We’re excited to announce VIP CLI, a new and direct way for developers to interact with applications hosted on VIP.
We’re excited! We’re really looking forward to this CLI tool making our workflows much easier. We’re particularly pleased about the flexibility to adapt data sync to our sites, adding our own custom functionality to clean out our specific production credentials, production options, and change things up.
– Bob Kirkemo, Lead Software Developer with VIP Client Digital First Media
Control vs power
We’re creating the preeminent platform to empower WordPress developers and accelerate our client’s business. The faster developers can deliver value, the faster the business can differentiate in the market.
The VIP platform allows companies to run sites confidently in the face of remarkable traffic levels while maintaining a strong security posture and remaining performant, all without an in-house Systems and Operations team. Until now, the tradeoff has been that our team has handled the control of your site on your behalf, as well as relaying information as requested.
In contrast, roll-your-own cloud hosting provides a lot of raw power to development teams, but requires dedicating company time and energy to architecting and operating the infrastructure. On a hosting platform designed and operated in-house, everything can be done by your team but everything has to be done by your team.
Power and tools
When we talk to our client developers, they tell us they want more direct ways to work with their sites and applications, and more immediate methods of feedback. They want the best of both worlds: our hands-on support when they need it, and direct access when they don’t. We agree. We are determined to meet our clients’ developers on their own terms, and deliver the access and control they demand while retaining the benefits of a fully managed platform.
When you want direct assistance, we will anticipate it and be there for you. And when you don’t, you should be able to proceed smoothly and without extra steps or encumbrances. We think about the latter as empowerment… and empowerment is a key focus as we develop the VIP Platform and tooling.
Any time we can get something done ourselves rather than fire up a ticket, it saves us time and keeps our team’s heads in what we’re doing. I’m excited to see VIP keeping a focus on enabling us to tackle more tasks ourselves.
– Erick Hitter, Principal Software Developer at VIP Partner Alley
CLI: The first building block
We wanted our first tool to address as broad a range of developer scenarios as possible, and the obvious answer was to build a command line interface (CLI) tool. Many developers are familiar with issuing CLI commands in a terminal, and using those commands to script interactions with WordPress sites via the official WP CLI tool, so we knew we were working with an established paradigm.
This week, we’re proud to release VIP CLI, and the first commands you can run with it, including triggering a data sync to synchronise data from your production environment to non-production environments, facilitating faster debugging and QA. To get started, please read our documentation for installation instructions.
Below you can see a video of the tool in action:
We know that using a CLI tool is not for everyone, so we have a web-based dashboard in the works. Watch this space.
Please get in touch if there’s anything you want to discuss about the VIP developer experience, or anything we can help with.
Anyone who runs an enterprise WordPress application knows there are significant challenges and considerations to copying production data. No matter that your production data runs to tens or hundreds of thousands of articles, contains sensitive “live” data, and is accompanied by tens of gigabytes of images, often you need a complete copy of that production data to test new functionality or to reproduce a persnickety bug.
Today we’re pleased to announce a speedy, streamlined, and structured Data Sync process for VIP clients. This is a step in our larger effort to make copying large amounts of production data entirely self-service, which we will also be rolling out soon. In the meantime, and even after self-service becomes available, we are happy to sync data on behalf of our clients.
Read on for details on how our new process works.
As light as a feather
Copying data must never affect the operation of the production site. It cannot place load on the database or impact performance in any way. To remove the impact on our production servers we hook into our backup mechanism, and use the hourly backup data we keep for all production sites.
Fast, complete, and working data
For the large datasets we expect from many of our clients, copying everything over can take a long time and the subsequent operations on the data can take even longer. Our Data Sync completely replicates their production data and we wanted the operation to be as fast as possible.
To sync the data we use the reliable and well tested functionality of our backup systems. Our backups are fast to restore, and have complete internal integrity, e.g. no partly completed data operations, making them ideal for this purpose.
As well as restoring the data, we need to replace any URLs using the production domain with URLs for the new non-production environment. Traditionally this is done using the WP-CLI tool, which provides a command line interface and tools for managing a WordPress install. While this works for the majority of WordPress sites out there, this method is simply too slow for the massive datasets typically used by a high scale WordPress.com VIP client. The slowdowns are caused by the interactions between PHP and the database layer – many hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of reads and writes will necessarily take some time!
