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The Case for Replatforming: Crafting Your Website’s Remodeling Plan

By Somer Athari

July 18, 2023

jackhammering as a metaphor for replatforming a website

There’s nothing like demo day! Bursting pulses of a pneumatic hammer and long cathartic swings of a 10-pound sledgehammer signal progress for a home remodel project that actually shares a lot of similarities with website replatforming. 

We’ve all seen home remodeling shows. Homeowners decide they’re ready to commit to changing life under their roof. They lay out plans to create open concepts, remove load-bearing walls, get new kitchen cabinets and add new features, like a playroom, that better fit their lifestyle. 

Outside of fresh sod and a few flowers, the emphasis of the work is on the inside, where people spend the majority of their time. And nearly all shows feature homeowners that work with what they’ve got and not just raze their home down to the foundation.

The same goes for replatforming. A complete ground-up website redesign isn’t always the necessary option. To remain competitive, functional and address all users’ needs, a website might just need an overhaul of the back end. 

This was the case for the 13 websites belonging to Nevada’s Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (DTCA). They were in need of a revamp to modernize the technology, consolidate properties, simplify maintenance, and provide a better user experience for the DTCA admin teams. 

And just like a home renovation project, this replatforming required a team of experts to execute it successfully. In this post, we’ll celebrate and explore the benefits of replatforming a website and make the case of why this was the right choice for DTCA.

an ugly outdated kitchen as a metaphor for a website replatforming project

What is Website Replatforming?

Just like homeowners ditching their 1970s kitchens with bold and bright avocado green appliances and shag carpets, replatforming involves updating a website’s back-end without making major changes to the front end. Sometimes called “lift and shift,” replatforming typically means switching from one platform or technology to another in order to improve website performance, functionality and digital experience. 

Who could go another day with those macrame curtains, right?

By replatforming, a website’s capabilities can be optimized to provide a better digital experience and reduce legacy technical debt without undertaking a major redesign. Since this work focuses on the back-end, the admin experience takes precedence.

Replatforming can involve a wide range of changes depending on the scope of the project. Some common elements of a replatforming project might include:

  • Moving to a New CMS: This might involve switching from Drupal to WordPress, for example, or from a proprietary CMS to an open-source one.
  • Upgrading to a New Version: This might involve upgrading an existing CMS to the latest version or moving from an older version to a newer one.
  • Replacing Legacy Tools: This can mean removing, replacing, or adding new tools/plugins that meet current needs and/or perform better than prior solutions.
  • Increasing Capabilities: Replatforming can provide increased functional capabilities. For example, an e-commerce business can migrate to an platform that improves inventory management or integration with third-party logistics providers.

While replatforming can be a complex process that requires careful planning and execution to ensure that the website remains functional and accessible throughout the migration, when done correctly, it can provide significant benefits.

Why is Replatforming Important?

Replatforming is an option for businesses that want to improve their website performance, functionality and digital experiences for both customers and administrators.

While it is a complex undertaking, replatforming offers a range of benefits for many situations:

  • Improved Website Performance: By moving to a platform that is better optimized for speed and efficiency, replatforming can reduce page load times, improve the digital experience, reduce redundant systems, and boost search engine rankings.
  • Enhanced Functionality: Replatforming can provide access to new features and functionality that were not available on the previous technologies, making it easier to manage and maintain the website.
  • Better Security: Replatforming can help improve website security by moving to a platform that is better equipped to handle security threats and vulnerabilities, protect sensitive data, consolidate digital footprints and mitigate risks of unauthorized access to the website.

Just as homeowners are switching to smart kitchens, recessed lighting and low-energy appliances, website administrators can invest in a replatforming project to ensure that their website is optimized for success and provides a seamless digital experience.

planning a home remodeal as a metaphor for a website replatforming project

Common Reasons for Replatforming

Before starting a remodeling project, homeowners inevitably ask the question, “Should we just move?” There is no wrong answer, really, but there are tangible reasons for a remodel, like increasing functionality and, well, moving sucks. 

There are similar benefits to replatforming over other choices. Here are a few:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Replatforming can be a more cost-effective option than building a new website from scratch. Depending on the scope of the project, replatforming may require less time, resources and investment than building a new website. Additionally, replatforming could reduce recurring maintenance costs.
  • SEO considerations: If the website has an established SEO strategy in place, replatforming can help preserve the website’s existing SEO value. Building a new website from scratch will require additional effort to establish SEO value and rankings.
  • Existing content: Replatforming can help preserve existing website content such as blog posts, images and videos. Building a new website from scratch would require creating new content which can be a time-consuming and costly process.
  • Improved functionality: Replatforming can help improve website functionality and performance by moving to a platform that offers new features and capabilities. Building a new website from scratch may require significant customization to achieve the same level of functionality.
  • Brand consistency: Replatforming can help maintain brand consistency by preserving the website’s existing look and feel. Building a new website from scratch may require a complete redesign which can result in a different brand identity.
  • Longevity: Replatforming has the ability to increase the length of a website environment for years to come.

While building a new website can be an option in several cases, replatforming can offer several benefits, including cost-effectiveness, SEO considerations preserving existing content, improved functionality and brand consistency. By carefully weighing the pros and cons of each option, website owners can make an informed decision about which approach is right for them.

replatforming DTCA websites

Multi-site Replatforming Example: Nevada’s Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs

At Nevada’s Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs (DTCA), who manages nearly two dozen individual websites critical to the state’s travel and tourism marketing, was proving to be a challenging and costly task. After listening to the issues they faced, we agreed that replatforming was the ideal solution for their needs. Our primary goals for the replatforming project were to improve the back-end experience for administrators, update core functionality and minimize changes for front-end users. 

