However much we’d all love to be married to a single content management system forever and ever (amen), migrating from one CMS to another does tend to happen during a business website’s lifetime. There are any number of perfectly valid reasons for this – the current platform not being flexible enough, growth needs, new products or services or just time for a site refresh (which is often seen as a good time to revisit the whole lot).
What is important, though, is the need to manage the process as you change your CMS. Content really can be like an excitable flock of pugs– manage it well and the arrangement has everyone cooing, but make a mess of it and the entire place ends up covered in tatty feathers and general crap. It might be that you’re doing this as part of a wider site launch project which of course has bigger picture implications, but if you are literally just hopping platforms then there are at least three pretty fundamental things you need to think about in between the excitement of a whole new CMS to play with.
Firstly, migrating content. Who is going to move it from the old CMS to the new one, and how? Some platforms let you play musical databases and a good developer able to import things will save you a lot of effort, but actually this can be a great time to review your content anyway. Dive into your analytics post-haste – what should you keep, what should you ditch and what could do with an update or fresh coat of paint?
Secondly your URL structure, which is often overlooked when you move CMS. “Oh, it is just the content management system, isn’t it?” Different systems handle URLs in different ways and some have funny restrictions and eccentricities – triple check with your developer and don’t forget to do a 301 plan if you need one or your site visibility – and traffic – will be a thing of the past.
Finally, the existing and new CMS functionality really needs to be properly compared – it makes my jaw drop in astonishment at how often a client will buy into a new technology (often quite expensively) without properly reviewing it in comparison to whatever they’re currently using. Make sure you check expansion/addon capabilities against what the CMS can do “out of the box,” too. WordPress, for example, is actually pretty naff and not good for much aside from some basic blogging when taken straight off the shelf – but install the right plugins and extensions and it’ll blow many custom-built solutions away.
Once all the usual logistics are covered (and pay attention to these, especially if you’re looking to integrate with any sort of fulfilment or booking or other “behind the scenes” system) then I highly recommend paying attention to the functionality the CMS has for search-based requirements.
Astonishingly there are still some commercial, and quite pricey, content management systems out there which don’t handle basic things like meta data without extensions. Many more will make life difficult if you try to add something simple like an image alt, and nearly all will go to pieces when confronted with semantic markup like schema.org – I’ve been plenty that will actually strip things like this out of the code if you try to add them manually into the HTML view. URL taxonomy is another thing to watch for carefully – some CMS clean URLs are autogenerated with no way to edit, or just produce an output that can politely be described as deranged.
In the end you choose your CMS (and you have to live with it) but a little forethought when you’re going about making your selection can save an awful lot of long-term headaches. Don’t just look at function, price, open vs closed source, longevity and so forth – make sure you think search, because no matter how yummy all your content looks in its new home there’s pretty much no point in the entire exercise if nobody apart from you can actually find it.