Selecting a new website content management system (CMS) is often a significant challenge, considering the scale of data, forms, and content that, often, needs to be migrated from old to new CMS systems.

Once you have evaluated whether you want an open source (free) or proprietary system (licensed); determined your ongoing hosting costs, identified functionality requirements, such as languages supported; ensured that your new CMS fulfills compliance needs; selected a hosting option that ensures peak content delivery and page load speeds; and checked that your chosen CMS can scale based on your future plans... it's imperative to put a plan in place for a smooth CMS migration and implementation.

There are many factors behind the decision to migrate to a new CMS. In my experience working with large enterprise tech teams, most brands implement a new CMS for one of four reasons:

  1. A lease or agreement is up for renewal.
  2. The current CMS isn't meeting key business needs.
  3. The cost of the current CMS is too high.
  4. The technology underpinning the current CMS is outdated.

All too often, however, enterprises fail to consider the search engine optimization (SEO) ramifications of a CMS migration. Firms focus on the cost or required implementation resources—and less on the effects a new CMS will have on their search rankings.

What's particularly important for maintaining (or increasing) rank is optimizing for both site speed and page redirects. There are some ways that you can address those requirements—while mitigating risk and flawlessly migrating your website content.

Communicate with other teams

CMS migration affects many stakeholders within an organization, well beyond the technical team charged with the migration effort. You won't find success in a silo. Instead, involve multiple groups of the business from the outset: your marketing team, PR team, agency or in-house SEO team, and executive stakeholders.

Why it is important to engage so many business areas? Each of those teams has a valuable role to play in the success of your new CMS. Broad and inclusive involvement, from CMS selection through migration and implementation, will drive smarter decision-making and better business outcomes.

  • Marketing has deep insights on consumer habits and can provide useful information on user behavior patterns.
  • PR can help communicate internally and externally the opportunities that your new CMS will provide—or key challenges that it will address.
  • SEO has several roles to play, from determining your URL naming convention, to making sure that each of your pages is thematically relevant, handling meta tagging, managing internal linking, and conducting keyword research up front to guide your site architecture.
  • Executive stakeholders can provide direction and a clear vision for every other team.

Ask yourself the right questions

Having communicated your CMS plans across multiple parts of your organization, you must then ask the right questions about how to preserve your website's value.

Ask yourself: What redirects do I currently have in place? What pages am I pointing to? Having correct redirects in place is extremely important for SEO for two reasons:

  1. User experience: For example, you don't want to send users from an article page to your homepage. It's a poor user experience, and Google's algorithm penalizes poor UX.
  2. Passing authority: Pages should be aligned thematically if you are to retain "SEO juice"—which may have taken your site years to accrue.

If you are planning to migrate most or all of your current content to your new CMS, it's vital to look at your search rankings to identify what content drives the most SEO value. You can then craft a plan for defending your rankings.

That evaluation includes your site's backlinks, too. If you plan to decommission any of your backlinks, you need to understand whether those disappeared backlinks will result in your site's losing any of its domain authority.

Avoid common missteps

Because there are many do's in CMS migrations, it can be easy to forget the don'ts:

  • Don't redirect visitors to irrelevant pages. Imagine you have many links on your domain pointing to a single page. If you redirect those links to one or more pages that are less thematically relevant, your sitewide SEO will take a hit.
  • Don't think solely about internal usability. Almost every enterprise focuses its CMS migrations on internal needs, such as keeping costs low or ease of maintenance. Of course your CMS should address internal demands, but front-end needs such as page load speed are also critical.
  • Don't let shiny new features blind you from seeing the big picture. Integrations and analytics are great, but your CMS must ultimately deliver a better experience to the end-user. If it doesn't, both your search rankings and your traffic may suffer.

Keep a close eye on progress on (and after) migration day. To limit issues such as pages that go down or redirects that don't working properly, monitor the migration process closely.

Check SEO as the migration is happening, every hour or 30 minutes. Consider making one or more SEO team members available during the migration to fix things in real-time. And ask key questions during migration, such as these:

  • How many pages dropped out of Google's index?
  • Are any pages broken?
  • Which version of the site is Google seeing?
  • Is the page being cached and rendered properly?

Regularly checking your rankings during and after migration will keep your search performance on track—and set you up for even better SEO outcomes in the future.

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Don't Let Your CMS Migration Go South: SEO and Related Considerations

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image of Michael Bertini

Michael Bertini is the director of search strategy at iQuanti, a digital marketing firm.

LinkedIn: Michael Bertini

Twitter: @MichaelBertinii