By replatforming, we were able to achieve these objectives and provide the DTCA team with a more efficient and effective management experience. 

Creating a Plan

Performing a content audit was crucial to creating a migration strategy and replatforming checklist. 

By reviewing existing website content, evaluating its performance and determining what content was necessary to bring over to the new platform, we were able to identify areas of the website that needed to be updated, removed or optimized. This helped us ensure that only the necessary content was migrated to the new platform, improving website performance and creating future content.

The content audit also helped us identify opportunities to update content, add new features that enhanced the overall experience on the new platform and minimize any risk to search engine optimization associated with migration. 

Ultimately, the content audit helped us create a more effective migration plan, saving time and resources during the actual migration process.

Scalable and Consistent Look and Feel 

For the DTCA sites as well as current and future sites, one of the primary goals was to create a single, reusable theme that could be used across all museum properties. We modeled the multi-site theme off the State Museum websites (Carson City & Las Vegas) to ensure consistency and streamline the website development process.

The museums were able to achieve a consistent look and feel across all their websites, promoting a cohesive brand identity without a time-consuming redesign or maintenance of each property. This shared theme also simplifies the management process, allowing updates and changes to be made across all websites simultaneously. 

With a shared theme in place, the museum properties can focus on their unique content and offerings while still presenting a unified front to visitors. These efforts have positioned DTCA for continued growth and success in the future, ensuring that they can provide a seamless and engaging digital experience across all their online properties.

Updating Plugins

When replatforming a website, it is important to assess the current state of the website and evaluate the functionality of any plugins that are currently in use. During the initial audit, our web development team found dozens of proprietary and outdated plugins that restricted limited functionality and created a less optimal poor digital experience for both administrators and site visitors.

By identifying these legacy older plugins, we were able to remove them and replace them with newer, more performant efficient plugins that improved website performance and content management. This helped ensure that the replatformed website was optimized for success and provided a seamless digital experience for all visitors.

Managing Post Types

During the replatforming process, one significant challenge was consolidating the different post types present across all websites. This required careful consideration and planning to ensure that all content was properly organized, made consistent, and easily accessible within the new platform. By consolidating post types we aimed to simplify the content management process and make it easier for website administrators to navigate and find relevant information. 

Content Migration and Ongoing Management

The content was migrated both manually and programmatically from older systems to newer ways of managing content.

Manual website migration involved transferring content individually, while programmatic migration used custom import scripts to automate the process. The combination of manual and programmatic migration ensured the accurate transfer of necessary website content to the new platform in a single and consistent format.

The team simplified the content management process by moving to the WordPress Gutenberg Block editor. This made it easier for staff to update the websites without requiring extensive knowledge of HTML, CSS, or Shortcodes. With a more intuitive interface, staff could quickly and easily update website content, saving time and resources. 

Managing the Media Library

One challenge that arose during the re-platforming process was managing the media library across all of the DTCA museum websites. With multiple websites, it was important to ensure that all images, videos and other media were stored in a consistent and easily accessible method for all the websites. This required careful planning and organization to ensure that media was properly carried over to the new libraries and reassigned to their designated pages across the sites. Additionally, it was necessary to establish protocols for adding new media to the library and removing outdated or redundant file directories. By addressing these challenges and establishing a streamlined process for managing the media library, the DTCA museum websites were able to efficiently present a cohesive and engaging digital experience for visitors.

Replatforming in a Multi-site Environment

During the development phase, code updates were pushed from GitHub to the development environments of the existing DTCA museum sites and used this environment to replatform the sites. When we were ready to launch, we updated the build scripts to point to live and copied the development database and files to the live environment.

This approach eliminated the need for DNS modifications and the usual propagation period associated with a website launch. We started by focusing on the Carson City Museum and Las Vegas Museum as they had the most plugins and content across post types. 

Planning for the Future

With the primary goal of replatforming being to create scalability, we worked with the DTCA team to be sure they were set up for success by providing the assets and training necessary to manage the sites moving forward. Additionally, we took a thoughtful and thorough approach to ensure the launch of the new and improved sites went off without a hitch.

  • CMS Manual: The CMS manual provides step-by-step instructions to use the new platform. It helps users understand features and functions, such as adding, editing and publishing new content.
  • CMS Training: Training taught website admins and content managers how to manage digital content using the new platform. 
  • Redirect Files: Since the replatforming replicated content between old and new site, the redirect file ensured that all old URLs had a new destination to send users, which can impact search engine optimization performance.
  • Launch Checklist: The launch checklist contains a series of critical pre, during and post-launch tasks to ensure a seamless project launch. A checklist can include activities like: testing for bugs and errors, crawling the websites for any broken links, configuring analytics tracking and setting up backups and other security measures.
revealing a home remodel as a metaphor for revealing a replatformed website

The Big Reveal

Replatforming a website can be compared to a home renovation project. Just as homeowners aim to create a better living space by remodeling their homes, website owners can replatform to improve their website’s performance, functionality and back-end experience. 

Replatforming, when executed correctly, offers many benefits, such as improved website performance, better security, greater flexibility and a platform that is easier to use and maintain for admins.

For DTCA, replatforming was the ideal solution for many of their legacy website properties. By focusing on the back-end, DTCA’s admin team was able to achieve a more efficient and effective website management experience without completely redesigning all of the websites.

With the construction crew gone, sod laid and paint dried, it’s easy to see the impact the replatforming project has made on the DTCA team. If you think it’s time to take a sledgehammer to your outdated back-end, contact us before taking that sweet, sweet swing.

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