The Problem of People

The Problem of People and how we solve it with our new engagement model.

At XWP we’ve been serving our industry for close to 5 years. As part of the larger X company family, it’s been closer to 13 years. We’ve learned a lot of things over this time. It’s actually been so long that we’ve even had to “unlearn” some things due to the pace of change we see in our industry. One constant though is a problem we’ve observed, year in and year out, across every one of our client and partner engagements.

The problem of finding the right people.

Finding the right people to work on a team is hard. There’s absolutely no shortage of talent out there, but finding, connecting, and onboarding them is hard. No surprise the size of the recruitment industry.

We’ve seen this problem regardless of the type of engagement we’ve had with our clients. Be it:

  • Project engagement
  • Support engagement
  • Consulting engagement
  • Placement engagement

The underlying issue beneath all of these is that the company wants to do something and they need someone, or a team of someones, to come on board and help them get it done. Break it all down and this is literally why agencies exist.

We’ve also learned, sometimes the hard way, that the typical “agency way of doing things” just gets in the way. Our industry is amazing at producing complex proposals, SOWs, contracts, etc. Granted, clear documents and contracts are necessary to a safe and rewarding b2b relationship, but we’ve realized these are not what set a project up for success. They just mitigate risk. We’ve become clever at muddying the water and dressing up the “problem of people” as something else as we go about positioning, pitching, and growing our businesses.

The more we review the last decade we identify our biggest wins and best projects have 99.9999% of the time come down to having the right people on the project.

With all our learning we’ve decided to change things up. We want to establish a simple foundation that brings the right people to a project fast and sets them to work on the things that are important to our clients.

Effectively we’ve reworked our engagement model so that it simply enables work to get started and clearly outlines the parameters of the engagement in a way that scales rapidly. Up and down.

This works internally by:

  1. Having a highly optimized recruitment and resourcing model that includes rigorous vetting and onboarding.
  2. Engagement contracts that aren’t blocked by project scope definition but are rather geared around the number and type of team members joining a project.

With these two pieces in place, we can quickly bring the right people to a project and quickly set them to work. We can get the right people working fast. Whether an individual joins a team, a whole team joins a project, or a team manages a project, our engagement model sets the stage for doing great things with WordPress. And we do this by gearing the engagement parameters around the people.

If you’d like to learn more about how we’re facilitating this, we’d love to hear from you.

What you need to know before you AMP

The AMP HTML framework continues to gain attention and the v1.0 release of the official WordPress plugin has made it even easier to implement AMP on WordPress. Even though the plugin provides the ability to just flick the switch, AMP implementation should be carefully planned for. For projects that we work on, there are a series of things that we consider and understand before we kick off any development.

The following is a summary of these things. If you’re looking at AMP, take note of these points and build them into your planning.

1. Understand your existing site performance and what could be reasonably achieved with AMP

Performance is as performance does. Benchmarking performance on the existing site and understanding:

  1. Where it sits as far as bad<—>good goes
  2. How much AMP could realistically move the needle

This will give you an idea of the gap you may be able to bridge with AMP and whether or not the investment is worth the potential return. I.e. moving from a 7 to a 9 performance score means something quite different than moving from a 3 to an 8.

If you’re looking for modern tools for assessing performance (amongst other things), we turn to:

Each of these tools provides agnostic metrics that you can use to track your performance trends over time. We recommend learning the nuances so you can master each of them.

2. Understand the different implementation types of AMP

With the AMP for WordPress plugin, there are 3 different modes for implementation. These are:

  1. Classic
  2. Paired
  3. Native

Each implementation has a different impact on the way your site will operate. Native and Paired modes use your theme’s templates and styling. They often look just like your non-AMP URLs. (Classic mode uses a template bundled with the plugin. Based on changes to SEO best practices and the lack of a “canonical” experience with Classic Mode, we don’t recommend you use Classic Mode.)

The value these 3 different modes bring varies and the choice between them can often be influenced by the technical limitations of how your site is set up. Understanding these will help frame your thinking as you move towards more technical discovery.

The AMP Modes & The WordPress Plugin section on this page cover these 3 modes in more detail. You can also read more over on the plugin’s documentation.

3. Audit asset optimization infrastructure (CDNs, Caching, etc) and define what could be removed and what could conflict with AMP

There are a thousand ways to skin a cache. Asset optimization takes many forms and their friendliness with AMP varies. Auditing what you have active on your current site means that when you move into testing AMP compliance, you’ll be better equipped to identify where issues (if there are any) come from and how to resolve them.

4. Understand performance-related revenue streams

This is different for every site. Revenue streams can come from:

  • Ad revenue: Both programmatic and manual
  • Subscriptions
  • Ecommerce
  • Affiliate and Sponsored Content

Review how page performance, and the resulting user experience, can influence conversion rates and technical implementations on these.

5. Audit current Ad-Tech implementations

AdTech implementations deserve their own point here as it varies greatly and is usually Javascript heavy. AMP offers AdTech-specific components for working with this, but the implementation can vary. Understanding your AdTech stack will help you:

  1. Determine how to implement the ads in AMP, like with amp-ad
  2. Help inform you on how you should go about testing AMP and its impact on ad revenue

6. Audit current Javascript

From tracking codes to frontend features, Javascript is everywhere. Knowing the what and how of it on your site will help you determine:

  1. What you can actually say goodbye to (you’ll be surprised how often we are able to remove JS from sites we work on without impacting functionality or integrations)
  2. What you can reimplement in AMP, like with amp-bind, amp-ad, or amp-analytics

Once you get to testing, the simplest first step is simply turn off JavaScript in the browser and get a sense of how your site functions without it.

