator reviews current pages with similar content, makes an outline, gathers questions, speaks to a subject matter expert to fill in holes = 1 hour (so fast!)
  • Creator completes first draft with assets included = 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Somebody edits = 1 hour
  • Creator updates content = 1 hour
  • Final approval =  30 minutes

That is five hours a page. Your goal was to recreate content for each global navigation page (six) and you also identified 35 additional pages needing a total overhaul. So, ballpark of 205 hours for new content creation. But to be safe, we should add in a buffer for the pages that are more challenging or do not go as smoothly as planned, a 10% override makes the ballpark 225.5 hours. To put this in perspective, that’s 5.6 full work weeks without stopping for any snack breaks.

Content Migration:

The math for migrating existing content is also not a perfect science. Each content management system (CMS) is a little different, migrators will have different skills making some faster than others and each page will have different content situations from text-only to loads of images, PDFs, videos, tables, etc.. But again, we are going for a solid ballpark to help us with the draft plan. So the process for migrating is:

  • Create the page in the new CMS = 5-10 minutes
  • Add text using copy, paste, and an eraser tool to remove original formatting = 5-10 minutes
  • Format content by adding new styles such as bold, italics, ordered and unordered lists = 1-5 minutes
  • Add links = 1-10 minutes
  • Create tables, tabs, accordions and other specialty text needs = 1-20 minutes
  • Add files as needed such as PDFs, images and other documents = 1-10 minutes
  • Embed videos = 1-5 minutes
  • Miscellaneous. = 1-10
  • Review and approval by a second person = 5-15 minutes
  • Edits = 1-10 minutes

This totals anywhere from 15 minutes a page to over an hour for the very complex pages. With all of these variables, it will be important for you to be familiar with the content you are migrating. Do your pages require a lot of extra steps like adding files, videos and tables? If so, go with the higher end of the total when multiplying the number of pages. If your pages are mostly text with a few links, then go with the lower end.

If your content falls around the middle when it comes to complexity then maybe we say each of the 1,000 pages you are migrating will take 30 minutes. Yes, we are talking about 250 hours. Adding in a 15% buffer for challenges as well as an educational curve when learning how to migrate to the new CMS puts us in the ballpark of 287.5 hours.

Final calculation, you are looking at around 513 hours total. That included writing 41 pages and migrating 1,000 total pages, including the newly written content. I’ll spare you the shock of how many work weeks and miss snack breaks that adds up to.

Draft the Plan

Now that the picture is in view and you know the math, it is time to figure out how to get from point A to point B. There are many ways to make a plan so feel free to take the general approach outlined here and apply it to whatever software or technology platform you have at your disposal. For this example, we will assume you don’t have magical tools.

  1. Start by grouping your website sections into migration blocks. You can have as many blocks as you need. The goal of these is to take more manageable bites out of the migration and to have a stopping point between blocks to evaluate what is and isn’t working. A sample migration block might include the About Us section, one academic college (including departments) and one non-academic department.
  2. Make a spreadsheet or similar document that helps you to manage each block. At the top of the document, include the following at a minimum:
    1. Block title
    2. Content freeze date
    3. Start and finish dates
    4. Link to information about how to edit content once block is complete
  3. You should also include information on a page-by-page basis such as:
    1. New page title
    2. Location of the new page on the new website
      1. Consider numbering pages so the structure is clear. For example, Home page is zero, first item in global nav is one. All pages directly under that page should be numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and so on.
    3. Where content comes from (new/re-written content or an existing page/one-to-one migration)
      1. If new or rewritten: Info about where the content and assets are found
      2. If from an existing page: Name of live page where content is coming from and link to live page
    4. Content notes (optional but helpful when assigning a migrator with right skill level)
      1. List of assets like videos, images and documents and their locations
      2. Details on promos or calls to action
      3. Notes about content outside of plain text (links, tables, tabs)
    5. Migration assignment column
    6. Expected date range for migration
    7. Migration page review assignment
    8. Expected review date range
    9. Pass/Fail
    10. Notes from pass/fail
    11. Next steps
  4. Schedule a migration “block party” between each block where you pause progress to review what worked well and didn’t.
    1. Then share with future block teams and make adjustments to your migration plan.
  5. Continue this approach to planning for all blocks

Get Support

Let me be clear that I hope you already have support across the institution for the project. What I’m suggesting here is support specific to migration because you can’t do this alone. This means you need to be open and transparent about your hopes for the migration but also the reality that things may not go as perfectly as planned. Here are just a few reasons you need people in the loop and willing to give support:

  • You will likely need additional resources to complete the migration.
  • All content will not be migrated at the same time. If you are choosing to execute migration in chunks then clarify your plans and timeline or you may get some angry people who feel they were ignored or poorly prioritized.
  • You might need subject matter experts to lend a hand in content creation or in the page review and approval process.
  • If people aren’t involved and informed, you will be flooded with questions and requests.

Adjust the Plan

Get input from others and make needed adjustments before beginning migration. Sounds simple enough, but really think through who needs to provide feedback and on which parts of the plan will save you time down the road. Once you ask for input, be very clear what you are asking them to look at and the specific feedback you need.

For instance, you are requesting that each department edits their existing content before their migration date and then reviews the migrated pages and provides feedback or approval by a certain date to stay on schedule. By making it clear they need to identify an individual in the department to coordinate and review the department calendar and commit to those dates, you are communicating they need to have ownership. Otherwise, you may get an answer like “yeah, looks good” when really the department has a huge event that will be occupying their minds and throwing them off schedule.


Although this will be the most time consuming part of the process, I don’t have many additional tips other than to monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. Continue to be open and transparent with everyone in hopes that people will support you through the entire process.

Nap or Hibernate

Migration is finally complete, or at least phase on is complete. Napping might not be an option, but it is well deserved. At least consider a day off for a Harry Potter marathon with your favorite snacks.

I’m sure a few of you have opened up Excel and are raring and ready to go. That’s great! We can’t wait to hear how it goes as well as any tips or tricks you want to share. For those of you who are feeling like “information overload” is an understatement, that’s okay! We totally understand and we’re happy to help.