CMS Migration Checklist: 8 Steps for a Seamless Transition

If you’re like most business owners, your company has evolved and grown over time. A successful business website should reflect both the brand vision and evolution of a company while simultaneously meeting the needs of its audience. After all, in today’s digital world, the majority of your customers will check out your website long before they contact your team, subscribe to your email list, or set foot inside your store, let alone commit to a purchase. 

When it’s time to upgrade your site, the process sometimes involves migrating from one content management system (CMS) to another, especially if your current website is slow to load, isn’t user friendly, can’t handle growing user traffic, or is incompatible with your new business needs. A sophisticated CMS like WordPress, for example, will have more features and customization options than a more bare bones platform like Wix, and will be easier to use and offer a broader support community than proprietary or less popular platforms. Before your team commits to migrating to a more robust and user-friendly CMS, it’s helpful to have a solid plan. Our experts put together this handy CMS migration checklist to help your team stay on track. 

Step 1. Crawl Your Website

Any thorough CMS migration checklist begins at the pre-migration phase with a thorough crawl of your current site. The goal is to avoid transferring any technical snags, SEO issues, or content gaps to your new CMS while keeping all necessary and useful content. A website crawl should result in a complete picture of the following:

  • URLs. Are any changes to the URL structure necessary? Will they need to be redirected? Map them now. 
  • SEO Meta Tags. Review all titles, headings, and meta descriptions to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Content. Include site copy, blogs, images, videos, and comments in your sitemap so you can decide what needs to be migrated and what’s become outdated or irrelevant. 
  • User data. If you have registered users, add their information to your sitemap. 
  • Broken Links. Nothing looks worse than links that lead to a 404 error message, so fix those pre-migration.

Step 2. Review Data Architecture

The data architecture on your current CMS and new CMS aren’t going to be identical, which means you’ll have to map the data on both to identify any variations. By reviewing the content and data, you’ll be ahead of the game in making adjustments to ensure compatibility, like field attributes, formatting, or URL structures, while removing any content that’s no longer relevant or useful. Take special care with custom features on your current CMS to make sure it’s part of your migration plan, too. 

Step 3. Create backups

Before making any changes, back up all your content and data and store it in a secure location, including the complete copy from every page. This just might be one of the most important steps in the CMS migration checklist—if anything gets deleted during the transfer, you’ll be relieved that you still have all the data and content from your current site. 

Step 4. Prepare the Target System

Examine your new CMS and determine what attribute adjustments have to be made before you transfer content into it. Since the way your content and data are handled and presented is likely to change significantly on the new platform, give your team time to get comfortable with your new CMS. 

If you’re migrating to WordPress, for example, you can give free reign to your creative side as you customize your site with themes, features, and plugins. While it might not be possible to replicate the exact website design you had on your old CMS, with a talented developer and robust page builder (e.g. Elementor), it’s certainly possible to build a similar look and feel. 

Step 5. Automate the Process

Copying data and content and then adding it to your new CMS is a complicated and lengthy process that’s vulnerable to human error, not least because the volume of information on any business website is likely to be considerable. Unless you have advanced technical know-how and plenty of extra time on your hands to manually transfer all your data and content to your new CMS, we strongly recommend automating this stage of the migration process with custom scripts or the exporting and importing tools that are built into most platforms. 

For instance, if you’re transferring from Wix to WordPress, you’ll use RSS to import your data (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and an RSS feed is a list of content—posts, images, videos—that are consolidated in a single location) while a platform like Squarespace exports content in a file format that’s already compatible with WordPress. If you’re switching over to WordPress from a platform like Weebly or Joomla, however, you’ll need a separate plugin. 

Additionally, there are a variety of content migration tools available that let you move content from one CMS to another with specialized software that efficiently handles complex data while keeping it secure. 

Step 6. Trial Run

No CMS migration checklist is complete without a test run that simulates the live environment as closely as possible. Grab a large sample of data and content from your current CMS and transfer it to the new platform to ensure there’s no data loss and to make necessary adjustments. 

Step 7. Transfer Content

Now that you’ve prepped your content and data, it’s finally time for the key step of the entire migration process: transferring the content! Whether you’re going the manual route, are using a custom script, applying the systems-based export/import tools, or opted for migration software, just be sure that you test it out beforehand to guarantee a smooth transition. 

Step 8. Test it Out

The final stage of the CMS migration checklist involves testing your new site. Carefully go through each page and make sure that your posts, images, and content are in the right place with proper formatting and that all links, buttons, and forms work as expected. There’s a chance that some links will be broken, so either use a plugin to scan for dead links or use an automated tool. 

For the first few weeks post migration, it’s a good idea to closely monitor the crawl statistics in the Google Search Console and check that the pages in your sitemap are crawlable by Googlebot. Don’t’ forget to evaluate your website speed—after all, improving website speed is likely one of the reasons you transferred to a superior CMS! 

Your Website Should Reflect Your Business

While a CMS migration checklist will vary somewhat depending on the platform you’re migrating to (and from!) what’s certain is that both your CMS and website should reflect your brand identity while meeting your business goals and customer needs. At Buddy Web Development and Design, our experts take the time to get to know your company so we can deliver intuitive, beautiful, and easy-to-use business websites. We take pride in our projects and prioritize being great to work with every step of the way. If you’re ready to talk about improving your website, get in touch with us here or explore our work here.

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