7. Audit tracking/cookie implementations

This is part of the JavaScript step as well but can be considered on its own. Tracking snippets on websites are easily one of the biggest contributors to poor performance. We’ve seen many cases where turning off tracking, without doing anything else, has improved page performance by more than 50%.

However, tracking is an important component of modern website management. An audit of what you have though can help you determine:

  1. What could be safely removed from your AMP pages
  2. How to leverage existing components like amp-analytics, amp-bind, and amp-list

AMP have components available to help facilitate tracking. The Google Tag Manager service actually has AMP specific features to help implement tracking while maintaining AMP compatibility.

8. Audit the total amount of CSS on URLs. The plugin can remove unused CSS, but it can still exceed AMP’s maximum of 50KB.

One of the restrictions AMP places on a page is a maximum file size for CSS of 50KB. The AMP for WordPress plugin through a feature called tree-shaking reviews a page and produces a minimized file of only the required CSS. However, this feature doesn’t guarantee that the file size will be under the threshold. Reviewing key page templates, particularly for complex pages, will help you scope the project around the need to refactor CSS on the site.

9. Your current state of AMP compatibility

This actually falls into more of the discovery stage of a project but is actually something that can be done, at least at a high level, quite easily. S0 if you’re in the exploratory stage of looking at AMP, doing this can give you a serious head start.

The process basically involves working on a staging/testing/alt version of your site, installing the AMP WordPress plugin and using its features to identify validation errors.

The step-by-step for this can be found here.

10. Understand the Roadmap for AMP & the AMP Plugin for WordPress

Knowing what’s coming, even what’s just around the corner, can help inform your decision around an AMP implementation. A no-go factor about AMP or the plugin may actually be something that could be resolved in the near future. The Roadmap is public and can be easily reviewed over here.

 

These 10 points are what our teams move through when scoping an AMP implementation project. Considering, understanding, even implementing them yourself will mean you’re highly informed about AMP and its potential value for your website.

With Google, we’re the lead developers on the official AMP for WordPress plugin

If you want to know more about what AMP, or performance gains in general, can do for your website…

let’s talk.

 

How Tech Companies Should Invest in WordPress

This article is the second in a series where we unpack WordPress and the space it should occupy within a tech company’s product strategy. The first article looked at why WordPress should be on the radar in the first place, and this article looks at how a WordPress project should be approached.

A brief recap

WordPress should be considered by any web tech company wanting to grow their market impact and influence on the Open Web. It makes sense because:

  1. Customers are already there and they don’t intend on leaving
  2. Leveraging the strengths of WordPress frees a company to focus on its own strengths
  3. WordPress integration factors in to the decision making progress of site owners
  4. Investing in WordPress means investing in the Open Web

So how should it be done?

Being in WordPress is not enough. Having a plugin in the WordPress.org repo will only get a company so far. There are nuances to what works (and what doesn’t) when engaging an ecosystem as broad and diverse as WordPress. There are over 55 thousand plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repo, many solving similar problems in unique ways (just do a WordPress.org search for Marketing Automation). Standing out in this crowd takes careful planning and a commitment to ongoing execution. With this article we cover 5 things, identified through our work with technology clients and partners, that should be considered carefully when investing in WordPress.

1. Committing (and staying committed) to Best Practices

Following established best practices is a common denominator amongst the most successful WordPress plugins. These plugins have found users through their reliability, as well as the features they provide. In contrast to closed proprietary systems, the open nature of WordPress means there is a wide variety of installable packages of code. Coding and user experience best practices set a baseline that, when adhered to, significantly improve the performance, stability, security, and accessibility of a WordPress site. Straying outside these guidelines increase the risk of a plugin conflicting with others and putting the site at risk.

Coding and user experience best practices set a baseline that, when adhered to, significantly improve the performance, stability, security, and accessibility of a WordPress site.


Source: The WordPress Coding Standards

With the addition of Tide to WordPress.org, code quality will be even more visible to site owners and weigh heavier on their decisions.

2. A Native WordPress Experience

WordPress historically hasn’t had a standardized design system for the WordPress admin. This means there’s a massive variety of interfaces provided by plugins. Many of these adopt the branding of their parent company and, sometimes, conflict with the native experience. There are efforts by our team and others in the ecosystem to develop and define a common design language that can be reused within admin interfaces and across plugins. In the meantime, plugin authors can improve user experience by considering how their plugin interface can adhere to existing WordPress design patterns.

Variation examples of in-Admin UI from some of the most popular WordPress plugins.

By adopting familiar WordPress admin design patterns, you can:

  • Reduce the design/development burden
  • Rely on established, user tested, and refined UI components
  • Encourage user adoption through a familiar interface
  • Reduce onboarding friction
  • Contribute back to the larger WordPress & Open Source UI narrative

3. An Integrated Experience

The more WordPress site owners can engage with a product within the space they are already in, the greater the value they’ll receive from the product. The nuisance of context switching (switching back and forth between “places”) gets in the way of product adoption and ongoing use more than any other factor. Most users will use only a handful of applications day-to-day, so rather than compete to take one of these few spots on the roster, a better and easier route is becoming part of one of them.

