Everyone knows procrastination is generally a bad idea, yet we all seem to do it. Website redesigns are no exception. A website redesign project is made up of many moving parts - user interface design, CMS architecture, programming, HTML/CSS, integrations, testing, etc. These are often very complicated and time consuming phases that require careful planning and attention to detail. However, the most important component to any website is it’s content. It's the driving factor that determines the success or failure of your website. Still, all to often, we’ve seen content planning and development relegated to the end phases of a project as the final wrap up item to knock out before launch.
“I know we’ve got 10,000 pieces of content to migrate. We’ll get to that soon. But first, can you make the logo pop more?"
“We’ve got 10,000 pieces of content to migrate... Holy s*#t!"
Not to sound alarmist, but getting your content in order is critical to any successful redesign, so don’t wait until the end to handle it! We’ve seen too many website launches delayed for months and months, even as much as a year, because the content strategy was left to be addressed after delivery of a finished shell website. Whatever your concept is for the amount of content work required, its best to assume it will be way more than you expect.
Start from Day One
Contracts are signed, team is assembled, Discovery is complete, motivation is high… Its time to start your content planning. While the design team is busy conjuring up amazing visions of the next great online masterpiece, your content team needs to begin preparations for making sure the site is populated with quality content that will fit within the framework being developed. Here are some the content issues to begin working on:
- Content audit - document all of the content you currently have and determine how it will fit into the new website. Include current URLs, new URLs (if changing), and categorization (taxonomy)
- Rewriting - If your old content needs to be refreshed, identify all the pages that need to be rewritten and start the process right away.
- New Content - Identify all the new content areas that need to be created and the authors that will create them.
Migrating Content from Another CMS
Many redesign projects involve moving mass amounts of content from an older CMS into your new CMS. All the content is in a database already so it should be an easy migration, right? Not so fast. There are many issues that can change that “easy migration” into a complicated and arduous process.
- Hard-coded HTML - We’ve seen this time and time again. Somewhere along the line, raw HTML markup was either written by hand or copied into the CMS, usually as a table or side column for some special call-out. What ends up happening is the content no longer will fit within the new templates being developed or violates the new style guidelines. Usually, the best way to handle this is to manually strip out the offending markup, page by page.
- Responsive issues - Your new website should incorporate Responsive Design, but your old content may not be compatible with this. Fixed width content areas, tables, images - any of these could skew your otherwise perfectly responsive site. Again, this is generally a manual update to each piece of content that is affected.
- Import glitches - Even when the markup is clean and responsive conflicts are handled, sometimes the act of moving content from one database table to another can have unexpected issues. Unique character types may be displayed differently in the new CMS, random spacing issues may appear, meta data may not map correctly to the new structure. Whatever the case may be, moving mass amounts of content between systems may still require mass amounts of fixing and fine-tuning. And all of this takes TIME.
Involve an SEO Strategist Early
Often overlooked in the content strategy phase of a projects is considering the effects the redesign will have on SEO. Despite the design and technical functionality that needs updating on an older website, it has earned a degree of authority and relevance based on its content that you do not want to diminish, only enhance. A poorly planned content strategy in a redesign effort can negatively affect a site’s ranking in search engines, sometime drastically so. An SEO strategist will provide input on the following:
- Content quality - ensuring any new or rewritten content is relevant and supports existing SEO strategies
- Back links - A large part of the ranking equation is found with the number and quality of sites linking to your site’s content. Ensuring that these links remain intact is extremely important.
- Page naming and meta data - Even the basics of SEO are sometimes overlooked. Descriptive page names and quality meta data are an important component to maintaining search rankings.
- 301/302 redirects - If the redesign requires page name changes, setting up the appropriate redirects to make sure Google doesn’t see a bunch of 404’s from its index is essential.
A proper content strategy during the course of a redesign project that is given attention early and often will go a long way in ensuring a successful launch. Don’t fall victim to the tendency to put of until tomorrow what you should do today. Because if you do, you may be looking at an awful lot of tomorrows before your new site is ready to go.