To replace the URLs in the data at the speed VIP customers demand, our team wrote a Golang script, “go-search-replace“. In our tests, go-search-replace is at least forty times quicker than the equivalent search and replace using WP-CLI commands, reducing operations which took many hours to minutes at most. (We apologize if you were expecting to kick back with a long and refreshing beverage during the Data Sync.)
Massive media libraries
Of course the database is just one part of the story. Many WordPress sites we host include tens, even hundreds, of gigabytes of data and hundreds of thousands of files on our VIP Go Files Service. Copying such a significant amount of data would take many hours. Instead our cloud platform provides a service we call UnionFS.
UnionFS works by making the files for the production site available to all non-production sites in read-only mode. Files shared by UnionFS in this way are served from the same infrastructure and have the same caching rules applied.
Tailored to your WordPress application
Production data often includes connections to APIs and services that should not be active in non-production environments, such as API keys for live payment gateways and connections to mailing lists. To ensure you have confidence in the data, and to be sure you get the same results every time, we provide a WordPress action hook so your code can swap API keys, clear production orders, and any other custom operations that are specific to your WordPress application.
How do I try this?
As we finalize everything that will make this process fully self-service, we will continue to support VIP client Data Sync needs as they arise. If you want the data from your VIP Go WordPress site copied into a non-production environment, please contact our support team and we will be happy to help.
We’re happy to announce a new Cron infrastructure for our VIP Cloud Hosting Service platform. In this post we’ll take you through why we did this, how we did it, and what problems it solves for our VIP clients.
The VIP platform provides performance, speed, and scale to the highest traffic sites. Each component and service we support plays a role in that mission. The new VIP Cron infrastructure ensures your site can schedule one-off tasks, offload intensive processing, and run repeated actions reliably, on time, and without additional developer effort. Our Cron implementation builds on the core WordPress Cron API, for maximum code portability from the WordPress ecosystem and familiarity for your engineering teams.
High Traffic Sites and Cron
The WordPress Cron system allows scheduling of asynchronous events, such as publishing a post at a future date or sending out a survey a few days after completing an order. It also facilitates running repeated tasks, such as syndicating content between sites or ingesting videos from third party video services. The core WordPress Cron system works well for many WordPress sites every day.
Traditionally, WordPress Cron is triggered by normal traffic to your WordPress site. Regular visitors trigger an AJAX request back to the server that identifies and runs pending tasks. This approach works great for many sites, as it has no additional dependencies or setup requirements. However, ease-of-use comes with a few trade-offs:
Unreliable triggers – cron is only triggered when there is traffic to your site
Shared resources – the jobs run on the same server as regular web requests, so intensive cron jobs can negatively affect site performance
Hard to scale – difficult to process many jobs in parallel, or handle very large numbers of scheduled events
VIP sites rely on Cron for mission-critical functionality that must work reliably every time. Our new Cron infrastructure is designed to ensure the reliability and scalability of cron events on every VIP site.
Smarts, Brawn, and Confidence – pick three
We’ve improved three main areas of Cron for our VIPs:
Smarter process control. By default, WordPress Cron processes events serially. This is fine for sparse queues composed of light tasks but enterprise sites often require offloading a long running task to Cron for asynchronous processing. These events function like slow moving traffic on a single lane highway. Subsequent events can be processed late due to being “stuck behind” a slow moving task. An enterprise WordPress Cron needs to be able to process offloaded tasks efficiently without impacting the regular operation of the site.
Handling giant queues. A large Cron queue can cause issues where the size of the queue exceeds the capacity of a single option and object caching. An enterprise hosting platform must handle enterprise-sized queues.
Mission-critical scheduling. Initiating an event in core WordPress Cron relies on unrelated web requests to trigger events. This dependency can cause issues with the event processing regularity and timeliness. An enterprise WordPress Cron solution must run scheduled events on time, every time.
In short, we wanted to ensure that the Cron infrastructure for each VIP site was reliable, powerful, and dedicated to that site, just like the rest of the VIP Cloud Hosting Service. We wanted resource intensive tasks to be offloaded to dedicated containers, rather than running on the same resources used to serve web requests. We wanted to ensure tasks for one site did not interfere with other tasks, or with the operation of another site.
It was also important to us that we fully supported the core WordPress Cron API, so our clients can utilize existing plugins and themes without refactoring code or learning a new API.
A Better Cron
Our Cron Control plugin (open source code) builds on the core WordPress Cron system, and is the basis for our Cron enhancements. Cron Control provides a carefully optimized SQL table for WordPress Cron events. This approach satisfies the highly concurrent querying we commonly see on VIP sites. Each named event in the queue is handled in parallel with other events, allowing a much greater event handling capacity.
