6 tips for migrating content-heavy sites


Less is more

I recently had the opportunity to manage the redesign of the International Trade Centre website – a site in 3 languages with approximately 7000 pages. To improve the usability of the site, we changed the navigation architecture, modernized the design, moved the whole site to a responsive framework, cleaned up the top-level pages and added photography to the landing pages – but we didn’t touch the content. And that was the problem.

This was mostly due to time constraints since we only had 3 months to do all this. It was a laborious process, since many of the templates and pages couldn’t simply be migrated but had to be recreated almost one by one. And don’t forget the multi-lingual aspect, which multiplied everything by 3!

A couple of months later, we are still “cleaning up” the lower pages, which is inevitable with a site of that size and a small team to maintain it. On the upside, this experience forged a great spirit amongst the web team. We even managed to deliver the project ahead of schedule and launched the site in time for a major international trade conference held in Bali. (No, we didn’t get to go to Bali.)

The ITC website, before and after the 2014 update.

Lessons learned

For your next major content migration project, I would strongly recommend that you:

  1. Take the extra time for a thorough content assessment. Identify for each section or page the following: business value, page views, exit and bounce rates (see Google Analytics), content owner, recommended action to take (i.e. keep, modify, delete). Be merciless! Eliminate pages with low traffic, low business value, or an unidentifiable content owner.
  2. Write master content documents optimized for the web and have a web editor review them. As we all know people rarely read web pages – even though I hope you’re doing it now. Instead, they scan. It’s also called “satisficing” or “thin-slicing”.
  3. Create illustrations and use dynamic graphs and charts (e.g. highcharts) wherever it makes sense. Good visuals are a key ingredient of good copy.
  4. Identify content owners and establish an editorial calendar that ensures that the pages remain up-to-date. Be sure to train content owners on web style guidelines and make sure that you have a quality control process in place.
  5. For multi-lingual sites, use a translation workflow tool that integrates seamlessly with your CMS. This ensures that content does not go out of sync or translations are forgotten.
  6. Don’t forget about search engine optimization (SEO). Enter meaningful meta-data for each page, use HTML mark-up from schema.org for special content such as news and events, work on bi-directional linking, etc.

In the end, the additional time spent cleaning up the content, making it web-friendly and setting up content update processes will pay off. You’ll see lower maintenance costs, better traffic statistics, and higher credibility for the organization.