5 tips for a successful content migration

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Feb 24th 2020

There are lots of factors to consider when planning a website migration project. One of the most critical but often the last to tackle is the migration of content. A poorly planned and badly implemented content migration strategy is at best likely to cause project delays and at worst, will damage the site’s performance in search.

The age old saying ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ is certainly true when it comes to the migration of content from an old site to a new one. It’s vital that you ensure that you consult with the right team members (UX designer, SEO strategist, developer and digital marketing manager to name the 4 main ones), allow plenty of time to plan the migration and have a solid process in place to implement it properly.

A good content migration process is more than simply moving the old website content straight into your new website. If you want to make the most of your website redesign, content migration should be treated as a strategic and well thought out process, and should be considered from the very start of the project and at every step along the way.

To help get you started here’s our top 5 tips for a successful content migration:

Carry out a content audit

It’s tempting to think you know what content you’ve got and where it is going to go on the new site, but carrying out a proper content audit is a fundamental first step.

Start by using a page crawling tool like Screaming Frog to create a full list of existing URLs. It’s a good idea to cross reference these against Google Analytics, Search Console and Google Index to ensure you've caught everything, including any existing 404s and 301s (as these will also need to be dealt with). Once you’ve got a full list of pages, track the content that appears on each page. This doesn’t need to be highly detailed, but a spreadsheet which details URL, page title, page description URL and content type is a must.

Once you have collated this information sort your content into keep or discard columns. Discarded content is any content which is redundant (content that is written differently yet says the same thing), outdated (information is no longer true or no longer relevant) or trivial (content which isn’t adding value to the site performance or the user experience) and no longer has a place on the site.

A website redesign / rebuild should be used as a prime opportunity to re-organise, re-structure and re-write content. Even if you plan on migrating a large amount of content directly over (which is advisable), it is an excellent time to rework content to make it more accessible, more engaging, and more user-friendly.

Cross reference against Google Analytics

When making decisions about which content to keep and what is no longer needed, make sure you cross reference against Google Analytics. Google Analytics data provides an excellent insight into which pages are performing both in search and as a key part of user journey. It’s vital that you ensure that all the high converting and high traffic web pages are migrated to the new website.

In instances of high traffic pages and core landing pages, the URL, page title, page description URL and content should be mirrored as much as possible to avoid a drop in traffic. Collaborating with your SEO strategist and digital marketing manager will be the key to this step. They will have this information at their fingertips, as well as a deep understanding of site performance, down to page and even component level.

The information gleaned from these first 2 steps needs to be considered front and centre in the new site’s information architecture and page structure, so needs to be shared with your UX designer as early on in the project as possible.

Create new content

Once you’ve got a firm handle on what's staying and what is going to be removed, you’ll be able to see where there are gaps. This should be done in consultation with your UX designer, as you will need to create content that fulfills their planned user journeys, taking into consideration the identified user personas and their stage in the customer life cycle.

Make sure you use Google Search Console to see which queries your users have been using to find your site and other tools such as MOZ, SEMRush and ahrefs to see what search terms are being used by people looking for your services. These words should be built into your new content where appropriate to aid SEO performance. Your SEO strategist will be able to direct and assist you with this process.

Redirect content that has moved

Wherever possible, it’s good practice to keep URLs the same on the new site as they are on the old one, along with the same page title, page description and content. If slugs are changing or content is fundamentally moving, make sure 301 redirects are in place to let the search engines know that the content has moved. This will reduce the risk of 404 errors, help protect page authority and transfer link juice. This practice ensures that the traffic to the site is maintained while also improving the experience of those visiting it.

Your developer will be able to handle this element for you, though you can make it super simple for them using a tool like Redirectly. Redirectly makes the job of managing 301 and 302 redirects easy, efficient and accurate and so, a manual job becomes effortless.

Measure and track

Once the new site has gone live it’s important to closely monitor the new site’s metrics, both in terms of traffic and conversion. Any drops in traffic will be seen almost instantly in Google Analytics. With any migration you are likely to see a dip in the first day or two, but all being well it should recover quickly as Google reindexes the site. If it doesn’t recover after a few days then you will need to review where the drop in traffic is coming from and make steps to rectify.

From a user experience point of view, installing a screen recording tool such as Hotjar will give an immediate insight into how users interact with the page and will quickly flag up if anything is broken in the user journey.

It’s also worth regularly checking for broken links. Redirectly includes redirect verification and 404 detection as part of the post go-live checks.

Find out more about how to prevent a loss of organic traffic after a website migration.

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