CMS Fridays: The Ugly Truth About CMS Migrations

You’ve been running some custom CMS built during the internet prehistoric era (read: 1999). It’s huge, it’s a mess, and the development company that built it is charging you too much money. Someone on your management team has decided what the new platform is, and like or not, it’s moving day.

What’s going to happen?

I’ve been through a few of these, and they’re never easy. People always estimate the amount of work it’s going to be, and for the most part there’s no real thing as a straight migration. At some point or another there’s human intervention.

Here’s a few truths and what to do to move it along.

Just because it’s the system picked to fill all your needs, it will not fit all your needs

Content management systems are picked for all kinds of reasons (and more specifically, the people that help you those content management systems are picked for all kinds of reasons) other than the right reasons. Sometimes it’s price, sometimes it’s for personal preference.

It’s really about biting the bullet — most of the things you do in the beginning will take a lot longer to do than the previous system because the previous system was custom to your needs. No out of the box content management system will completely fit the bill, so you need to figure out how to alter your workflow and business processes to fit the new system.

What to do? Figure out the strengths of the system, and play to them. That might mean doing some work that you don’t think it’s the right way to do it, but that’s okay, learning a new system is going to take time.

There’s no such thing as a straight migration because it deserves a new information architecture from the start

Like it or not, the site’s going to take a lot of reconstruction, because legacy systems like that have outgrown their previous design. It’s like a freeway that’s been around 30 years — when you have to reconstruct it, you’ll have to build new interchanges, lanes will have to be reconfigured, and it should be just wider. Think a virtual version of the Santa Ana Freeway in Los Angeles.

This is a painful process, because that means moving a lot of pages around, and it also means editing a lot of pages.

What to do? Bite the bullet. The users deserve pages where they can find information.

The content will be no where as clean as it needs to be

Almost ten years of content entered into the site by people that have long since moved to greener pastures means that a lot of pages will have old font tags, some won’t be structured correctly, and across the board, every page will a different adventure. Phone numbers will be in 23 different formats, headlines will be in lower case, upper case, title case and all cases.

One of the great things about content management systems is that anyone can edit the content.

And one of the worst things about content management systems is … anyone can edit the content.

What to do? Set up some standards from what the content should be, including giving everyone a copy of the Associated Press Style Guide or Chicago Book of Style, and set a style guide for the hierarchy of content.

There will be a lot of content missing

Just because it’s a migration doesn’t mean it’s really a migration. There will be new pages. There will be missing pages. There’s will be new content structures. And someone has to write all that content.

That’s one of the biggest secrets of doing a migration: after a site inventory of the current system, what you thought was there you didn’t necessarily thing was there, so you   might migrate some of it, but re-write a lot of it.

What to do? Employ a content strategist or copy writer. You aren’t programming a new system, you’re using a tool, so the ratios of the roles will be much more to user experience folks and content specialists. You don’t need a bunch of developers, you need writers.