Cron events on a VIP site run on dedicated containers using an “event runner” written in Golang (open source Golang runner code). Using our container-based infrastructure allows us to scale the number of containers to meet the demands of the particular site, independently of the site’s web traffic
The Cron Control event runner first spawns a batch of “event retrievers” which collect events to be run. In the case of a WordPress multisite this means spawning parallel event retrievers to collect the events for each individual subsite within the multisite. Once events are all retrieved, they are farmed out to a dedicated pool of “event workers” which execute WP CLI commands to run each event.
Busy sites may have several Cron runners in separate containers all processing the queue simultaneously. Our VIP Cron infrastructure takes particular care to orchestrate the activity of the event workers in the different containers, to avoid clashes with two workers processing the same event.
While the event runner is written in Golang, it interacts closely with WordPress through WP CLI commands provided by the Cron Control plugin. All configuration (such as enabling/disabling cron itself and parallelization limits) is via WordPress hooks in the site code, which makes controlling cron processing easy and familiar for WordPress developers.
Ensuring scheduled posts are published on time is a particular concern for many of our clients. Cron Control gives particular priority to ensuring scheduled post events are run when they are found, and that the list of scheduled posts is up to date.
Good monitoring, smooth operations
The Cron Control system is monitored by a Node.js application, itself hosted on VIP Go (yes, we host Node apps too!). The monitor uses a series of dedicated authenticated REST API endpoints on each VIP site (and each subsite on each WordPress multisite) to ensure that event queues remain within acceptable parameters, that the events within the queue are executed in a timely manner, and that execution is proceeding smoothly. If any issues are detected, the VIP team is alerted and investigates the problem.
On time, every time
Our new Cron infrastructure serves the complex and mission-critical needs of some of the most demanding enterprise applications on the web. Contact us now to find out how you can benefit from the same peace of mind and let VIP give you the freedom you to publish.
For existing clients, we have a separate VIP Lobby post where we take you through the steps to take advantage of our new VIP Cron infrastructure.
On our containerized managed platform, VIP Go, the platform team has been experimenting with and refining one of the most valuable parts of our service: code review.
Code review does lots of things for our clients. It gives developers confidence that their code will run at scale, that they’re not adding any unanticipated technical debt, and allows us to share skills to develop knowledge and best practices. For leaders and product owners, it makes launches smoother and more predictable, and creates trust and accountability.
When we began working on the VIP Go project a few years ago we felt it was a good opportunity to revisit our development workflows and code review. We had watched developer teams move from SVN to Git and wanted to ensure our tools did the same. We chose GitHub as the place to be as so many open source projects are based there.
One of our goals for this year has been to bring our code review process even closer to the default workflow most teams use. We’d like it to be so seamless that it feels like we’re just another member of the development team. This week we have introduced a new workflow and process for our industry-leading code review with this in mind.
Pull Request Code Review
As of this week, we will now be providing code review using GitHub’s excellent code review tools. Among other things, GitHub provides inline commenting, excellent syntax highlighting and diffing, and allows the VIP team to work with your team in a shared UI.
A pull request against your master branch is all it takes to trigger a code review from one of the VIP team. We will then leave feedback inline against the code itself.
This workflow has a number of benefits:
You control when your code is deployed to production (including reverts)
Once a pull request has been approved by the VIP team you will be able to merge it to your master branch. The merge triggers a code deploy on your site. This allows you to control when code is deployed and you no longer have to schedule deploys with us.
It also simplifies rollbacks/reverts as the Github UI provides a simple one-click method to revert PRs.
Code review takes place inline; no more back and forth in tickets
Our current code review feedback takes place away from the code itself via Zendesk tickets. This abstracts it from its context, which can slow down reviews and the implementation of fixes. On GitHub, conversations happen alongside your code making it easier to address the feedback given. Pushing changes also dismisses inline feedback.
Integration opportunities with automated code feedback and CI systems
In the near future we plan to introduce automated code feedback integrations with Continuous Integration systems like Travis CI, CircleCI, and TeamCity. This will provide near instantaneous feedback on code quality, errors and linting for our code standards.
So far the feedback has been very positive:
“a big thumbs up for the recent change to incorporate the pull request review functionality”
– Weston Ruter, XWP
If you would like to find out more, our documentation on the new GitHub PR Review Workflow describes the workflow in detail and answers many common questions.