An integration where the value of a product or tool is delivered directly within the WordPress admin will accelerate adoption and ongoing use.

4. Engaging the Community

WordPress has a strong and vibrant community of developers and users, and success in the ecosystem is largely informed by the perception of this community.

Support Forums

Every plugin in the WordPress.org plugin repo has a support forum. Companies can make the mistake of ignoring this space, preferring to shift support focus to another platform. This makes sense for general support, but WordPress users are familiar with the WordPress.org support forums and will, as well as submit tickets here, review the activity within them as part of their assessment of a plugin.

INDUSTRY EXAMPLE

Google recognized the importance of engaging with user feedback on a plugin (the AMP Plugin) that at launch had quickly become a lot more successful than was expected. There was a lot of feedback coming in and not enough support to go around. The positive side of this was that it offered the perfect reference point for understanding the real needs and desires of WordPress users. The support forum heavily influenced the build out and prioritisation of the v1.0 project backlog.

Addressing and responding to the needs of the support forum was also identified as a necessary step to demonstrating care and support for the plugins users and the larger ecosystem.

“We strive to make our open source projects successful and getting them into the hands of the largest possible number of users. Such success depends in good part on how we address the needs of our users, and how we steer the direction of our projects towards satisfying those needs as the project evolves. In WordPress, achieving this requires the proper handling of the support forums, and the right level of engagement with our users in them. In the context of the AMP plugin for WordPress, we assigned a high priority to this goal, and doing so paid off because it allowed us to, in turn, prioritize the resolution of issues and the execution of feature requests.”

– Alberto Medina, Developer Advocate at Google

Example Plugin Support Forum

WordCamps & Meetups

WordCamps & WordPress Meetups are local WordPress focused events where users and developers gather to learn, share, debate, and contribute back to the project. More than any other corner of the ecosystem, WordCamps and WordPress meetups are the most visible examples of the nuances of what is unique about WordPress. I.e. try and find another 2 day tech conference where, in the name of accessibility, tickets are only $50 apiece.

Web technology companies looking to break into the WordPress ecosystem and engage at these events should understand what effort it takes to refine, refactor and grow loyal customers. Hard sells, unstrategic sponsorship, and swag alone don’t cut it, and sometimes might scare away potential businesses looking to integrate with technologies.

Give first. Always!

WordPress is and always will be a flag-bearer of the Open Web and Open Source software. Efforts in the space should have the intention of contribution back to and increasing the quality of the larger ecosystem. Efforts otherwise are quickly identified and largely seen as unfavorable.

WordPress is GPL licensed. Unless there’s a great reason not to, we believe all code in this ecosystem should be shared onward for reuse, examination and repurposing. That last mile of integration is likely to have many people interested in helping shape it, so let the community help. Further, there are quite a few examples of open source plugins that extract premium business logic and features outside of the core plugin: Premium offerings can be compartmentalized, but as much as possible should be given away.

5. Integration with other Plugins

Your plugin definitely won’t be the only one installed on a users site. There are often ways to integrate with other plugins that move beyond simple adherence to code best practices. The potential of Open Source is truly multi-dimensional and offers opportunities no closed-source platform could. Integrating with WordPress Core is good. Integration with other Open Source plugins is even better.

Examples of how some web technology products could be integrated with other plugins include:

  • Marketing Automation apps that integrate with popular WordPress Form building plugins
  • SEO apps and services that integrate with popular SEO plugins
  • CDN’s that integrate with AMP and media compression plugins
  • Web hosts that integrate with backup and dev workflow plugins
  • Plugins with tracking codes optimize for performance and reduce reliability on Javascript to become AMP compliant

Wrapping things up

There are plugins and there are plugins. Success in WordPress depends on so much more than having a plugin that connects a product or service with WordPress. Understanding and working with the nuances of the WordPress ecosystem, across development practices, community, and user experience, contributes towards engaging WordPress users.

If you have questions about specific use cases, our team are more than ready to have a chat.

Why Tech Companies Should Invest in WordPress

WordPress now represents a third of all websites. If you opened a web browser today, chances are you visited a WordPress site.

Data Source: w3techs.com

This “it’s everywhere” reality is making waves in the larger tech industry. More companies, especially those with web-focused technologies, are investing in WordPress to achieve product and company goals. However, just throwing resources at WordPress won’t necessarily move the needle. A “first class” user experience and a clear understanding of the WordPress ecosystem is key to achieving success.

This article is the first of a series that unpacks why we believe that WordPress should be central to product strategy and what we have seen, learned, and applied as we have worked with web tech companies.

So, why invest in WordPress?

1. Your Customers already use WordPress

WordPress hasn’t reached its Content Management System (CMS) market share by chance. Fifteen years of iterations mean its use cases have been tested by millions of users on millions of sites.

The platform has evolved beyond its blogging and basic CMS roots. Its modern flexibility means it comfortably serves large segments of the market.

WordPress site owners, whether solo bloggers or enterprise companies, have embraced this flexibility and have customized WordPress to solve their needs their way. Each implementation serves its creator in the way they uniquely prefer. When adopting tools and products, site owners seek those that complement and work with what they have, not those that unravel their established systems.

Your customers are invested in WordPress and don’t want to undermine their investment.

