FEATURE: Got Site Problems? It May Be Time for a Migration
Many of you might be experiencing limitations on your current website including anything from the inability to make updates to your site to an outdated design to the need for new functionality or trouble with your search engine rankings. What you might not know is the back end of your site, your content management system, could be one of the main drivers of many of these limitations. Enter a site migration.
A site migration has many meanings, and could be as simple as moving your hosting to a new company, or as complicated as a redesign and entirely new system. From large sites to small sites and everything in between, a site migration can help breath new life into your site and prep it for more visibility and flexibility to make updates.
Mark Knowles is CEO of Pixelsilk, a company that created the first SEO-friendly CMS. He and his team have performed thousands of site migrations and today, he's going to talk about when you're a good candidate for a site migration, some of the operational and technical challenges, and a how-to approach it if you're thinking about doing one yourself.
(You can also download your complimentary step-by-step ebook, “Migrate Your Site in 10 Steps,” by going to Pixelsilk.com/migrate.)
Jessica Lee: What is a site migration?
Mark Knowles: The word “migrate” as it relates to your site can mean a number of things. To us, a site migration is made up of anything from a physical server migration like switching hosting companies or switching to a new content management system.
A site migration can even mean something more abstract like switching your overall strategy for your site. You might decide the website is in this “place” that no longer serves the business well anymore. It may have worked five years ago, but times have changed. This almost always prompts companies to add new functionality, a new look and feel and new marketing tactics.
The more complex migrations usually have all of the elements I just talked about.
What are some of the problems companies might be facing where a site migration is the solution, but they may not know it yet?
There are multiple reasons folks might find themselves wanting to do a site migration. One scenario is where technical staff “owns” the website. Historically, they might have been the only people who understood how to manipulate the site.
But today, modern successful websites are being managed by the marketing department because it’s the most important touch point for your business.
Another reason is if your organic SEO efforts are being hindered. When the code behind your website is messy, it can hinder a search engine spider from understanding what the website is about.
That’s a big deal if you’re trying to get organic search engine traffic. When you migrate your site, you have an opportunity to clean that up, and make certain the new site is crawlable.
What are some of the challenges of migrating a site on an operational level?
On an operational level, if you’re adding new functionality to the site during the migration or you’re redesigning it, project management is very important. You have to think about how you are going to rally everyone who has a stake in the site to contribute ideas about what’s important to the business online. At the same time, you have to be able to know how to strip that list down to realistic and attainable goals.
One challenge in this phase is when you need to communicate the new look and functionality of the site for approval. After the research has been done and before you create the design, you should create wireframe mockups so everyone can get on the same page of where you’re headed.
But where this can get side tracked is when people get caught up on the details of the wireframe and treat it like a design. As the project manager, you have to make sure you manage the mockup so it’s abstract enough where people don’t get caught up on the colors, the font, the logo or anything else that takes their attention away from approving the general direction of the new site.
You should stay focused on the visitor interaction and make sure it represents the new goals of the site that everyone agreed upon. It’s a delicate balance, and operationally, there needs to be a leader in the site migration – even if it’s a small site.
What are some of the technical challenges of a site migration?
One is that you have all this existing content on your site and traffic patterns, and you need to be able to understand what those things are before you go moving them around. First is to identify the assets to make sure they are preserved and carried through in the site migration. During this research, you can also find out which elements of the site are not helping, and leave those behind.
This is an important step because if you migrate the site without looking at your assets, it could cost you traffic or conversions or some element of user experience.
And you might not have that skill set in house to be able to do that. It’s possible that you will need some outside help to take an objective look at the data and your content, and show your team what’s important and what’s not.
How do the migration challenges differ for sites of various sizes?
Smaller sites usually have fairly simple site migrations because the problem set is a lot smaller by nature. You can wrap your head around small site migrations a lot easier. Larger sites could have a dozen different connecting systems and someone has to make sure all of them make it over to the new site’s home seamlessly.
And on the larger sites, instead of just moving the content with a site editor type role, you might need a database programmer to take a look at the database format and programmatically move content from one system to another. (That’s under the assumption that you’re changing your CMS.)
And when you have a complex map that moves your content from one system to another, it’s not usually complete with the move. Usually, you move the content, see what it looks like after it lands and then refine the process from there.
You and your team have come up with a repeatable approach to site migrations, what does that look like?
We have a 10-step approach to site migrations that looks something like this: