Since the end of summer 2018, the work and planning around our new website has been gaining momentum. A vendor and integration partner for the new CMS will be announced in the coming days. This is an incredibly exciting time as it means we can now move forward and start solidifying our plans.
One of the biggest challenges we face is how we migrate web content from the current website to the new one. You could say it’s a bit like moving house and, like any move, if we want things to go well we need to spend some time preparing and planning to avoid unexpected surprises.
Where to start?
With a website of 90,000 pages indexed by Google (we managed to get it down from 540,000 😮), the migration process could be daunting to say the least. An obvious starting point might be content that delivers the most value to our users, while also playing a key role in achieving the University’s business objectives. If we follow that logic, there’s a strong case for migrating Staff Profiles or Course Pages first. Both rank high in our core business survey and play a key role in student recruitment/income generation and promoting the teaching and research activities of our staff. We also know from our design sprints with staff and students that people like to think of courses and profiles as the common denominator that connects all of our web content.
Whether it’s courses, staff profiles, or something else we tackle first, content migration should be about just as much improve content and produce results since it’s just about moving stuff. After all, we are not simply replicating the current website (with all its flaws) in a new CMS and with a new design.
Where to put it?
If you’ll allow me to elaborate on the metaphor further, when we move house it forces us to think about where our things belong. Sometimes it’s quite obvious. For example, the grater goes in the kitchen and not in the shower (unless you’re a little weird). We then box it with a load of other kitchen accessories and label it « kitchen ».
In the case of web content, where something belongs is often a much more difficult question to answer than where to put our grater. In the past we have grouped content items to reflect the structure of the University. This approach produces a siled website; we miss the opportunity to make connections between different types of content across the university and the user experience is often characterized by confusion and frustration.
A better starting point for deciding where content belongs is an understanding of the user need it is intended to satisfy rather than how it relates to our internal structure. Once we know that, we can start grouping related content items, or better yet, ask users how they think these items should be grouped.
For example, our research with users has shown that they see « Campus‘ as a natural grouping for core tasks such as getting details about campus facilities, building opening hours, room reservations, and travel information.
Similarly, users expressed a preference for core activities such as paying tuition fees, ordering a new student ID, applying for a visa, and registering with a doctor to group under « Support‘.
There’s still some work to be done to define our site’s navigation and architecture, but evidence and best practices suggest that when someone reaches a page we should delete things that aren’t related to the activity they’re trying to perform . Web guru Gerry McGovern hit the nail on the head when he spoke about it at the Event Apart 2018 conference:
“When someone is on a page, trust that they want to be on that page. Trust that the person is where they want to be. And then it’s your job to keep them going. With Amazon, when you choose musical instruments, navigation changes and is reduced to only things related to that choice. If you want to simplify, you need to eliminate everything that is not related to the task at hand. Also, make sure you clearly and immediately establish where they are.
There is another factor that comes into play when we migrate content and it concerns quality.
Back to our move and our much-loved cheese grater, let’s say you decide she’s looking a little tired and grated one too many Parmesan slices. Putting sentimental attachment aside, make the executive decision to buy a nice new grater. That means there’s less chance that something will detract from your experience when you move into your beautiful new home. Like moving our assets, migrating web content from old to new website will give us an opportunity to address the question of whether it is fit for purpose.
As our website has grown over the last 25 years or so, in a very haphazard and unpredictable way, parts of it that worked perfectly a few years ago are now struggling to meet today’s standards. Moving crappy content to the new website would be counterproductive and sort of a missed opportunity. We need to have a clear understanding of our content quality standards before we start moving them. This is where our wonderful Content style guide it presents itself, helping us make informed decisions and a consistent approach to things like voice, tone, writing style, and commonly used terms.
Definition of content types
As we begin the process of editing and reviewing content for migration, we should start to see patterns and similarities. These templates allow us to produce types of content. Think of content types as predefined structures or templates in the CMS that divide our content into chunks or fields.
Structuring our content has many advantages. First, it prompts us once again to think about the purpose (why does it exist and what user need does it address?).
Secondly, it offers users a consistent experience when reading similar types of content on the website. This creates reassurance and trust, nothing negative for our brand.
Finally, by dividing the content into small pieces, we increase the possibility of being reused in different ways. For example, we might have a content type called « student profile » that we break down into various fields such as name, country, course, and citation. In addition to displaying the quote on the profile page, we can be really clever and automatically display it on the appropriate course page. This makes our content work harder for us and move away from the idea of content belonging to one place to a model where blocks of content can be published in multiple places.
The structuring of content also opens up the possibility of being read more easily by search engines and voice recognition systems such as Alexa and Siri. By structuring content, we future-proof it and make it more robust and flexible.
Prepare our content
Over the last two years we have made a concerted effort to improve the quality and structure of our content, as we have launched new versions of school, subject, department and service websites, so that these pages are easier to migrate when the new CMS is ready. Below are just a few examples of how we have structured our content.
Examples of content types
|Study topic||Tell a story about an aspect of our research, student experience, staff activity and industry engagement.||The implications of withdrawing from the EU|
|Guide||Explain how to use one of our services or perform a business.||Print from your laptop|
|Ease||Provide supporting information for a place, service or equipment that supports student and staff activities.||General Workshop|
|Publication||Provide links to University documents and associated metadata and supporting information.||Template and guide for the annual report on school learning and teaching improvement|
|Staff profile||View contact details and profiles of university support and academic staff. List of Academic Staff Research Results and Publications.||Jacques Hartmann|
|Company information||View University policies, regulations, procedures and other information related to governance.||In development|
|Project||Demonstrate the objectives, phases and results of university research and projects.||Zinc house|
Let it go
Like our cheese grater, we too should be ready to admit that some content has had its day and, for the good grater (sorry), it’s better to throw it in the trash. It would just be an unwanted and unused burden if it were moved to a new location and could potentially hinder access to better content. Given the amount of time and energy that may have gone into creating content, it’s understandable that some people may be reluctant to remove it, even if it’s past its expiration date. Perhaps difficult but constructive discussions are needed in this situation. We can also use the persuasive power of data and user testing to help content owners gain a broader view of how a single piece of content fits into a user’s journey, and together, we can make evidence-based decisions.