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Content management system (CMS) migration of large federal agency websites is a significant effort that requires careful planning and execution, even when the existing website design and structure remain intact. Large websites could contain thousands of pages, graphics, files and more, which all need to be migrated thoughtfully.

The migration challenge becomes greater when changing from one CMS platform to another—regardless of whether it is commercial off the shelf (COTS) or open source. Migrating from a non-Drupal CMS platform to Drupal is a common a scenario RIVA’s integrated digital experience(iDX) customers face. We have several strategies we use to make the migration as seamless as possible. The following sections highlight RIVA’s top five CMS migration strategies, based on content strategy and content migration industry best-practices.

Create a Comprehensive Content Migration Plan

A comprehensive content migration plan is essential for a smooth transition to Drupal. This plan should include:

  1. Content Inventory and Audit: Begin by conducting a comprehensive inventory of all existing content on the current website. Categorize content based on relevance, quality, and priority for migration. Assess each piece of content for its accuracy, currency, and alignment with the website’s goals and audience needs as part of the content audit.
  2. Mapping and Planning: Develop a detailed roadmap outlining the migration process, including timelines, responsible parties, and milestones. Create a mapping document to match old URLs to new ones, ensuring seamless redirection and minimal disruption to user experience and search engine rankings. Prioritize content based on its strategic importance and audience impact.
  3. Migration Strategy and Tools: Determine the most suitable migration strategy based on the size and complexity of the website. Choose appropriate tools or platforms to facilitate the migration process efficiently and accurately. Consider factors such as content structure, metadata preservation, and compatibility with the new website framework or CMS.
  4. Quality Assurance and Testing: Implement rigorous quality assurance measures to validate the accuracy, completeness, and functionality of migrated content. Conduct thorough testing across different devices, browsers, and user scenarios to identify and address any issues or inconsistencies. Engage stakeholders and end-users in the testing phase to gather feedback and ensure alignment with expectations.
  5. Training and Governance: Provide comprehensive training and governance documentation for content editors and administrators responsible for managing the new website. Offer guidance on content creation, publishing workflows, and best practices for maintaining consistency and quality. Document key processes, protocols, and troubleshooting steps to support ongoing website management and optimization efforts.

By addressing these aspects, you can lay the groundwork for a successful migration while minimizing disruption to website operations and customer experience (CX). Below are four additional strategies for successful execution of content migration plans.

Establish a Data-Driven Content Baseline

Before initiating the CMS migration process, it’s crucial to understand the qualitative and quantitative data related to content. Quantitative data gives a complete picture of all the content you have (some content is often in hidden directories) on your site, as well as where and when customers are engaging with content. Qualitative data helps to explain why and how content is used on your website by site visitors.

To conduct a content inventory, our content strategists use automated tools such as Screaming Frog, as well as our customized content inventory spreadsheets, with macros enabled to analyze content in a variety of ways. The output is a detailed, quantitative picture of how much content you have, what content types are used, which content customers engage with and what content is current.

After performing a content inventory, our content strategists analyze the data to compile a content audit. By analyzing multiple data points and how they connect, you can form a holistic view of how customers engage with your content and why they might be motivated to continue engaging.

By synthesizing multiple quantitative metrics from your content inventory, you can identify the qualitative patterns that illustrate customer motivations and behaviors through your content audit. Follow-up interviews with content owners complete the picture. These exercises help establish a data-driven baseline that answer what content you must migrate, content structures and types, and how customers engage with your content.

Chose a Migration Method–Automated vs. Manual

When it comes to migrating content, you have two migration methods to choose from—automated or manual. Manual migration involves a team copying and pasting your site’s content from your legacy CMS to Drupal. While this is time consuming, and typically costs more, it may be the best option if your site has a relatively small amount of content, few content types, and simple copy. A manual process also gives you the opportunity to rework and revise content as you go.

Automated migration is typically performed by developers who create scripts that will pull existing data from your legacy CMS into Drupal via API’s. This process is more efficient when dealing with large, complex sites and when most of the content can be migrated as is.  This is exactly the method we used to migrate 100,000+ content items into Drupal 10. While some manual updates might still be necessary, choosing an automated migration is more time and cost efficient, and you have the support of dedicated experts to assist you along the way.

Iteratively Migrate, Test, and Optimize

Iterative content migration allows you and your content team to continue operations on your legacy CMS as the migration team conducts the necessary tasks to complete a redesign in Drupal. This does mean the migration team will need to consistently synchronize the new Drupal database with your legacy CMS database.

Another approach to this type of content migration is to transfer your content in small increments. This method essentially breaks your content migration into smaller, sub-migrations. After each sub-migration, you’re able to perform user acceptance testing and optimize the process throughout the migration rather than waiting until the end.

Both methods allow you to iteratively test for any issues while reducing the disruption to your ongoing content efforts in your legacy CMS.

Follow Your Migration Plan, But Remain Flexible

As the saying goes, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Content migrations aren’t immune to obstacles, such as legacy custom code incompatibility with Drupal. While following your plan diligently will help you avoid common pitfalls, migrations can still be arduous and sometimes go awry. Keeping that possibility in mind will help you and your team approach any complications that may arise with clear minds.

Be sure to regularly assess progress and adjust for any unforeseen challenges. Stay flexible and responsive to evolving needs and prioritize user experience throughout the process. By maintaining clear communication and collaboration, you can ensure a smooth transition to your new Drupal site, even if there are some bumps along the road.

In summary, a thorough plan facilitates a smooth content migration. By establishing a data-driven content baseline, crafting a comprehensive migration plan, and developing strategies for governmental compliance, you will be able to build a sturdy foundation for a successful transition to Drupal from a different CMS platform.

Embracing strategic planning, adherence to standards, and committing to continuous optimization will enable you to confidently navigate the complexities and challenges of migrating to Drupal, ultimately bolstering your digital presence, and setting the stage for long-term success.

If you’d like to learn more about RIVA’s iDX capabilities including Drupal development and platform migration, reach out to SVP of Human Centered Design, Sean Fitzpatrick.


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