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Content Migration Isn't Like Moving Day

Key Points

  • Content migration is just plain different than moving house
  • Just like moving house, migration is much more than a single day
  • Content isn't furniture or boxes
Related resource
Estimating Migration Effort | An approach to estimating migration effort to avoid surprises

In the real world, many of us have rented a truck, got some friends together, moved our stuff from one apartment to another, and then ordered pizza for everyone after declaring our move complete. Not only relatively painless but it was fun! That said, in the digital world a simplistic model of content migration being like moving day does not serve us well, for two reasons: 

  1. Just like moving house, migration is much more than a single day.
  2. Website migration is just plain different than moving house. 

Moving day is not a good metaphor for content migration

The moving day metaphor is incorrect for the above reasons which I'll explore more below, but it is dangerous for several reasons:

Before continuing, I want to emphasize that I am not talking about doing unnecessary or extra work, just that we should plan so that we understand what we’re getting into to reduce surprises (and perhaps even increase impact!). Also, I think the migration planning is actually quite interesting (and dare I say fun?), but not if you’re just ramming content from one system to another. 

The migration does not happen in one day

We all want to reduce the complexity of migration as much as possible, but, aside from the simplest of situations, a migration does not happen in one day.


Obviously we could define terms in a way the migration did happen in a day (for instance, if we restrict our discussion to what can be automated simply and none of the prep / clean up is considered the migration), but this would be misleading. In Website Migration Handbook v2 I define a website migration (this applies to intranet and extranet migrations as well) as "the transfer of content, sites/sections, functionality, team, templates, information architecture, and relationships from one platform to another." Even if we restrict ourselves to the content portion, I think the migration absolutely must include the sorting, preparation, and cleanup, and think an even more expansive definition is the most helpful to increase the chances of a high quality outcome. A problem with very restrictive definitions of migration is that the other elements just don't happen like they should, or are pushed off as surprises when they should have been seen far in advance.

Much of migration is in the planning and preparation, which happens before the actual moving day

Even if we stick with the house moving analogy, a lot happens before moving day. If nothing else, things need to be boxed up, and usually we need to first throw out things. There may even be more needed, like fixing the leg of the couch in the image above before moving it since we are concerned that otherwise the rickety couch will get broken during the move. In other words, much of the real work actually happened BEFORE moving day.

Much of the migration is in the cleanup after moving day

Just because all the boxes and furniture is moved into a house does not mean you're ready to throw a formal dinner party there. The same is the case for websites.

Content migration is just plain different than moving house

We just looked at the ways that migration might still be like moving house, but it's not moving DAY. Now let's look at why it's not really like moving house at all.

Content isn't furniture

Of course there are the issues of whether all your stuff will fit in the new house, or if your house will look too bare, but content is very different from furniture:

All of the above changes are significantly different than anything that furniture goes through in a move.

Content isn't boxes

In a house move, it is often ok for some things to stay in boxes. For instance, winter clothes if you move in the summer. Or perhaps you have some camping equipment that you know you won't use until later. But content can't just stay in aggregated boxes of content, except in some rare cases where you need to store archive information. So in most cases you can't leave stacks of content in containers:

So similar to content not being furniture and therefore needing to be changed, the fact that content usually can't stay grouped the way it comes over (like staying in a box) also means that it needs to change.

There should be a dance between development and migration

Perhaps in some high end, custom designed and custom built houses there are some isolated cases of where a room is designed around a particular piece of furniture, but in general the placement of walls and other features is independent of individual pieces of furniture placed in it. But in many ways a website is the content. So the order of things needs to be flipped: the website needs to be built to best showcase and accommodate the content. This means:

Estimating Migration Effort An approach to estimating migration effort to avoid surprises