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Describes some good practices for migrating from large numbers of small subsites to a single, optimised site. It describes basics of content audits, information architecture and developing an ongoing content strategy.
White Paper- Migrating large amounts of content-Jeff Evans
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff EvansOverviewSince the web became ubiquitous as a means of publishing information in the late 1990s there has been anexplosion of websites, often with little value to either the site owner or potential users. Often there is aneed for a corporate or government web team to bring a motley collection of dozens of disorganised smallweb assets into a coherent single site. This paper outlines the process of migrating large amounts ofcontent from many small existing websites into a large, streamlined website that is designed to meetowner and stakeholder needs.The scale of the taskAs of April 2011, there were 312,693,296 websites1 and over 768,913,036 domains as of July, 2010 – anincrease of 826 percent in ten years! 2.How many sites are ‘large’? According to Boutell.com, in 2007 the average number of pages on websiteswas 2733. Now the methodology for gathering this data is a bit suspect – especially given the modern web’suse of databases – and four years is a long time online, so we can’t have a definitive answer to thequestion of the number of sites and pages now.While there are over 2 billion internet users worldwide4 it seems obvious to anyone regularly using the webthat there are many more sites and pages than there need to be. Ask yourself how often do you stay on aweb page for more than, say 60 seconds? Search engines aside, how often does a website answer yourneeds in only one or a couple of pages?What is a ‘large website migration’? A definition could include these factors: • number of pages, content items, or templates • number of systems being integrated • how dynamic or automated the site will be • number of brands/sub-sites • complexity of relationships between content.Why are you migrating your content?I suspect for many people facing a large task like this, the answer is ‘because it’s my job’. As webprofessionals we should, however, always aim to meet our end-users’ needs and, as a consequence, serveour site owner’s needs.No matter whether a large site conveys factual information, sells services, widgets or airfares it is efficientaccess to the content that will meet those needs. Merging or consolidating sites is a great opportunity toimprove efficient access by trimming unwanted or redundant pages and improving informationarchitecture. Page 1
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff EvansPreparing for migration will produce a better result and a smoother migration process. With appropriatepreparation there will be • fewer surprises • less bad content to migrate • better automation of what can be automated • manage stakeholder expectationsleading to superior outcomes all around.Website migration in Five StepsOne way to consider what might be an overwhelming prospect is to break it into five steps5:1. Vision 2. Prepare 3. Pilot 4. Implement 5. Maintain1. VisionThe vision for your new site must be concrete enough to prioritise tasks, functionality and content duringthe migration, and also be motivating enough to mobilise everyone involved. It must also (of course) be animprovement over the current site. The vision statement could include the following: • Define the desired state • Provide a compelling vision • Scope an Information Architecture • Site design • Site functionality • Tool(s) selection (possibly including CMS).Remember to ‘be realistic about your planning, so that your reasonable estimates align with what you areattempting’.62. PrepareThe most important tasks in preparation are to specify what content currently exists, what will be donewith it, and where it will end up on the new site. The best way to assess your current web is to conduct asite inventory or content audit.Conduct a content audit “Do not—repeat, DO NOT—skip the content audit. This process is not just about listing URLs and pagetitles. It can provide an extraordinary amount of useful, enlightening information that’s surprisinglyvaluable, especially when you’re fighting for project support and funding.”8 Page 2
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff EvansDepending on the nature of your site you might need a high level/aggregate or a complete audit. If yoursite has a broad scope and/or a very large number of pages a complete audit might be beyond the time orstaffing resources available. A complete or detailed audit records every web page, while an aggregatemight summarise at a sub-site level. Both quantitative and qualitative information should be gathered.Whichever type of audit you conduct, use spreadsheets and/or a database to record common data aboutall of your current site components.Quantitative content auditThe following fields might be appropriate for your audit, and additional data could also give valuableinsights.Aggregated site audit • Record ID • Total XLS/Size XLS • Page Views • Site URL • Total PPT/Size PPT • Site Visitors • Site Folder • Total Zip/Size Zip • Site Priority • Site Title • Total GIF/Size GIF • Content Owner • Date Updated • Total JPG/Size JPG • Approver • Total • Total PNG/Size PNG • Keywords HTML(pages)/Size • Total Other files/Size • Additional HTML Other files functionality • Total PDF/Size PDF • Total File Size • Comments • Total DOC/Size DOC • Report Last RunUse comments and ‘priority’ to rate content quality (see below).Detailed site audit (each page): • Page ID • Template • Maintainer • URL • Access • Approver • Page title • Keywords • Status • Format • Description • CommentsFor a detailed audit, use outline numbering in your spreadsheet to show each page/asset in the sitesstructure. Status and comments fields can be used to rate content quality.Qualitative content auditA content audit informs a content strategyWhile the above data provides planning information, results of an audit should also be integrated with acontent strategy that will provide value long after your rebuild is completed. To assist the development ofan ongoing content strategy, add qualitative information to your audit. Set quality standards for the newsite, and regularly audit and review content quality. Page 3
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff EvansAssess content quality and effectivenessQualitative content audits analyse the quality and effectiveness of the content. As with the quantitativedata gathered, two levels of qualitative information can be gathered:Basic - use page freshness date, currency of branding, last updated date (if accurate), and note dates onrecent publications/newsletters, etc. The currency of content could be critical to meeting website goals.Detailed - add column/s to the audit and rate accuracy/usefulness with a weighted scale, eg. 1 = good, 2 =review/rewrite, 3 = archive and/or delete. This detailed assessment of quality may require input fromcontent experts.Other quality considerationsAssess the following with the end-user in mind: • Readability – clarity and accuracy • Usefulness and relevance • Completeness and scope • Influence and engagement • Voice and writing style • Usability and discoverability - including the structure of content within a typical section or page.Measures that can be used in both types of auditWeb metrics - While use and interpretation of web metrics are beyond the scope of this paper, for auditpurposes consider trend information as well as detailed measures of pageviews, bounce rates from indexpages, number of downloads (where desired). Naturally sites featuring commercial transactions need tomore critically consider click-through rates, keywords, ordering/checkout functionality and other aspects ofSearch Engine Optimisation (SEO).Page and intra-site links - Some commercial and free tools can assist Assessment of link quality within yourweb, eg. Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics can be used to determine links to your pages,successful search keywords, bottlenecks to goal pages or transactions and page loading speed.Technical compliance with standards - There are many ways to report on technical compliance withstandards such as W3C accessibility, CSS and HTML/XML code validation; other compliance regimes mayalso apply, whether voluntary or mandatory, eg government standards, industry or legislative codes ofpractice. Where technical compliance is critical this aspect of content quality should be a priority.Choose the relevant contentUse quantitative and qualitative rankings to decide which content is ‘ROT’- Redundant, Outdated, andTrivial. Clean up the ROT before migrating – the more content that can be removed, simplified or rewrittenearly in the project, the easier the eventual content migration will be. Publicise your intentions internallybefore killing off content, and, if appropriate archive and then delete the ROT from your migration list.Possible pitfalls to avoid when culling your site: • Removing valuable content • Losing value of inbound links Page 4
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff Evans • Losing keyword rankings • Destroy your assets and you’ll get a drop • Changing good conversion tools, eg. sign- in traffic - you’ll also have wasted time, up forms effort and money.Avoid analysis paralysis • Don’t measure everything • Focus on 3 to 5 metrics to inform your • Simple is better than complicated decisions (eg. Unique visitors, total pageviews, bounce rate).Information ArchitectureInformation architecture (IA) is a huge topic, and on large sites is probably best handled by experts familiarwith the art and science of organising how a websites content is organised and presented to its users tofacilitate navigation and search functions. Here is an overview of redeveloping an IA:Use "top-down" and "bottom-up" approachesA typical "top-down” review will focus on the big picture, on your business goals and the main tasks thatthe site supports. It will include: • Category review • Structural review •Review of navigation labelsA "bottom-up" review will focus a more detailed view of your content. It might include: • Review of page titles • Review of page • Review of file and structures: content directory names chunking and labellingAn IA project could take longer than