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CMS Migration Guide

The core steps for a successful CMS migration — including who should be involved, how to create and execute a migration plan, and how to resolve SEO issues.


When is CMS migration necessary?

We walk through the core steps of a successful CMS migration below. But first, let’s explore why content is vital in today’s competitive and customer-centric business landscape, and why a CMS migration can help. Consider the following:

Clearly, content plays a significant role in the success of a company — both in the short-term and the long. Yet, the biggest content-related obstacle that some companies face is not related to the quality or volume of their blog posts, articles, videos, infographics, or other kinds of content. Instead, it is rooted in their existing content management system (CMS).

Specifically, here are some of the common CMS problems that companies face:

  • Excessive server downtime
  • Slow website speed
  • Inability to handle large traffic volumes and sudden traffic spikes
  • Lack of usability and user-friendliness
  • Lack of integration with other tools and systems in the environment
  • Limited features and functionality
  • Limited customization and distribution options
  • Security vulnerabilities
  • Lack of vendor support

If your company is facing one, some, or all of these obstacles, then migrating your CMS to a superior solution is a smart decision. The remainder of this guide provides checklists and advice for pre-migration, migration, and post-migration. We will also look at some SEO issues that may arise after migration, and how to solve them.


What tasks need to be completed prior to CMS migration?

They say, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Obviously, this wisdom wasn’t inspired by a failed CMS migration experience, but it certainly applies to it. Here is a pre-migration checklist to help ensure your CMS migration is straightforward vs. problematic:

Task 1: Build your team

A knowledgeable, experienced, and collaborative team is essential for carrying out a successful CMS migration. Your team should be composed of a lead project manager, and representatives from IT, marketing, senior management, and any other stakeholders who will be using the CMS.

Task 2: Conduct a content audit

Once your team is assembled, in an organized manner and typically in small groups based on areas of expertise, have them conduct an audit to identify relevant pieces of content that should be included in the migration, and irrelevant or outdated assets that should be deleted. 

As part of this process, you will also need to crawl your website and all subdomains to get a complete picture of all URLs, links, redirects, metadata, and so on. Bear in mind that a comprehensive content audit is a significant undertaking, as well as a crucial one. 

Task 3: Conduct a data assessment

A data assessment is an evaluation of estimated costs, timelines, and risks associated with the planned CMS migration. It is important to work closely with your chosen CMS vendor or shortlisted CMS vendor(s) throughout this process, in order to assess key issues like anticipated downtime.  

Task 4: Create a preliminary plan

Use the information gleaned in the proceeding three tasks to create a preliminary plan. Make sure that you identify a critical path, which is the longest sequence of activities that must be completed on time for the CMS migration to be completed by the estimated due date. 

Use project management software to keep all team members informed, and to share the plan on a centralized platform. Keep in mind this is a preliminary plan. While you want it to be robust, it will be updated before the migration takes place. 

Task 5: Assess security factors

Identify and address all required security considerations, such as aligning the CMS migration to prevailing compliance regulations. It is highly recommended that you obtain official approval from all relevant stakeholders, both internal and external. Overlooking security details and requirements can lead to significant problems and costs in the future.   

Task 6: Get all necessary tools

Decide which aspects of the CMS migration will be handled automatically or manually, and obtain the necessary tools for each aspect of the project. Generally, automating content migration is recommended for large databases, documents, and media libraries. Your CMS vendor should provide practical guidance and advice in this area.  

Task 7: Refine the plan

At this point you should have a solid understanding of what your CMS migration will look like, including costs, timelines, and risks. Use this information to refine the plan, and share it with all relevant internal and external stakeholders. If you detect gaps in your plan, then address these concerns now. An old, wise, and very applicable adage in the world of project management is “an hour of planning saves a day of correction.” (In some cases, it may even be a week!)


What tasks need to be completed during CMS migration?

Once you’ve completed all of the tasks in the pre-migration phase, you can move ahead and focus on the most important — and also the most challenging — aspect of the CMS migration: the data transfer. Use the following checklist to help your team successfully navigate this critical phase: 

Task 1: Analyze variances in data architecture

In a perfect world, your old CMS and your new CMS would use the exact same data architecture. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Even if both solutions are similar, there will invariably be differences. 

By mapping the data from the source to the target CMS, you can proactively make adjustments to aspects such as formatting and field attributes. You should also conduct a trial migration with a large sample of data to reveal incomparability issues. As a result of this analysis, you may want to remove data or content that would otherwise slow down the CMS migration.

Task 2: Create a series of contingency plans

Even the (seemingly) simplest and most straightforward CMS migrations can be tricky, especially if there are hundreds or thousands of assets that need to be moved from the source CMS to the new target. To keep potential pitfalls and setbacks from becoming major problems or catastrophes, create a series of contingency plans that are mapped to multiple “what-if” scenarios. 

