AMPing up Performance with NOVA
NOVA is a network of premier radio stations with studios based in the major cities of Australia. Along with decades of setting the national benchmark for commercial radio production, NOVA was an early adopter of online radio content. Millions of users access their sites and stream radio content directly to their desktop or devices, and that number promises to increase in the future.
As NOVA continued to expand their digital presence, they realized that their current digital platform was showing its age. The existing network of sites, built on Drupal, presented a few problems that held back the content, marketing, and business leaders of the organization from reaching their goals.
- The experience between each local studio and their online content was disconnected from the larger content network.
- The editorial workflow had reached a point where it negatively impacted the team’s efficiency.
- Site performance was less than ideal, and many sites received penalties in search ranking.
- Live radio programming was not easily accessible while navigating the site.
- AdTech needed to be optimized for performance and migrated along to a new site.
The team at NOVA wasn’t just looking at the present. No, they were interested in establishing a foundation for the future. This would allow them to embrace cutting-edge web technology to offer their users and team members an unmatched experience.
“We wanted an enterprise, scalable, cost-effective platform that delivers a state of the art user experience.”
– Fayad Tohme, Chief Digital Officer, NOVA Entertainment
Choosing the Right Partner
The technical lead on the project was tasked with looking for a partner that could go above and beyond, one that was known for its work creating high-performance, scalable websites. They looked back on prior experience and recalled the biggest WordPress project in Australia to date, News Corp Australia’s migration of 90+ sites onto the platform, and knew that XWP was clearly the right team to do the work.
And so, the process of migrating NOVA from Drupal to WordPress began.
Let the Work Begin
After identifying the potential opportunities and roadblocks with the project, our team of engineers quickly set to work on one of NOVA’s non-radio sites: GOAT. GOAT is a mobile-first content site that acted as a proof of concept for the technological solutions we proposed for the entire portfolio of NOVA sites.
By prototyping numerous performance enhancements, AdTech improvements, and adding AMP compatibility to increase page speed, XWP was able to show the impact of this approach early in the project cycle, providing NOVA better confidence and insights of what was to come. After addressing issues of device compatibility and performance on GOAT, we then turned our attention toward NOVA’s large catalog of online radio platforms.
For the larger effort, network sites were consolidated into a single national site where content would be shared between stations and consumed at a national scale. During this hybrid project consisting of a multi-domain merger of many properties and content migration to WordPress, NOVA prioritized user experience and platform robustness to help simplify the future experience of engaging with its brand, regardless of where users are in Australia. Some other key features we developed included:
- Our engineers developed a parent/child theme framework to allow for more efficient rollout to a wider network of NOVA brands, including Smooth, Fiveaa, and STAR104.5.
- We worked hand in hand with the NOVA editorial staff to improve workflow and implement tooling to suit their specific needs, including Gutenberg-enabled curation. This allowed editors to create content hubs and customize content based on specific rules, taxonomies, content type, and market.
- Our implementation of a native AMP support for content led to performance gains and impressive front-end library delivery speed.
- The site is built as a progressive web app (PWA). Starting with some basic caching features, it is technically ready to offer users a native app-like experience––including offline mode and push notifications.
- As part of the PWA, we created a “persistent radio player” function inside an app shell based on our work with Google. Originally developed as a showcase of what WordPress can do with the right support, our approach leverages geolocation to select a visitor’s probable local station. As they navigate the site, the radio player continues streaming without interruption, allowing them to engage with the site longer and more fully.
- The team also performed an audit of NOVA’s AdTech stack across the platform to ensure it would work with the new AMP approach moving forward.
A Host with the Most
In addition to a wide variety of front and backend improvements, our team also investigated the possibility of looking for a new host for NOVA’s myriad of sites. The host would have to provide a world-class scalable solution that could adapt to the amount of data being transferred to and from the streaming networks.
As NOVA was weighing options, we turned to WP Engine, one of our trusted hosting partners. WP Engine is one of the best platforms for WordPress in the market, from a service, cost efficiency, product, and services standpoint. WP Engine is a great partner of XWP, and we know we can turn to them when we work with an organization like NOVA that needs both high performance and the ability to scale. As you’ll see in the results, hosting with WP Engine proved to be the right choice for NOVA.
Upon completion of the NOVA project, their editorial and website teams were more than happy with the impressive performance results.
A Bright Future
The sites continue to perform above and beyond expectations, but there’s always room for improvement. As we move forward with our partnership we hope to continue to improve the platform, making it even more compatible with AMP and improving the sites’ functionality. There is also the opportunity of making it an example for PWAs everywhere to strive toward, with a solid user experience both on and offline. This could involve a number of additions, including API capabilities and other performance enhancements.