Site Migration Tips for Business Owners

Person climbing stairs
Sue Spolan
Sue Spolan

An accountant we know was being held hostage. At least his website was. He’d contracted with a marketing company that was charging an exorbitant monthly rate to do...well, pretty much nothing at all.

The accountant wanted to extricate himself from this highway robbery situation. He needed to move his site to another host, and while he was at it, undertake a site migration in which he moved all of his old content over to the new design. His goal was to move from a proprietary content management system to an open source CMS.

It didn’t seem to be such a big deal. He thought he would just have a brand new website built and redirect visitors to the new pages. But the path isn’t so simple.

Cut & Paste or Automate?

It's not in the marketing company’s best interest to give customers an easy way to extract all the content and data on a site to migrate it elsewhere. The accountant thought that turning over his digital marketing to someone else would make life easier. But now he’s locked in there, and that’s painful. He literally has to hire someone to cut and paste every piece of content from the old site to the new.

Extricating yourself from a sketchy service provider is only one reason for a site migration. Another issue is a stale web property that no longer reflects the company’s mission and goals. Most websites have a shelf life of fewer than 5 years.

Perhaps you’re considering an upgrade from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8, a move from WordPress to Drupal, or vice versa. These are all instances that require a site migration.

Old Content, New SEO

You may think that the content on your old site doesn’t matter. You would be wrong. Marketing begins at the Google search bar, which means that all of your past content is keyword gold. SEO is built upon helpful, relevant content. Your customers are searching on keywords, and if all those great words from your old site just disappear, your site probably won’t show up on a search engine results page. Even if your old site had good results, if you throw the baby out with the bathwater, you’re eliminating all that SEO goodness.

On the web, content lives forever. It’s quite common to see great copy that happens to be 5 years old show up at the top of search results. Or perhaps you’ve built up a robust online community with lots of user generated content. These are your most loyal customers and you don’t want to take away their words and images. They will be pissed off.

Automating a migration means that a computer program will do the same work that would happen by copying and pasting but in much faster and reliable way. To automate a migration you need a programmer to spend time writing some code. She'll look at the underlying database code and develop scripts that move the old content to the new site. This may take a lot of time but it results in program that can be run many times and revised to handle different needs. It also allows for you to move millions of pieces of content without hiring an army of temps. There's also the benefit of scale. If you write a migration, it doesn't matter if you have a thousand pieces of content or 10,000. Once you have the program to migrate content, it can handle any amount of data.

Migration Advice

Here’s what smart businesses do when updating websites. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide if you want to keep your old content. Begin the migration process with that decision already made. Check with multiple stakeholders to find out if the old content matters to them. Great SEO exists only with great content. Keep the baby. Draw a fresh bath.

Learn more about site migrations for developers here.

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