Ideally, you will not need to rely on any of these back-up plans. However, if you do — and this is likely to be the case to some degree — then the time and effort your team spends on this task will pay enormous dividends. It may even be the difference between a CMS migration that is remembered for all of the right versus all of the wrong reasons!

Task 3: Back up your content

While every task in this checklist is important, this one is absolutely crucial. You must back up all of your data and content before the migration, and store it in a safe and accessible location. Even if you (hopefully) don’t need this information during the migration, you may need it in the future, once the migration is complete.  

Task 4: Carry out the migration

Thanks to your team’s efforts up to this point — including all of the pre-migration tasks — you can now proceed with the data transfer. Since you’re likely dealing with a large volume of data, automating the process with migration software or custom scripts will make the process faster, and eliminate human error. Regardless of the method and technologies you use, make sure they’ve all been properly tested (as advised earlier in this checklist). 


Takeaway: To keep potential pitfalls and setbacks from emerging as major problems or catastrophes, create a series of contingency plans that are mapped to multiple “what-if” scenarios.


What tasks need to be completed after CMS migration?

Even with the data transfer complete, the CMS migration is not finished. But be assured that if everything went according to plan, you’re close to the finish line. Here is a checklist to help your team close out the project: 

Task 1: Test for data accuracy and integrity

Examine the data to identify and fix any formatting issues. (Note: this is where analyzing variances in data architecture before the migration pays off!) You should also sample your content to verify data integrity.  

Task 2: Monitor and optimize

It is only a matter of time after your CMS migration is complete — minutes, hours, days, or weeks at the most — before problems arise. For example, you may suddenly face a slew of crawl errors, or page/page element loading times may be slower than you expected. 

The bad news is that issues like these are unavoidable, regardless of how robust and developed the migration plan is, or how effective and powerful the technology. The good news is you can fix these problems as they emerge. To make this process efficient and successful, establish an ongoing quality control program, complete with standards and reporting protocols. 

Task 3: Decommission your old CMS

Once the new CMS is working properly — which means addressing all of the inevitable problems and issues that emerge typically within the first couple of weeks after the transfer — you can shut down your old CMS. As part of this process, you will also need to adjust any pre-existing workflow processes, so that they align with the new CMS.

Task 4: Train end users

You’ll also need to educate end users on how to use the new CMS. Keep in mind that for some people change of any kind — even the positive variety — is stressful, since it involves learning new methods and rules. Be patient and positive, and make resources available such as getting started guides, walk-through videos, best practice articles, and so on.


How can CMS migration impact search engine optimization (SEO)?

Whether SEO will be impacted by a CMS migration is not a question of “if,” but rather a matter of “how much.” Fortunately, there are some safe (read: Google-friendly) tactics that can help you maintain your pre-existing rankings for important keywords. They may even help you improve them. 

Please note that for all of the following tactics we suggest you work closely with experts who understand the intricacies and nuances of SEO. If you do not have this expertise in-house, then it is wise to work with an external partner or firm who will help you avoid making any costly mistakes.

Benchmark your analytics

Prior to migrating your CMS, save and benchmark your Google Analytics data so that you can do a before-and-after comparison. This can help you target and resolve any SEO-related issues that are contributing to relatively lower traffic or conversation rates. Key metrics that you should focus on include:

  • Average page loading time
  • Average session duration
  • Average page-per-session rate
  • Organic traffic sources
  • Referral traffic sources
  • Bounce rate

Also keep in mind that if you experience significant indexing issues post-migration, it might be due to the robots.txt file on your new website blocking crawler access. Fortunately, solving this problem is quick and easy.

Note: Check out the key metrics to measure your content marketing effectiveness.

Monitor all URLs

If you are changing your URL — and this is most likely going to be the case — then you will need to submit the sitemap for both your old and new website. This will enhance the discovery of 301 redirects, which in turn accelerates your new website being crawled and indexed. It’s best to crawl your old website prior to the migration. Then crawl your new website after the migration (and after you have fixed any broken links or incorrect redirects).

Examine and fix on-site SEO elements

After the CMS migration, you should examine the various SEO elements, paying particular attention to important pages that should be generating significant traffic. Focus on the following elements that are major pieces of the on-site SEO puzzle:

  • H1, H2, and H3 tags
  • Title
  • Meta descriptions (while these don’t directly impact search engine rankings, they can influence click-through and conversions)
  • URLs
  • Body content


Your path to a successful migration

A CMS migration is a significant undertaking. However, that does not mean it must be hazardous or daunting. Use the checklists and SEO guidance provided above to navigate through the pre-migration, migration, and post-migration phases. 

With the right team, tools, tactics, and technology, your CMS migration will be successful — and your company will surge forward on a landscape in which delivering the right content, to the right people, at the right time, and through the right touchpoints is no longer a nice to have but mission critical.

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