Products that plug into existing workflows, including established CMSs, mean minimal friction and simpler onboarding, ultimately leading to better long-term adoption.

INDUSTRY EXAMPLE

Marketing Automation apps are a go-to example of a web tech product that makes sense for WordPress integration. Tying site visitor interaction with content means Marketers are able to trigger a variety of actions and insights.

The CMS of the site owner is set up to handle content, ecommerce, users, etc and they will be looking for a Marketing Automation solution that works well with their setup. The experience of setting up workflows/sequences should be tied to the space where the content creation occurs.

Marketing Automation apps that require a user to pull their established content creation and management practices away from their CMS, or even just toggle back-and-forth between the two platforms, will lose out on adoption. On the other hand, Marketing Automation apps that embrace the CMS of the user will be rewarded with adoption, simpler onboarding, and richer long-term use.

To succeed, a WordPress integration needs to offer more than just “drop in your tracking code.”

2. Leveraging WordPress frees you to focus your Product on what it does well

Some of the fastest growing web tech products are gaining ground because they do less than their competition. Their narrow focus means their users can implement faster and achieve ROI sooner. This same focus means product teams can implement at a higher standard on the product features that set them apart in their market.

INDUSTRY EXAMPLE

An example of a company applying this strategy is BigCommerce. They recognized their ecommerce platform has specific strengths and would be valuable to a wide range of WordPress users. Because of this, they are developing their integration plugin to bring BigCommerce features/value into the WordPress admin for a native WordPress experience. WordPress users will be able to run their website on WordPress, leveraging all the flexibility of WordPress, while using the class-leading ecommerce functionality of the BigCommerce platform to manage their store.

We asked BigCommerce, a client of ours, for their thoughts on why they invested in WordPress and they shared the following.

“The worlds of content and commerce are now, more than ever before, inextricably linked. We know just how powerful WordPress is as a CMS, but we were seeing that existing commerce solutions didn’t match that scalability. Our goal was to build a plugin the WordPress Way that helped bring together the best of both platforms: the flexibility and extensibility of WordPress and the scalability and security of BigCommerce. Build and manage beautiful front-end experiences on WordPress and tap into the security and scalable commerce engine of BigCommerce in the background. Best of both worlds.”

– Travis Balinas, Director of Product Marketing, BigCommerce


A screenshot of BigCommerce’s WordPress plugin Admin UI

3. WordPress Integration factors into your customer’s decision making

“Will this work with WordPress?”

Site owners are invested in WordPress and they want their tools to work with WordPress. It goes beyond this though. The quality of WordPress integration is an essential factor. Web tech companies should invest in WordPress because their audience are not just assessing if they have a WordPress integration, but how good it is.

Features are important, but how and how well those features work with their existing tech stack, including their CMS, are also important. The considerations include code quality, UI (WordPress Admin) integration, integration with other plugins, etc. Introducing new tools to a team includes friction. A cleaner, richer, and simpler integration reduces friction. Users know this and will judge the standard of WordPress integration when selecting new tech products.

4. The Open Web matters

The Open Web has changed the world and we have all benefited. We’ve learned skills, launched careers, formed friendships, championed causes, and experienced the outputs of infinite creativity. We’ve also built businesses – many of them centered in web technologies – that wouldn’t exist without the Open Web.

WordPress is a product of the Open Web, built on the four core freedoms of open source software. It represents a multi-billion dollar economy spread over a wide range of ecosystems across cultures, languages, and geographies. For businesses relying on or connected to the Open Web, WordPress matters.

Of everything covered in this article, this is perhaps the most philosophical point. Investing in WordPress and Open Source should be a component of every able web technology company. Companies in this space wouldn’t have been able to build what they have without the freely-given contributions of others. In part, “investing” in WordPress is simply giving to the people and projects that formed the foundation on which every web technology company stands.

Feed the giant whose shoulders we stand upon.

Wrapping things up

Web technologies and companies that offer technology-based products should invest in WordPress. From direct integrations that meet specific customer to creating entire sub ecosystems (e.g. hosting, services, and marketplaces), WordPress is the best vehicle for expanding the reach and impact of a web technology.

Investing in WordPress impacts the bottom line through the sheer size and potential of the WordPress economy and the success of WordPress means a stronger future for the Open Web.

If you’re part of a company that should be investing in WordPress for all these reasons above, we’d love to talk.

 

Convinced WordPress should be a part of your product roadmap? This article covers the “how”, because just building a plugin doesn’t quite cut it.

GDPR: What businesses need to know

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be enforceable THIS May 25th! The implications for businesses that operate in Europe and collect user data are significant and are certainly not something to be taken lightly.

Great, another confusing legal acronym.– Hopefully not you about GDPR

For the uninitiated, the GDPR is designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy. For industries like online publishing, the way user data is collected and managed is about to change. In a big way!

Brendan Woods, one of our Team Leads, has been leading our research on this and how it will be impacting our clients. As part of this, he ran an internal training session. Seeing how widely relevant these laws are to the industries we serve, we’ve recorded it to share with you.

For those who want the TL;DW, the rest of this post breaks down the incoming changes and what they mean.

Who does GDPR apply to?

GDPR applies to any company processing the personal data of subjects within the European Union. Let’s make this very clear from the outset. It’s not just for companies in Europe, but for any company that collects or processes data on European Union (EU) subjects. The net is very wide!