Under the hood
The VIP Go operational API searches across all GitHub repositories looking for open pull requests against master branches. These are aggregated into our code review queue. The review queue is what notifies our developers that a review should be started.
The review queue is a React powered front end that interacts with the API. This front end currently supports both this new workflow and our existing workflow which will be deprecated soon.
Here is how a pull request currently looks for our developers:
The pull requests can be filtered to only show those that require attention and we also highlight SLA information along with the latest discussion to take place.
On the GitHub side things are as you would expect them:
The VIP platform team focuses on the advancement of the tools and systems that power WordPress.com VIP. As mentioned above our main focus now is looking at automated feedback and integration with common CI systems. Beyond that we want to keep the dialog open and continue to refine the process. If you’re a current client, we look forward to your feedback as you use these tools. If you’re thinking about working with VIP, we’d love to hear how a process like this would integrate with your workflows and processes. It will be user feedback that helps determine where we head next.
We’re delighted to announce that we have completed certification of WordPress.com VIP’s hosting service under the EU-US and Swiss-US Privacy Shield Frameworks.
This means global publishers and European residents can host and store data on the VIP platform, with confidence that you’re doing so in accordance with current legal standards.
The EU-US Privacy Shield Framework was agreed in July 2016, following the collapse of the earlier Safe Harbour scheme. It provides certain protections for the personal data of EU individuals transferred to companies and services based in the United States. These include limitations on US government access on grounds of national security, and the provision of several channels for making inquiries and complaints.
A similar agreement was reached between the US and Switzerland in early 2017.
Participating companies self-certify annually with the US Department of Commerce, confirming that they adhere to the Privacy Shield principles.
Automattic has a long and proud history of standing up for the privacy and legal rights of our users, as our twice-yearly Transparency Reports demonstrate; so we were very happy to sign up to the necessary commitments, such as notice, access, security and recourse.
There were mixed feelings on the VIP team last week, when a joke about one of our clients went viral.
Reports of obsessive refreshing of the US election predictions on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, hosted on WordPress.com VIP, began to appear in late October. As Election Day got ever closer, things reached fever pitch.
Siri, go to five thirty eight dot com Siri, refresh five thirty eight dot com Siri, refresh five thirty eight dot com Siri, refresh five thi
One of the campaigns even felt the need to send an email to supporters, urging them to “stop refreshing FiveThirtyEight” and focus on getting out the vote instead.
Things really went into overdrive when the team fired up their Election Day liveblog. The first calls were made at 7pm Eastern; traffic surged as visitors looked for guidance on the clues each new result gave to the final, surprising outcome.
By midnight, FiveThirtyEight had posted — in a single day — the kind of traffic numbers we would usually expect of the most popular, mass-appeal sites we host… over the course of a week. Not bad for a nerdy site all about statistics.
We’re absolutely delighted to see a client doing so well, but the VIP team were all too aware of the responsibility on our shoulders. We knew our systems and practices would face their sternest test ever — even if constant refreshing hadn’t become a new national pastime.
It wasn’t just FiveThirtyEight, of course. With so many VIP clients in the news business, many of the sites we host saw significant traffic spikes on Election Day, or for those addressing audiences living several timezones away (like News.com.au or Indian Express), the day after. Follow-up coverage on Thursday saw at least one major site post a new record number of page views.
Part of VIP’s appeal is that we ensure you’re ready for high-traffic events like this: the ones you can predict, and the ones you can’t. With so many sites, from so many places, covering so many subjects, we simply have to be prepared for the most extreme scenarios.
VIP clients share the same high-capacity global infrastructure as the WordPress.com platform, consistently ranked as one of the web’s busiest properties. And our engineers work with each site’s developers to ensure their code is as efficient and performant as possible.
Clients are often anxious about traffic spikes. But really, they should be something to look forward to: these are the times your website truly earns its stripes.
A vibrant Fourth Estate will be more important than ever in the next few years — and it will need to be fast and performant for readers around the world. If VIP can deliver for FiveThirtyEight, the national focal point on one of the most dramatic election nights in history, you can be confident we can deliver on your big night too. We dare you to put us to the test.
We were delighted to learn last week that VIP had ‘easily’ achieved Top Tier status in an authoritative study of enterprise-level WordPress hosting.
Review Signal’s analysis is recognized as the benchmark for comparing the performance and resilience of specialist WordPress hosts. This is the company’s fourth review of the market, but the first time they have looked specifically at enterprise offerings; and it’s the first time VIP has been assessed.
VIP put on an ‘amazing show’, according to Review Signal’s Kevin Ohashi; ‘they blew my (test setup) out of the water.’
“VIP put up the absolute fastest scores that I’ve seen by a wide margin, roughly triple the speed of the next fastest”
– Kevin Ohashi
We were the clear winner in tests conducted using Review Signal’s open-source WPPerformanceTester tool. ‘VIP put up the absolute fastest scores in the PHP bench that I’ve seen by a wide margin,’ Kevin writes: ‘roughly triple the speed of the next fastest.’
In a load test simulating up to 10,000 concurrent users, VIP’s average response time was ‘impressively flat and the fastest of any company by a good bit’. VIP came out top for almost half the global locations used in tests via WebPagetest.org, including Sydney, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, and LA.
We were delighted to see our Automattic siblings in Pressable also achieving Top Tier status, along with Kinsta, Pagely, Pantheon and Pressidium. It’s great to see an ecosystem of managed hosting solutions growing around WordPress, allowing publishers and enterprises to choose the solution that’s right for their needs.
We know how much performance matters at enterprise level – for consumers, content creators and search engines alike.
We all know Reddit – the online community where users vote on content. Today, we on the WordPress.com VIP team are excited to be part of a new chapter in Reddit history as they launch a hub for that original content, Upvoted.com. Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, explains a bit more about what Upvoted is for the Reddit community…
This launch of upvoted.com is the next logical step in celebrating the Reddit community: a hub for original content to give Redditors credit, as well as go beyond the original story to learn more about the people and ideas that bubble up across this site of 202 million monthly users (bigger than Brazil!). And of course, you can discuss every piece of original content at r/upvoted.
In this post, WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting client Metro.co.uk‘s Head of Development Dave Jensen shares further insights on how their popular site achieved an incredible growth since its migration and launch on WordPress.com VIP. Originally posted on his blog, he’s agreed to share it here on VIP News as well.
For the last two years I have been focused on the design, build and growth of Metro.co.uk utilising the WordPress.com VIP platform. Our approach consists of constant experimentation with both product and content which has returned a large set of data mixed with editorial feedback. This has been refined into a list of product guidelines to help us remain focused on growth. These are based on my experiences and our audience so yours may differ.
Good editorial content will deliver more growth than any product based approach
With a single well written/planned/timed story able to deliver millions of page views and course through the veins of social networks for weeks this should be the number one focus.
Good UX turns the dial more than any product hacks
The better the experience of product and content the more likely people are to visit your site, share your content and form habits around its consumption.
The closer to the main content area of the page the more related the content should be
Our data has shown that the closer to the article body or top of channel pages the better contextually related content perfoms. Once you are below these areas users are more open to a wider set of content to continue their journey.
Where content is placed on the page is almost as important as the content that is placed there
Our testing revealed content placement is almost as important as content selection (as long as it is relevant and recent). This is one of the reasons we have moved to an algorithmic approach for large areas of the site.
Nothing beats the value of an editorially selected contextual link within the article body
The area just after article delivers a lot of value as users have finished reading and can be easily tempted into something else
Sidebars aren’t shown on mobile and banner blindness often turns them off for desktop users so they are not an area we focus on
Fill dead space with content, people like to scroll it’s the natural behaviour of the web
Our newsfeed delivers over 10% of the page views of our site, this is pretty impressive considering it used to be blank space at the bottom of every article and channel page.
Don’t mess with the natural way that the web works
We tried and failed with this during our swipe phase. 5-7% of users delivered 20% of our page views but that didn’t increase their overall time on site. However it complicated everything we built hampering our ability to learn fast. It also didn’t quite fit into commercial or editorial strategies. This frustration/learning was what inspired the algorithm and scroll based newsfeed you now see.
Algorithms are great but need help from humans to perform at their best
Simple algorithms are a great way to optimise editorial workflows especially around content positioning. However these are only as good as the data behind them. Often you have to wait for this to be gathered before acting on it. Using editorial intuition is a great way to shortcut this process. Especially if you can make it run off existing priorities then process change isn’t required to participate.
Whatever Google/Facebook ask you to do, just do it
They deliver so much of your traffic don’t question, just do what they recommend.
Feed the beast
Google and Facebook are always hungry for quality content. Gaining momentum requires constant feeding. They both have overall scores for domain as well as article urls so focusing on keeping this high means a better chance to gain and then maintain momentum.
