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Hatchet or Scalpel? 5 Tips for Migrating Content to a New School Website
Connor Gleason

You’re set to start the website redesign process, then BAM! It hits you like a ton of bricks: "What content do I migrate over from my old site?” and “How do I do it?” HELP!

For large districts with older school websites, that can be thousands of pages of content.

We hear from schools who are designing a new website that their old site had too many web pages and too much old content — it was bloated and outdated. So why would you bring all of that over to your new site during the content migration process?

Your new site should not be a 1:1 copy of your old website but rather an opportunity to start fresh, optimize your digital content, and focus on creating a better user experience.

When converting a website, there are times when you’ll need a hatchet, and there will be times when you’ll need a scalpel. You might need dynamite and start from scratch, but before you start copying and pasting into your content management system, here are some tips when rewriting and rethinking content for a successful website migration and bringing some order to the chaos.

Tip 1: Build a team before you start hacking away

Involving the right players early in the process will help you identify content that supports your school’s online presence and ultimately determine which content should be included. Consider asking these members to join your team as you prepare to transition your site:

  • Additional members of your Marcom / PR team
  • Graphic designers
  • Members from the admissions and enrollment office 
  • Division heads, school leadership & administrators
  • Brand/marketing strategists
  • Secondary school or college counseling officer members
  • Use your team to determine which content is still considered relevant to your school’s mission. Questions can include their thoughts on what the homepage should feature, how to represent your school community, and what pages or areas should be prioritized.

Keep Reading: Questions to Ask Stakeholders Before a Website Redesign 

You don’t need feedback on every page — streamline the editing process by asking them to review the pages and content they’re experts in and make data-driven decisions. For example, if there have been just 100 views of a page in the last three years, don’t recreate the page — there’s likely an opportunity to reimagine the content elsewhere.

Barrington 220's homepage laptop mockup

To help guide Barrington 220’s migration project, communications director Samantha Ptashkin looked at the site data to understand how users were using the web content and where they could improve the user experience and increase conversions.

“We looked at our Google Analytics to see our most visited pages, but I think the conversations with our staff and parents were the most helpful in providing feedback about what they liked and what they didn't like on our old website,” Ptashkin said. “A lot of those discussions supported what we saw in Google Analytics.”

The Barrington team also conducted multiple focus groups with representation from every school in the district and spoke with parents to get their input about what they wanted in a new website for the district.

“It’s key to get feedback from your stakeholders, such as staff and parents at each school community,” Ptashkin added. “That’s key to helping you come up with how to design your site and what features you want to have.”

Tip 2: Define your goals for new and rewritten content

Before your team gets to work, it’s critical that you set your objectives and define the goals of your site’s content. Define why you’re migrating content, not what content you’re migrating (yet.)

While visitors will expect a great user experience, a mobile-friendly design, and an intuitive navigation structure, your new content should include a number of factors that will aid users and will help improve the site experience.

Are you writing to inform, inspire, or convert users? Focus on content that is:

  • Optimized for search AND for people. Content needs to be found to be usable, and you need to make sure you’re writing for actual humans, not search engines. Google is getting smarter and can actually penalize you for overusing keywords.
  • Your SEO strategy should be based on high-quality content that addresses users’ pain points and answers their questions. To understand your families even better, perform keyword and competitor research to see what topics your audiences are searching for. Then, do an SEO audit for rankings before and after the migration to see how you’ve improved.
  • Easy to read. Folks rarely read, so make sure your content is easily scannable and broken up into easy-to-read chunks with headings, professional imagery, and in plain language that’s simple but well-written.
  • Mobile-friendly. More than half of your audience will be using a mobile device when browsing your site. What kind of content can you present that will connect with users who are using a smartphone?
  • Written for personas. Personas are representations of your ideal audience, and it’s important to use these to focus your content and to make informed content decisions.
  • On brand. The content and messaging should be consistent across all pages on your website — everything from your athletic pages to your calendar and the ‘About Us’ page.

The Ultimate School Website Planner

Tip 3: Think with a “content-first” mindset

User experience is critical, but at the end of the day, a great website design can’t save poorly written content that users don’t find helpful and doesn’t motivate them to take action.

Does design come before content or does content dictate the design?

Content should be a top priority and inform the design of the page. Before you lay out your first page, think of what audience your content will speak to, the message you’ll be conveying, and then how that content is interwoven between the different pages and sections of your site.

PRO TIP: Let content drive your design process — once the right content is on the page, then you can tweak the design or play around with different styles or layouts.

Tip 4: Decide what content to migrate — and why

When you move apartments or buy a new house, you don’t decorate it exactly the same, do you? Keep what’s working, and ditch what’s not. It’s also necessary to determine how you could shorten, streamline, or better organize content for today’s users.

Pittsburg Community School homepage in a laptop mockup

When Pittsburg Community Schools redesigned its site, public information director Elishia Seals knew the content and navigation were in need of a major overhaul. "There was a lot of content that was repurposed and a lot that needed to be cut," Seals said. "I originally felt like everything needed to stay, but eventually re-categorized everything because I realized it was cluttered and messy. The migration was a heavy lift, but it was an exciting move for us.”

Decide what content has value or what should be rewritten or removed to make it accessible, engage more families, and create a user-friendly experience.  Your team should ask:

Is the information accurate and up to date?

Content that’s more than one year old — with the exception of your district’s mission statement and other evergreen content — is fair game and should be re-evaluated.

Is the content relevant and useful to your core audiences?

With users’ attention spans getting shorter, your content should be timely and interesting. Ask yourself, “would I enjoy reading this?”

Is there duplicate content across the site? Can it be consolidated?

Migrating lengthy content from an old website to a new site defeats the purpose of launching a site in the first place. Consolidate long paragraphs of text into drop-down lists, represent ideas with photos and infographics, and organize your content in a way that makes sense. Less is more — try to make the biggest impact with the least amount of words.

Once you’ve collected, organized, and evaluated your content, your team can then begin to review the material, which is a process in itself.

Tip 5: Organize your content review and collaboration

Suddenly everyone gets an opinion, and before you know it, there are way too many cooks in the kitchen. To empower stakeholders, and manage content collaboratively, it’s important for your team to define a clear process to edit, approve, and upload content during your website redesign. 

Make sure you have:

  • A centralized content management platform. Content across multiple systems doesn’t help anyone. Centralize your content and place it where team members can access and edit material. When editing, comments and edits sent via email can make version control complicated, so make sure you can use in-line comments and tagging to notify people of changes. Google Docs and Google Sheets are popular choices. 
  • Assign your team tasks and roles. Assign roles, responsibilities, and tasks to people within the project, that includes writers, editors, proofreaders, and users who can lay in content and test the site for any errors.
  • A clear workflow. A clear process is important to define the order and understand the stages in the content delivery process. Knowing what content needs to be gathered, reviewed, edited, and approved helps keep everyone aware of the status of each section of content and visible deadlines.
  • A consistent style. When creating pages, you don’t have to start from scratch. Using your site’s website style guide can help save you brainpower by choosing from a set of layouts, colors, navigation, and branded design elements. 

    Pro Tip: While dividing up the work seems like a good idea to lighten the workload, it can result in a variety of voices, tones, and messaging. A style guide can also help create a consistent tone of voice, especially if you have multiple contributors.
  • Content that meets web accessibility standards. Your content should be accessible to all users. While there are a number of accessibility standards for websites, your content (which includes images, headers, colors, and avoiding PDFs) needs to be accessible to all users.
  • A system for updating and maintaining content. Your website is never finished. It’s a “living” environment that needs to be optimized and maintained over time. Plan review cycles every quarter if possible to determine if your site’s information is still accurate and performing as you intended.

Key takeaway

Starting a website redesign for your school can be intimidating, especially if your team is small. But whether you’re making big, sweeping changes, or small, strategic decisions with your content,  it's a chance to improve and create a better user experience for your users and the school community.

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Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.

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