the content audit, and may involve multiple rounds of user testingbefore a workable structure can be built.Wireframes and templatesMany online (free and paid) services provide tools to develop (and test) wireframes. Wireframe designs canassist with user testing (and users can inform your wireframes). Remember not to provide too muchstyling on your wireframes, as users get fixed on colours & headings rather than layout and usability.Based on wireframe testing, develop page templates for the major types of pages. Draft page templatescan be used to begin the ‘technical build’, ie. create working HTML pages with placeholder content.Display page level navigation, content types and functional elements and can be used to provide anindication of the user visual and navigation experience. Focus on information structure rather than design.3. PilotStages in piloting your new site should include • Systems configuration/ • Launch the pilot • Period for fixing issues development discovered in the pilot • Content migration • Period where actual users • Page 5
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff Evans use the piloted site (UAT)Pilot the site with representative users, and consider multiple iterations of user testing – hire in expertise,or do it yourself. User testing need not be a major project; more than six users won’t provide additionalinsights according to usability guru Jacob Neilsen.4. ImplementNote – this section does not include the selection/installation of a Content Management System.The site build might be outsourced or done in-house if you have resources. Insights from the IA and usertesting feedback should help keep pathways trimmed (fewer entry points to sections of content).Your implementation could include: • Staffing - if needed (see below) • Detailed content migration plan – use MS Project, BaseCamp etc. to structure the migration • Tracking metrics – report your progress to management (eg. on % of migration by type, eg. pages, sites, special content/functionality, templates, etc).Steps in implementationSome of these steps could occur concurrently: • Migrate selected content in batches, with time in between to fix rules and process • Automated migration of some types of content (eg. create & populate document repository) • Manual migration (eg. replacing and testing of new page templates) • Continued fixes • Communications plan to flag pending launch to staff and end-users • Author and/or publisher training • Set up ongoing metrics / KPIs • Test and tweak • Launch – include your stakeholders in an event • Seek feedback regularly o user group meetings o internal and external social media.Staffing issues/roles to consider: • Site Manager # • Project Manager * • Content Manager # • Web Developers/Application developers * • Liaisons and Coordinators # (in web team) • Designer/s (graphics and/or web design) * • Editors / Writers * • Help Desk - ongoing & over migration *# • Subject Matter Experts # • Trainers * • Content Publishers # • Executive Sponsorship # Page 6
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff Evans * could be contractors or in-house # must be located in business unitsDon’t forget to optimise search, both internal and external• Over 52% of web users use search to find your site – develop Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategies & capability (especially on transaction-based sites)• Site search is less used, but still important to many users; another source of valuable information.5. MaintainLike the audit process, maintenance of your new site will benefit from both quantitative and qualitativemeasures.Quantitative measuresCheck for link rot – regular (weekly/monthly) automated scans for both internal and external broken linksis critical to ensure user satisfaction. Develop user friendly ‘404 error’ pages in case links do break.Check page load times – free or paid software can provide information to improve efficiency of useraccess.Use metrics and user testing - constantly review these critical elements: • Navigation labels • SEO and keyword quality • Paths to user goalsQualitative measuresAsk your site users about the site: • Web2.0 tools – consider a Facebook presence, Twitter account (make sure you monitor these tools and listen to your site users) • Feedback forms – built in to your site or an external service, eg. getsatisfaction.com • User testing – with internal and external stakeholders.Where to from here? • To avoid the need to go through this process too often, develop a content strategy. A strategy will provide ways to ensure and check content quality regularly, and if you stick to your strategy a rebuild will be much less painful and costly next time.References1. Netcraft, http://bit.ly/hiSA7d2. Internet Systems Consortium, http://www.isc.org/3. Boutell.com http://bit.ly/ifxsug Page 7
Migrating large amounts of content Jeff Evans4. Internetworldstats.com, http://bit.ly/f298Uj5. From Web Site Migration, Implementation, or Redesign in Five Steps, Hobbs on tech bloghttp://bit.ly/hppKGi6. Web Site Migration Handbook, by David Hobbs http://bit.ly/i4gMdj7. Why estimate? Im not getting more resources for this site migration. WelchmanPierpoint http://bit.ly/i6URqL8. Page 8