There are a combination of factors that define whether or not a company is targeting European subjects. These include things like:

  • Offering European languages on a website
  • Offering European currencies for purchases
  • Localized content
  • Giving international services to people in the EU

It’s interesting to note that as the law was passed pre-Brexit, it will most likely stand and remain relevant to the UK.

What happens if the rules are broken?

These new laws have some serious teeth. The previous iteration of the law had fines of up to £500k pounds in the UK. The GDPR allows for up to €20 Million or 4% of global revenue. Whichever is greater. Keep in mind that for Google, that’s about $3.5 Billion.

Each EU state is required to set up a data protection authority to oversee the enforcement of compliance within their state. They will have powers to do things like access premises, give binding orders, administer fines, hand out suspensions, etc. Not only are the penalties large and clearly defined, each member state will have an organization specifically set up to issue them if compliance is not met.

Modern governments are well adjusted to working across international borders so their will certainly be precedence for having these laws enforced on companies outside of the EU.

Litigation

The more you understand about GDPR, the more you recognize the room it will create for a whole new class of litigation. These laws significantly increase the rights of data subjects to take civil action if they believe their rights to data privacy have been breached. You can expect to hear of class-action settlements that even exceed the above penalties.

Companies affected

With GDPR, almost every company type will be affected. Within the documentation, the terms controller and processor are used. Controllers are companies that dictate what data is collected and how, where processors are companies that process that data according to the directives of the controller. Previous iterations of similar laws effected mostly controllers, where GDPR broadens the requirements to include processor type companies.

5 Big Changes for Businesses

1. ​ The New Guy

Companies will be now required to appoint Data Protection Officers (DPO). These will be executive level positions responsible for enforcing compliance across the company. It’s expected that approximately 75,000 DPO jobs will be created off the back of this new legislation.

2. The Types of Data

The types of data that are included within the protective rights of subjects are increased from what was included in previous laws. These data types include:

  • ​IP Addresses & Mobile ID’s
  • Geolocation Data
  • Sensitive Personal Data
    • Racial/Ethnic origin
    • Political association
    • Religion/Philosophy
    • Trade union membership
    • Sexual orientation
    • Biometric/Health data
    • etc

When collecting these data types, companies must now explicitly define the reason why they are collecting the data. Companies for many years, under the potential returns of big-data mining, have had a “collect it and we’ll figure out what to do with it later” attitude. This is no longer allowed.

3. ​Consent

Consent for data collection must now be explicit. Vague reasons such as “for marketing purposes” or “for research” or even “to improve user experience” are no longer acceptable. The company must specifically define and communicate to the user what their data will be used for.

It also must be active consent. Consent through silence or even pre-ticked boxes are off the table.

On top of being explicit in requesting consent, companies must also make it just as clear and easy for consent to be revoked.

The final piece of the consent puzzle is that pre-GDPR collected data is subject to these changes. So if consent has been collected in the past through a method that doesn’t adhere to these new standards, a company is required to re-request consent. We can expect to see many email sequences going out from companies in the coming 12 months with these kinds of requests.

4. Data Breaches

It seems that every other week there is a story about a major data breach from some large company. Within the GDPR, companies are now required to respond in a particular way if this occurs. Specifically, they must:

  • ​Report the incident to their relevant data protection authority within 72 hours
  • The incident must be reported to the affected users “without undue delay”

This means that companies will need to update their relevant policies and procedures. And with the hefty fines and potential litigation, they will be very motivated.

5. New Personal Rights

With these new laws, individuals will have new legal rights. Summarised, they will have:

  • ​The right to erasure (deletion of all personal data)
  • The right to restrict the processing of their personal data
  • The right to data portability. E.g. “Give me my data Mr Insurance Company so I can take it with me when I move to another insurance company”
  • The right to knowledge of profiling

The way data is stored and the interfaces for engaging with it have been and will need a lot of attention for many companies. We are working with some of our clients on implementing solutions to facilitate these kinds of data related requests from users.

GDPR and Publishers

We work with a number of large international publishers so we’ve been thinking a lot about how these laws will specifically impact them. Walking through some standard work flows and user experience flows we begin to see how the GDPR will touch on a lot of their points of user engagement, such as:

  • Requesting newsletter subscribers
  • Profiling subscribers
  • Accepting submissions for contests
  • User account creation
  • Data collection for remarketing/retargeting
  • Account creation
  • Premium editorial content subscriptions

…and the list goes on. Making updates to the user flows and internal interfaces is where we are seeing the most pressing needs.

An Opportunity

At face value, these changes appear incredibly intimidating. Big fines and big operational changes are something most business operators don’t particularly want to be thinking about. However, we see a very positive opportunity within GDPR. It gives businesses everywhere a clear framework for how to go about the collection and use of personal data with integrity. As technology companies, our users trust us and GDPR lays a clear path for how we can repay that trust. For companies like ours as well, it gives us an opportunity to provide value to our clients and walk with them to help achieve compliance.

In summary (of this summary), GDPR is coming in May and it’s going to impact the way businesses operate online perhaps more than most people realize. Taking the time to understand the implications and preparing a path towards compliance is very important. We have been and will continue to work with many of our clients to update their websites and platforms to adhere to these new standards.

Do you have anything to add to this? There’s a lot to cover, so please let us know if you think we’ve missed anything important in this overview. Additionally, if you believe your company needs technology support in achieving compliance with GDPR, please get in touch.

Here’s Why a Headless CMS Can Give You Greater Content Management Control – Part 1

Understanding how a headless content management system (CMS) works and the value it provides content producing teams can be a bit of a research journey, but one that can have big payoffs for the right companies. There are many opinions, ideas and buzzwords around content management and headless CMS and unpacking them into valuable takeaways that can inform decisions can be difficult. We, alongside a few of our industry friends, have worked on a number of headless CMS projects and are pleased to bring you a series of posts to help unravel the mystery and shine a light on why and when a headless CMS makes sense.

What is a Headless CMS?

To wrap our heads around the idea of a headless CMS, let’s begin with a simple illustration.

In the 20th century, off the back of the industrial revolution, American factories introduced a method of production we all know as the assembly line. This method of production did a few things:

  • It introduced work specialization
  • It accelerated progression through a linear process
  • It isolated work types, allowing for focus and optimization

Effectively, assembly lines grouped work into stages and allocated specialized resources and processes for each stage.

Image reference:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ford_assembly_line_-_1913.jpg

How Does a Headless CMS Work?

A headless CMS reflects the assembly line approach. It groups the work performed by both technology and people and allocates specialized resources and processes for each.

Specifically, running headless refers to the practice where content is produced independently of where it is consumed.

But what are the components of a typical headless CMS? Like a factory assembly line, it depends on the work that is being done and the desired outcome. Generally speaking however, a headless CMS is broken into 2 or 3 components.

Content production and data storage are handled by the same system and content presentation is separated out (figure a), or all three components are separated (figure b).


Figure a


Figure b

On the other hand, a traditional CMS has everything all-in-one (figure c).


Figure c

The term “headless” comes from the idea that the production and data storage or “the body,” is removed from how and where the content is presented, “the head.” Search around long enough and you’ll stumble upon a few different terms, like decoupled and content as a service (CaaS), that at a high-level, describe the same sort of thing.

Why is a Headless CMS so Great?

Running separate platforms rather than having everything in the single place may sound like it could actually double your efforts. After all, with a traditional CMS the technology (infrastructure, user interface, etc.) takes care of everything meaning users only need to familiarize themselves with the single environment. For example, the user interface responsible for managing plugins or extensions also needs to facilitate content editing.

However, by doing everything it means that the platform is restricted in its ability to specialize.

By implementing a Headless CMS solution, each part of the system can:

  • Run on only the technology that is needed
  • Be isolated from a maintenance and support perspective
  • Be isolated from an optimization perspective
  • Present a user interface (UI) relevant to its exact function
  • Require training only for its exact function

The greatest benefit that comes from running a headless CMS is that the people and platform can specialize and optimize.

How to Know if a Headless CMS is Right for You

While the upside of a headless CMS is clear, how do you decide whether or not to implement? Like with any big implementation, there are some key questions to ask yourself:

  1. How can a headless CMS improve your content management process, and what is the value to your business?
  2. What will it cost?
  3. Does the ROI stack up?

What value can a headless CMS provide to your business?

For example, implementing a user interface (UI) specifically geared for content production sounds great in theory, but will your team realize the benefit? Are they currently hindered by the present system? Will the new system help create greater efficiency?

If the answers is yes, it makes sense to also ask yourself the following questions.

What will it cost to implement a headless CMS?

Whether implemented by an internal team or outsourced, the discovery phase, support, and maintenance will require time and resources. If you choose to use internal resources to implement your headless CMS, it’s important to remember that time spent on the project is time not spent on other business priorities. There is an opportunity cost to any large implementation.

Does the ROI stack up?

While a headless CMS can dramatically improve the efficiency and quality of your content management capabilities, it’s important to understand your ROI expectations for a new tech implementation.

Generally speaking, in our experience it is the larger the team(s) who work day-to-day with the platform where operational efficiency and business profit is tightly correlated that have the greatest potential ROI for a headless CMS implementation.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about how a headless CMS could work for your business and how it may improve your current CMS, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us for a free consultation.

How big teams are unblocking their content creators

Every big content team eventually faces the same problem with scaling. The rate (and quality) of content production is no longer proportional to the size of the team. In early days teams can simply add staff to solve production bottlenecks. If they need to do more, they grow the team. However, as they and the systems and processes around them mature, the positive correlation between headcount and content dramatically fades.

In these cases, business managers face a choice. Keep hiring, hoping they stumble on some magical combination of people and roles, or look to the machine underneath the team and find ways to free the team from time/attention/energy-sapping tasks that distract them from what they were really hired to do.

In this article, we’re going to look at the impact a slow-moving content machine has on productivity (and ultimately profit), and then go over 3 examples of ways big teams are unblocking their content creators and freeing them to focus on content creation.

 

Imagine needing a car mechanic’s help every time you wanted to change gears.

“Hey Bob, could you just drop to second as I approach this intersection. Thanks.”

Unsurprisingly this isn’t reality. We have gearboxes. They take the repeatable and technically complex task of gear-changing and make it accessible to the driver.

Increasing efficiency in big teams, or implementing workflow gearboxes, is perhaps the biggest problem category we work on with our clients. They find that in their day-to-day operations they have these repeatable and technically complex tasks being handled by their development team. For example:

  • Build a new page layout > Get a developer
  • Update the style > Submit a ticket
  • Move a banner ad > Add it to the backlog

The business impact of these bottlenecks is three-fold:

  1. Content production is dependant, or blocked, by the developments team’s capacity to respond to the task
  2. To move a task forward, content producers are required to understand and interact with the development workflow
  3. The development team spends their time on operational tasks rather than focusing on maintaining and enhancing the platform

Removing these kinds of bottlenecks results in massive time and resource savings.

Now remember, in a car a gearbox doesn’t do everything. It has a clearly defined range of influence. It doesn’t let the driver change the oil, swap out a fan belt, or replace a tyre. It lets them change gears. Defining what tasks should be handed over to a site manager, and how, or left in the hands of developers is just as important as the actual implementation. There is a process for identifying what should be gearboxed and what should remain in the purview of the development team, but for now, let’s explore some specific and current examples of how big teams are reducing day-to-day reliance on developers and unblocking their content creators.

Example 1 – Layout & Site Customization

Layout and Site Customization

Layout customization in the form of drag-and-drop page builders is something most site managers are at least familiar with. The WordPress eco-system itself has seen a boom in this quadrant with many businesses developing tools that deliver page-building powers to site owners. However, the translation of this kind of mass-market solution to big teams isn’t as simple as could be expected. There are a few factors that need to be considered. These can include:

  • Restriction – What should, and should not, be customizable by the team (gearboxing)
  • Sitewide PreviewingUnderstanding the impact of how a customization impacts the entire site
  • Reviews & Approvals – Like general content, layout and site customizations should go through a review workflow
  • Scheduling – When customizations should go live (more on this in example 2)

The good news is that even though the implementation can be unique to every team, the underlying methods and technology are becoming more standardised. For example, recent and arriving (changesets) updates to WordPress Core lay a very strong foundation for the kind of complex implementation big teams need for layout and site customization.

Example 2 – Complex Scheduling

Complex content and customization scheduling

Let’s use an example to illustrate the opportunity here. Imagine coordinating a 12 days of Christmas campaign that delivers unique content on a rolling 24-hour cycle for the 12 days leading up to the 25th. The number and variety of changes impact things like:

  • Headlines and other copy
  • Banner ads
  • Imagery
  • Page layouts
  • Styling

These changes include more than what is typically “scheduled” by site owners. Scheduling content (e.g. articles) is a familiar CMS feature, but big teams need to consider much more. Normally scheduling these kind of changes would involve working with a developer team to stage the changes on a separate instance of the site and scheduling a code-merge. For our above Christmas campaign, this would mean coordinating numerous code-bases and deploying, possibly manually, on a very strict timetable.

Recent updates in WordPress actually now allow the changes to be both made and scheduled within the WordPress user interface. The direct reliance on staging environments and developer teams can be removed through this.

The positive impact on efficiency is obvious when complex changes like these can be systemised (gearboxed) and taken away from developers and given to the content team.

Example 3 – A/B Testing

A/B Testing

Frequent, small, defined and measurable changes to a site will over time produce a far greater ROI than big redesigns. Unsurprisingly, the discipline of A/B testing is widely used and something we see a lot of our clients doing. Simply put, the process looks like:

  1. Select the metric to be improved (E.g. time on page)
  2. Define a hypothesis (E.g. if we increase the body text font-size from 14px to 16px we will see an increase in time on page)
  3. Create the assets required to deliver the alternate state (E.g. font styling)
  4. Set up an A/B experiment to deliver both the current and new state
  5. Measure impact on selected metric
  6. Implement the winner

Throughout this process there are potentially multiple developer touchpoints. I.e.:

  • Develop experiment assets
  • Set up mechanism for delivering the experiment
  • Collect data
  • Implement experiment winner

For the full value of A/B testing to be realised, experiments need to be run frequently. If developers were required to manage the above 4 points, the bottleneck would prove fatal to the entire process.

Big teams, especially those that are producing and managing high-traffic sites, are systemising this process as much as possible. Even the mechanisms for determining “the winner” of an experiment are being automated. Developers are freed from having to manage and implement and site managers can accelerate the A/B process significantly, properly realizing the ROI of a compounding A/B testing strategy.

These three are only a few of the ways we are seeing big teams remove their dependency on developers and unblock content creators. The industry and technology under it move at an incredible pace and we are constantly seeing innovative solutions enter the market.

How does your team handle these kind of repeatable and technically complex tasks? To what degree do you think your team is burdened by tasks that distract them from focusing on the work they were hired to do?

Want to reduce these kinds of bottlenecks? Contact us for a consultation.

How To Grow Ad Revenue Without Losing Readers

The more we work with large online publishers, the more we appreciate the impact on-page advertising has on their bottom line. The challenge these companies are facing is that their advertising strategies cannot be set-and-forget. They must evolve. They are realising that not only is the technology behind advertising ever-changing, the attitudes, expectations, and behaviors of readers towards advertising is evolving just as fast.

The risks publishers face in response to this challenge are:

  • Let their ad technology grow stale and watch their competitors leave them behind, or;
  • Get implementation wrong and watch their audience engagement plummet

Basically, this means they must grow, and grow the right way, or die.

A stakeholder might put it this way:

“We want to maintain (or grow) our ad revenue but we need to make sure we maintain good page performance and user experience or we will lose our readers.”

For small sites, the method of implementation is important. For large sites with thousands/millions of visitors per day, implementation is everything!

The difficulty here is that this kind of implementation rarely results in better page performance and user experience.

A good rule of thumb is that the more things (like ads) being delivered to a page, the poorer the performance. The poorer the performance, the poorer the user experience.

Simply speaking the things that impact the performance of a page includes:

  • The number of assets (content, code, images etc) being requested
  • Where in the page code assets are being requested
  • The number and location of servers the assets are being requested from
  • The size of the assets
  • The technology running on the servers
  • The quality of the device and software of the user (you can’t really do much about this one)

With these many considerations, you can see how much care needs to be taken for good implementation. Ad services, or ad providers, send a variety of assets to the reader’s browser including images, text and tracking code snippets. Additionally, the page itself is often part of the actual bidding process for auction-based ad services. The nature of what on-page advertising is and what it requires means it is primed to be a major drain on page performance.

But… it doesn’t have to be! When implementation is done right, publishers can realize the revenue upside of an optimised ad strategy without damaging page performance and user experience.

Unsurprisingly, most large publishers are, and have been, careful about ad implementation. However, ad revenue is under increasing pressure from a few fronts. Be it ad-blockers, which are starting to see mass-market adoption, or general banner-blindness, on-page advertising on large publishing sites needs to be more than just good. it needs to be really, really good. A 1% decrease in ad engagement can have a significantly negative impact on overall profit.

We are finding that ad strategy implementation, or general revenue optimisation, is a frequent conversation topic with our clients and contacts. These companies aren’t looking for general advice on which ad service they should choose or how they should design their banners, but are interested in leveraging technology to maximise ad revenue from what is perhaps an increasingly critical audience. They are looking for solutions like automated A/B testing, reader personalization, or as we have found in a recent project with our friends at Resignation Media, optimising on-page ad bidding and ad delivery, or Header Bidding.

For this particular project, the implementation of Header Bidding with the Resignation Media Team meant that they realized a few key benefits:

  • Access to a wider range of ad providers
  • Optimised on-page bidding (occurs very early during the page load)
  • Transparency in reporting and analytics

Or put even simpler, the whole process was faster, more transparent, and more profitable.

Resignation Media were able to implement a more mature advertising strategy and actually improve page performance and user experience.

We’re looking to walk through the technical ins-and-outs of how Header Bidding works in a future post, but the core message is that with the right implementation, publishers can realise increased revenue through on-page advertising without sacrificing page performance and user experience.

If ad revenue is an important part of your bottom-line, what steps are you taking to manage the ever-evolving challenges of typical implementations? Are there opportunities for optimising your technology?

Want to take action to optimise your ad revenue? Contact us for a consultation.

7 Lessons We Learned Migrating Big Media To WordPress

Are you preparing to migrate to WordPress? We’ve spent the last 5 years helping big media and publishing companies make the move to WordPress and along the way we’ve learned a number of important lessons. While your migration will be unique, we’ve found that there are solid principles that apply. Fresh off of helping News Corp Australia make the move to WordPress we’ve put together a list to help in your own planning efforts.

  • Collaborate Closely – Be sure that all stakeholders are involved in the process and are aware of the dependencies inside and outside your company. This is a lot of effort, yet time very well spent. The folks at News Corp Australia employed a dedicated “Change Manager” responsible for keeping track of the dependencies and communicating progress throughout the organization. While a close collaboration takes time and can be messy, it serves as the foundation to ensuring your project’s success.
  • Choose the Technical Approach Carefully – There are many technical approaches that can be taken as part of a migration effort. Ensure that you’ve carefully explored your options (i.e. using existing CSS / JavaScript assets versus rewriting them) and rigorously vetted them, both internally and externally, before making a final decision.
  • Respect the Past – While a migration can be a great opportunity to “start over” be sure that past decisions, both business and technical, are understood and accounted for in your decision making process.
  • Plan for Handover from the Beginning – Begin with the end in mind. Do you want to empower your Producers to manage your sites going forward or do you want to rely on a dedicated development team? Decide on an approach that is aligned with future management and maintenance responsibility. From developer onboarding and support to end-user training, be proactive about anticipating “handover” and ensuring the affected parties are ready.
  • Anticipate Difficulties – Don’t rush the “go live”. Expect that there will be difficulties and work hard to anticipate and eliminate as many as possible in advance. Then, knowing that difficulties, however minor, are still likely to occur, ensure that the right people are available at go live to resolve any issues that arise.
  • Leverage Momentum – Do you plan to move more than one property to WordPress? Focus on the first property, yet build with the next in mind. Leverage the momentum of the first launch to speed up the second by ensuring that code bases, knowledge, and resources, as far as practical, are shared across your teams.
  • Measure Impact – There are many benefits to moving to WordPress as a platform. Know the benefits to your enterprise and evaluate the impact of those benefits throughout and beyond the initial migration effort. Communicate those benefits to stakeholders and then measure against them to ensure that the impact of the migration is aligned with your business objectives.

As you move forward with your migration efforts keep these principles in mind. With close collaboration and rigorous planning you’ll be well on your way to a successful delivery.

Are you planning a move to WordPress in the near future? We’d love to help! Whether working with your team directly or just answering questions we want to help you make the move to WordPress as efficient and effective as possible. Contact us and let’s talk!