Throughout 2015 and 2016 we helped News Corp Australia conduct the largest (to date) Open Source CMS migration the publishing industry had seen. Ninety brands and fifteen properties representing six million monthly views were brought over to WordPress. We’ve talked about and shared on numerous occasions the details of what was achieved technically, but we have probably spent less time sharing the why behind the endeavor. What were the pains, or business problems, News Corp Australia faced that led them to initiate such a large project, and how did WordPress end up being the solution that met those business needs?
In this post, we have a look at four of the business problems WordPress needed to solve for News Corp Australia. These needs represent the unique challenges faced by an organization that delivers content at serious scale.
1. Editorial Workflow
The process for content creation for large publishers is complex. Content flows through a series of checks by content creators and editors before it is approved for publishing. When thousands of pieces of content are being produced every day, even the smallest impact on editorial workflow plays heavily with the operational costs of the business.
Everyone knows the story of WordPress’s roots as a blogging platform, however, one of its modern strengths is its off-the-shelf capabilities in previewable customization and content creation. This plus the extensible nature of WordPress core means that it is more than capable of facilitating complex, unique and shifting editorial workflows.
News Corp Australia needed to reduce the time and effort it took their teams to create, edit, manage and publish their content. This was for both general editorial content as well as page layout creation. WordPress lay a strong foundation that we were able to build upon to solve this headache. At the conclusion of the project, the feedback was that, for page layout creation, they saw a 40x (that’s 4,000%) improvement in the speed of creating page layouts.
2. Platform Maintenance
More often than not, large site networks with multiple brands have had their web properties introduced over time through avenues of both internal development and platform acquisition. This timeline of technology roll-outs means a codebase can be more reminiscent of a bowl of spaghetti than something consciously planned. The News Corp Australia platform, put simply, was complex and costly. Navigating the nuances of proprietary systems and varying tech stacks meant that moving the technology towards company goals was difficult. A requirement of the project was a consolidation of the platform with the express outcome being a heavy reduction in the cost and effort of maintenance.
WordPress provided a strong response to this problem for a couple of reasons.
Being Open Source, documentation and overall accessibility of the code was strong. There are no black boxes and no requirements to go via license-holding agencies.
There is a large developer pool. Scaling up teams is less costly as WordPress has one of the largest and most accessible developer communities.
These two items plus the simple fact that multiple platforms were consolidated into one, meant they saw a big reduction in maintenance overheads.
3. Site Build
The efficiency challenges seen in editorial workflow were faced in a similar fashion by teams responsible for the creation of new sites. Ninety brands and fifteen sites are by no means static numbers for the company. The nature of the publishing industry and the scale of the company mean that sites are built, tweaked, changed, tested and even closed down in very short periods. The prior platform meant that site creation and editing was slow and resource heavy. Versions had to jump through multiple process hoops and there was a heavy reliance on developer assistance.
WordPress and a custom implementation of widgets and the Customizer became the foundation for a site-builder that allowed their teams to, with minimal development support, quickly create and edit sites.
The hero of this component of the project was the live-preview feature set. The ability for site creators to build out pages and see them represented as what the end user would experience contributed more than anything else to time-saving. The development efforts around content previewing with the News Corp Australia project actually ended up influencing the implementation in WordPress core itself.
4. Page Speed
Not many things impact the success (or demise) of a website greater than user experience, and not many things impact user experience greater than page speed. WordPress can be blazing fast or it can be atrociously slow. There is far more involved in a page’s performance than simply the CMS it runs on, especially for platforms facilitating half a billion views per month. Regardless, the platform had to deliver here.
WordPress itself didn’t meet the performance requirements of the project on its own, but it’s flexibility and non-proprietary nature meant that News Corp Australia was not restricted to a particular implementation. Their team and ours were able to consider the unique nature of their platform, sites, and readers and implement a solution that met their unique needs. The team wasn’t beholden to the restrictions of a proprietary solution.
Would they make the WordPress decision again?
The project was a success for News Corp Australia with the business needs for the platform being met by the capabilities of WordPress. The project has proven to have a lasting and positive impact on both the technology of WordPress and the publishing industry’s perception of the CMS. An important take away is that WordPress will not deliver at scale off-the-shelf, but with the right implementation, it can do so effectively and according to the unique needs of a highly complex publisher.
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