At some point in your career as a digital marketer, you’re likely going to undertake a major content migration from one web platform to another. It’s a gigantic project for most B2B organizations. And unfortunately, there is no shortage of horror stories on migrations gone wrong—months-long delays, blown budgets, and premature gray hairs.

Every content migration is different, and yet the same five mistakes are typically responsible for all the mess and stress.

When Do You Need to Do a Content Migration?

A content migration is the process of moving content (webpages, pdf assets, videos, etc.) from one digital platform to another. The platform could be a content management system (CMS), a digital experience platform (DXP), a digital asset management (DAM) platform, or another technology that serves content to your audience.

Content migrations happen all the time, triggered by a number of scenarios: company acquisitions or mergers that require integrating another brand’s web content; website redesigns; or changes in branding or marketing strategy. In other cases, an organization’s bloated or outdated CMS can no longer support its business goals: It simply pales in comparison to the power and flexibility of a newer platform with all the bells and whistles to deliver dynamic, personalized content.

Today, there are myriad platform choices that may tempt you to switch. The global CMS market was valued at $39.5 million in 2018 and is expected to grow to $123.5 million by 2026, according to Zion Market Research. That means a lot of content migrations are on the horizon.

Content Migrations Are Hard, but There’s a Big Upside

If a migration sounds simple—pick up content from here, move it over here—I assure you that it is not. A B2B enterprise website may have tens of thousands of pages and assets to recategorize, rename, retire, or update before migration. It’s often messy and complicated, and the timeline can stretch many months and involve multiple teams and business units (BUs). If you’re not well organized, you’ll burn through your budget and face extended delays. I’ve seen this happen again and again.

Now for the good news: A content migration is a tremendous opportunity to streamline and optimize your content, maximize the performance of your website, and create more engaging content experiences for your customers. Better yet, it ensures that you’ll achieve a full return on investment (ROI) for your new CMS. But to reach that final destination, you’ll need to avoid a few pitfalls and potholes along the way.

Mistake #1: Attempting a Lift-and-Shift Migration

Doing what sounds easy can go off the rails quickly. That’s the lift-and-shift approach to content migration, in which you hope that automation tools and scripts can move your content with a click of a button and port it (largely unmodified) into your new platform. But in doing so, you’re pulling in a junk drawer’s worth of outdated and disorganized content, with an entire taxonomy or metadata system that probably doesn’t map to your new platform. Not to mention broken links, missing pages, and flawed journey flows. When you discover these discrepancies too late in the process, you’ll be scrambling to apply band-aids within the new system, wasting precious time and money.

A better way: By all means, leverage automation tools whenever possible, but recognize that they must be used within the context of a detailed content strategy. Today, most migrations are a hybrid of automation and manual review of individual pages.

Mistake #2: Rushing Your Up-Front Planning

Even chaotic content migrations had some form of plan at the outset. But if the project leaders didn’t consider all the ways that content needed to be mapped from one platform to another, the plan probably wasn’t nearly detailed enough in terms of content governance and process. Here are a few examples of migration snags that result from insufficient planning:

  • Glossing over taxonomy and metadata: To reap the benefits of a modern CMS or DXP, you need very structured content that can be broken into component pieces and served across different pages and channels. Too often, project teams don’t consider how a taxonomy and tagging system must be updated for a new platform and its use cases. Or worse, they don’t develop a taxonomy at all, maintaining static, rich-text pages that cannot be properly organized for findability. The end result: Diminished ROI for an expensive CMS whose most powerful capabilities—search, SEO, personalization, language, and more—cannot be used.
  • Sloppy IA mapping: “Where should this go?” is a fundamental content migration question, repeated thousands of times for all the pages and assets moving to a new platform. But in a modern CMS, it’s not enough to specify where a page should live within the larger information architecture (IA). Migration teams can fail to consider content at the page and component level and how it must be reorganized to fit a new system.
  • Disorganized assets and gating: Teams may forget to coordinate their content asset migration with their webpage migration. They may not have documented all the pages where an asset was surfaced in the old system and how they will map to the new system, especially with gating and forms. Assets can get lost and pages will have broken links to fix.

A better way: For an enterprise website, you’ll need to spend several months on up-front planning before your actual migration takes place. That means asking the right questions, detailing your content strategy and review process, and organizing all your pages and assets in a “single source of truth” spreadsheet. The basic steps for a migration look like this:

  • Identify: Inventory and organize all your pages and assets, including their tags, meta descriptions, audience or personas, etc.
  • Rationalize: Determine what you’ll do with all your pages, marking them with labels like “Keep,” “Revise,” and “Archive.”
  • Map: Notate where every page and asset will live in the new platform.
  • Migrate: Begin to move your content in small batches, then continue to refine pages once they’re in the new system.

Mistake #3: Setting an Unrealistic Timeline

This mistake could be the most common, and costly. Who wouldn’t be eager to jettison an old platform and launch a better one? Compound that with budget and resourcing anxiety, and you end up with a far too ambitious migration schedule and go-live date. Yet by trying to go too fast, your content migration can end up taking two to four times longer, in my experience.

A better way: Set appropriate expectations among team members and executives. A strategically planned migration can easily take six months or more. If you need to justify your timeline with budget holders, frame the conversation around ROI: In order to get the full return on your new platform—to take advantage of all its features and benefits—you need to conduct a careful migration that properly categorizes and optimizes your content.

After you kick off the migration prep, work iteratively: Break up content into batches, dividing and conquering tasks. With this agile approach, you can show demonstrable progress to leaders and improve or correct your process as you go.

Mistake #4: Skipping the Content Audit

A successful content migration requires a content audit, not just a content inventory. With an inventory, you simply crawl the site to catalogue and identify all your pages and assets. But an audit goes further, evaluating and scoring your content, both qualitatively and quantitatively. You want to see which content has performed well and which assets are outdated and need to be retired or updated. Your audit can also identify content gaps: customer journey stages or personas that are underrepresented on your site.

Many teams forego the audit in their rush to go live, and in doing so lose an incredible opportunity to streamline and improve their content.

A better way: Take the time to perform a thorough content audit and you will actually speed up your migration process. That’s because a good audit will dramatically reduce the number of pages that must be migrated, eliminating all the old and underperforming content. For example, when Cisco migrated its partner website from one platform to another, they whittled down their content from 57,000 assets to just 500.

Mistake #5: Overlooking Stakeholders on the Migration Team

Content migrations should be managed by a team of carefully selected stakeholders. In many cases, migrations are led by the IT team, and that’s a mistake, since the process should be content-driven, not technology-driven. Other times, teams forget to include key department members who need to have a say in how their content is modified. People can get very upset if they discover, after a new launch, that their favorite webpages have been eliminated or changed without their knowledge.

A better way: Set up a tiger team with a dedicated project manager and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all members. Include all the departments and BUs that should provide input on their related content, from product managers to HR and marketing.

Every content migration presents its own unique challenges and requires a tailored process and content strategy. But the mistakes that complicate them are almost always the same. By avoiding these stumbles and false shortcuts, you’ll arrive at your CMS launch date faster and go live with a far better website. And that’s worth every minute spent on a well-executed migration.