Three reasons “lift-and-shift” is a poor content migration strategy
POSTED : December 6, 2021
BY : Diana Rowe

These days, website migrations are pretty common. As CMS technologies and capabilities advance, more and more companies are packing up and moving their website content from one CMS to another.

Migrating website content is hard. And far too often, companies opt for a “lift-and-shift” content migration strategy in the hopes of saving time and money. Unfortunately, in most scenarios, a lift-and-shift approach can present more problems than benefits and prove costly in the long run.

What is the “lift-and-shift” approach?

A “lift and shift” refers to a website migration strategy in which the underlying CMS is replaced with another, but nothing else changes. In this approach, the content landscape is “lifted” from the old CMS and placed in the new CMS exactly as-is.

There are often two “flavors” of this migration strategy:

  1. Forklift everything over and revamp content strategy after migration.
  2. Forklift everything over and retain the existing content strategy after migration.

Both flavors can be incredibly enticing, due to the assumption that the migration process itself will be easier and shorter. But while a fast migration may be the short-term result, a lift-and-shift approach can create far-reaching content problems down the road.

Potential risks of the “lift-and-shift” approach

Wasting time and money migrating low-quality content

In most cases, a lift-and-shift involves indiscriminately migrating all of your content pieces and assets to the new CMS.

If your goal is to migrate all content—good or bad—without any plans of conducting a content audit/analysis later, you’re inevitably going to bring over content that is no longer relevant. On top of this, you’re missing out on an opportunity to strengthen the new site’s performance by identifying pages that should be improved or left behind completely.

Examples of content that should be re-assessed or left behind during a migration include:

  • Webpages that receive little to no traffic
  • Webpages with high bounce rates
  • Content associated with products, campaigns or topics that are no longer relevant
  • Content pieces that are extremely similar to each other

On the other hand, if your plan is to migrate everything over and perform an in-depth content analysis after migration, that’s a smarter approach but not very cost or time effective. Think of it this way: if you were moving into a new house, would you consider moving all your old, unused and broken furniture? Probably not. Why waste time and effort carrying over items that no longer serve you?

The same concept can be applied to your website content. Instead of investing time and resources migrating content that will be removed later, take the time before migration to audit your content and remove what’s not supporting your business goals and requirements.

Replicating a poor information architecture

Information architecture (IA) refers to how your website content is organized and structured. The goal is to organize your content in a logical way that allows your users to easily find the content they need.

Many companies believe their IA does not need to be reassessed during a website migration. Their strategy is often to replicate the sitemap and content organization of the old CMS in the new one. Unfortunately, these companies often end up implementing a weak and confusing IA within their brand-new CMS.

Reasons you should reassess your existing IA during a website migration:

  • Your business goals may have changed since your website’s IA was last updated- Perhaps your current IA prioritizes access to a product or service that is no longer a focus for the company.
  • Your audience’s needs may have changed since your website’s IA was last updated- Perhaps your current IA prioritizes access to your blog as users once found it a valuable resource, but now they prefer streamlined access to “ready-to-buy” content like your product pages.
  • Your current IA may have been poorly constructed from the start. It’s very possible that your website’s IA was initially structured without considering how your end users think about your products/services. If this is the case, your IA may be making it hard for end users to find what they need, resulting in higher bounce rates and lost business.

If your plan is to implement your existing IA in the new CMS but reassess and restructure later, this can be costly. Oftentimes, changes to the IA requires changes to the website’s user interface (i.e. design and development rework).

For example, let’s say that at the time of migration, designers and developers replicate your current site’s vertical sidebar navigation—a navigation style that best supports your site’s flat hierarchy. Later, you revamp the website IA according to new user insights and determine that most of the site must be 3 levels deep. Unfortunately, the vertical sidebar navigation style can’t accommodate this level of depth. Now designers and developers must go back and design a new navigation structure.

The bottom line: Look under the hood and assess your website’s IA for any needed improvements before a website migration. This prevents design and development rework that can be devastating to your bottom line.

Not fully leveraging the new CMS

Many newer CMS platforms offer innovative features such as tiered permissions, personalization, integrations and dynamic display of content. These features are designed to improve internal processes and overall website performance but unless you reconfigure your content model with the new CMS’ features in mind, you’re leaving a lot on the table.

This is especially true if you’re migrating from a traditional CMS into a “headless” one. One of the big benefits of a headless CMS is that it gives you the ability to create content once and repurpose it for display on any device and channel.

However, to fully take advantage of the headless concept, you must deconstruct your current content model. During this process, content is broken down into its individual component parts or blocks, so that it can be re-assembled for different channels. For most companies, this deconstruction process requires a complete content strategy revamp. And it’s ideal that this revamp occurs before content is migrated into the CMS.

Sure, you could drop in your content landscape “as-is” and revamp your content model after everything has migrated, but this inevitably requires expensive and complex CMS reconfiguration work.

A better approach: Rethink and revamp your content before migration

Yes, assessing and optimizing your content strategy before migrating into the new CMS requires extra work upfront. But keep in mind, doing this work prior to migration ensures that your new CMS is built around the most optimized version of your content model right off the bat.

If you’re preparing to revamp and rebuild your content strategy prior to migration, keep in mind that you’ll want to start work earlier than you may have anticipated. In fact, most companies should start assessing and rethinking their website content 3-6 months before the migration occurs.

The website migration framework we suggest is below.

Three reasons “lift-and-shift” is a poor content migration strategy

A phased approach such as the one outlined above may present a much different, elongated timeline compared to a traditional lift and shift project. But here’s the inevitable truth: A website migration is hard work—and the fastest way to go about it is to do it methodically.

Cutting corners and diving right into the migration work without any content analysis can be costly and dangerous. Instead, respect and embrace the need for holistic content changes when you undergo a website migration and you won’t be disappointed with the results.

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About the Author
Diana RoweDiana Rowe is a Senior Content Strategist at Concentrix Catalyst and has handled website migration projects for organizations across varying industries including healthcare, the nonprofit sector, insurance, and financial services. During these projects, she develops both the front-end and back-end strategies that ensure a successful migration to advanced CMS platforms such as Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager. She is passionate about helping clients develop a clear, comprehensive content strategy that ensures they get the most of out of their new CMS. Tags: