5 Things You Need to Know When Moving to a CMS

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Imagine finding an inaccurate phrase or incorrect link on your webpage and not being able to fix it right away. It’d drive you nuts, right? Visitors to your page might be exposed to the error which could negatively affect their experience, too. This was exactly the challenge we faced at HelloSign as recently as a few months ago.

Our marketing website was owned by product, so any marketing needs were tied to engineering and had to go through the formal request process. This meant that making even small edits was a slow process and frustrating for everyone involved. It was a challenge that needed solving. The first big step was choosing the CMS (content management system), and after some shopping around we chose Webflow as our provider.

Seeing as it was our very first time making the transition, we hit up Google search for some good advice.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find a lot of great information. That’s why – after successfully transitioning to a CMS – we wanted to share some of the most important things we learned. We’re a startup making big changes, and there are plenty others like us out there.

We hope you find it helpful!

1. When to Make the Move

The bane of any Product or Engineering team is to have to spend precious time building a marketing website. And really, why should these highly qualified teams be building marketing content when they can be tackling their own product roadmaps?

Here at HelloSign, the Product & Engineering release cycle is every three weeks. Prior to the CMS, if an update to an existing webpage was needed or a new page needed to be built it would take a minimum of 3 weeks. That degree of rigidity is unsustainable.

The tipping point came when our Product team was spending an excessive amount of their sprints building and updating marketing-specific pages.

A change was needed and needed fast–and that’s how the decision to move to a CMS was born.

2. The Mighty Checklist(s)

If you Google “Content Migration” or “How to Move to a CMS” and you’ll get plenty of results–but most are too high-level and don’t get into the nitty-gritty that needs to be thought through before embarking on a CMS migration. Not a single search result told us that we should be measuring “page load times pre- and post-launch.” Or that we needed to verify that the “sitemap didn’t contain any content from inactive languages.” That’s the nitty-gritty that we should have been addressing along the way.

By the end of the project we’d used two checklists:

  • A Content Inventory checklist
  • A CMS Launch checklist

Content Inventory Checklist
The first and most important task that we undertook at the start of the project was to create a Content Inventory list. This list became the backbone of the entire migration and is where we audited every existing HelloSign URL. Along with the URL, the Content Inventory contained details such as whether the page was being transferred to the CMS, whether it needed new copy or design, and the page transfer/update status ( “Complete,” “In Progress,” or “Not Started”).

After each URL was listed, our Product team identified which URLs would remain on our self-hosted product platform. These included URLs for pages that needed access to internal data, like account information. This was important for our “Log In / Sign Up” pages and particularly useful on our Pricing page so we can display custom pricing options or our API documentation for displaying a user’s API key in code examples.

CMS Launch Checklist
The Content Inventory list was vital to keeping our migration on track, but it was only focused on the content and didn’t address the engineering and operations tasks that needed to happen to make a successful move.

At the 11th hour, just 5 days before we launched, a golden parachute landed on our lap when a colleague reached out to a former boss who had just completed a move to a CMS. He offered up his deliverable checklist – the checklist we had been badly needing the whole project. It divvied up the deliverables into “Pre-launch, “Launch,” and “Post-launch” items and had just about everything needed.

You’re curious about this checklist, right? Wanna take a peek? We’ll do even better than that – here’s a Google template to use. You’re welcome.

3. Who Owns What (and It Might Not Be the People You Expect)

A CMS migration touches on so many departments – from DevOps to Security to Marketing to everyone in between – that the natural order of departmental ownership tends to get muddied up. So who should own the migration? Should it be engineering? Marketing?

For us, the onus fell on Marketing – but if I had to do it all over again I’d probably say that Product should own the migration. Yes, Product. Heck, if you’re lucky enough to have a Project Manager, put them in charge. Why? Because as we neared the finish line technical capabilities (and incapabilities) were coming up left and right that coulda (shoulda) been spec’d out from the beginning of the project.

As marketers, our goal was to move the content over from HelloSign to the CMS. In having this narrow focus on just content, a lot of the backend tech got lost in the shuffle that had to be addressed at the 11th hour in a mad-dash to launch.

The Mighty Checklist mentioned above will for sure alleviate of the technical elements that had us scrambling at the last-minute, but remember that you need to include all of the appropriate stakeholders from the get-go.

4. If You Don’t Have the Resources, Use a Contractor

Not a soul in the office had done a CMS migration, which meant we were in serious need of some expertise! Not only did we need someone to help us build out pages in the CMS, but we needed someone who could teach us all of the amazing things that COULD be built inside a CMS like Webflow.

With our designers busy working on our latest product launch (HelloWorks in the house!) and this was our very first time transitioning to a CMS, the choice to hire an expert contractor to help us was a natural one. It’s not unlike evaluating whether to try and build something in a platform, or reap the benefits from having a professional handle it. This was the make-or-break decision that helped us cross the project finish-line with a gorgeously configured CMS.

How did we go about finding our CMS expert? A colleague had the fantastical idea to reach out to Webflow’s support to see if they could recommend a contractor. Not only did Webflow get back to our inquiry in less than 10 minutes, but their response to post in their forum for a contractor garnered 13 highly-qualified responses in less than a day.

After a difficult time weeding through the candidates we decided to work with Joe Krug of Finsweet, Inc. and man, did we choose wisely. Joe knew Webflow inside and out and helped us provision our CMS into the organized and efficient machine it is today.

5. SEO/Traffic

We’re sure that in your research you’ve repeatedly read about how moving to a CMS puts your SEO results in grave danger. We read the same posts. SEO is one of our biggest drivers of lead generation and our page rankings were the single biggest worry that had our executive team repeatedly asking, “What are we doing to make sure we don’t take a hit in SEO?”.

So does moving to a CMS affect SEO? It’s now been 4 weeks since our launch and we haven’t seen any hits to our SEO rankings or to the traffic to the website. Many of the steps in the CMS Launch Checklist helped button up those SEO loose-ends that if had been overlooked may have been detrimental to our rankings.

Conclusion: But It’s All Worth It

Even though at times the project seemed painful, at the end of the day our website and company are both now more agile and efficient. The CMS has taken the busywork away from our Product team and placed the Marketing team in the driver’s seat where we can now spend our time optimizing pages with useful and relevant content and CTAs for maximum lead conversions as well as adding, editing, and updating webpages as needed.

Here’s what else we gained since moving to a CMS:

  1. A 130% decrease in page load times.
  2. Webpage update times (for minor grammar and formatting edits) decreased from 3 weeks to 3 minutes.
  3. Not having to rely on Product sprint schedules for creation or changes to webpages.
  4. The ability to unload valuable dev time from our Product & Engineering teams to focus what the stuff that makes us and our customers awesome.

You can see the rewards of our efforts by poking around the HelloSign website. Good luck with your own CMS migration and let us know how it goes!