Think of every page as a funnel, you lose users as they scroll but the lower they get the more open to their next engagement they become
The higher up the page something is placed the more people will see it. However the lower down the page someone is the more open they are to being tempted by some more content, advertising or interactions (e.g. poll vote, comments)
A mobile first approach is a great way to approach product prioritisation
Most of our traffic comes from mobile rather than desktop so it is logical to prioritise. This has formed a major part of our growth strategy.
Goals need to be concise, measurable and focus on why
The more people understand the goal and are able to affect it the more powerful it is. A goal that contains a why will always beat a goal that just contains a what.
Product specific performance should be broken down to actions per daily active users for comparison
This gives a much better overview of actual performance. Allows you to take out traffic fluctuations, just make sure you have enough data.
A week seems to be the minimum amount of data required to see if a feature has worked
Due to fluctuations in traffic and browsing habits. Also good to look at monthly and quarterly trends over longer periods as quite often they exhibit patterns that aren’t found at lower levels. It was asking questions around unexpected trends/data that helped teach me most around product growth.
Distribute weekly reports to show trends and give your stakeholders an overview of how the product is performing
Have these scheduled to your team and stakeholders via email. Also very useful if you break something when fixing something else. Great safety net to minimise impact and spot any unexpected growth.
Any new feature needs to be taken in context of how it fits in the editorial work flow. The closer it is to the existing process the more likely it will be adopted.
The best way to change a habit is build off an existing trigger. New features that leverage existing habits will get much higher adoption than building new habits/process.
Consider the users current journey and their emotional state in all features
Segmenting users based on mindset is a great way to understand data. e.g. Social browsers are likely on a multi site journey in a chromed browser on a mobile device. So they are only looking for a single story from your site so optimise for that. No point in worrying about pages/visit focus on getting more return visits via a social follow.
When coming from social users are often looking to enhance their social status
Our top share buttons get clicked on 4 times more than our bottom share buttons. Social proof around number of others already shared also promotes more sharing.
When coming from search users are usually in a topic based mindset
More likely to click on related, in article links and masthead channel links. Continue to deliver great content around a niche to form habits. Particularly useful around passion centres e.g. Premier League clubs.
It’s better to have 100 amazing tag pages that look and feel like a destination than 10,000 that feel like they were made for Google
Quality trumps quantity every time, Google knows if you users are clicking through.
People click on headlines 4x more than they click images
This is why A/B testing headlines is a great idea. It is the single piece of the editorial process that can have the biggest impact on growth. We also have SEO and socially optimised headlines to ensure we cater to both needs.
These are the principles that I have applied to the product development of metro.co.uk over the past two years. The key takeaway is that constant experimentation is a great way to unlock growth if your environment supports it. The hard part is achieving that without adding too much complexity. Complexity inhibits your ability to learn and learning is central to any successful product growth strategy. Building a set of guidelines has enabled us to move faster and helped foster our continued growth.
One for the future.
Micro interactions help drive habitual use
We don’t have a lot of data on this yet but there seems to be a correlation between micro interactions such as poll votes and habitual use. My theory is that by engaging different parts of the brain you become more memorable. These simple actions form the basis of new habits around content consumption. I think this is a major opportunity for future growth.
Thank you to Dave and the Metro.co.uk team for sharing their tips with VIP News.
Want more information about WordPress services for your enterprise site? Get in touch.
Welcome to Alberta Motor Association (AMA), who recently launched on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting! The AMA is a non-profit membership organization serving Alberta and the Northwest Territories, and is affiliated with the Canadian Automobile Association and AAA.
The Alberta Motor Association provides its members with roadside assistance service, a range of auto touring and leisure travel services, insurance services, and member discounts with partners.
The AMA site is packed full of features, including the ability for potential members to get a quote for their life, home, or auto insurance needs directly online.
The AMA also offers extensive travel planning as a benefit, and members can plan their next cruise, vacation, or even business trip using their customized travel planning tool.
Congrats and welcome to RoadLoans.com, who just launched on WordPress.com VIP Hosting. It’s a great example of a corporate site packed with information & tools for their customers!
RoadLoans’ guides to buying, getting loans, and other helpful information when it comes to test driving, buying, and financing a car are also supplemented with their shopping tools which help consumers make decisions on-the-go about which car is right for them.
The RoadLoans team also regularly blogs to keep their users informed about the latest happenings around the automotive world, and some tips & tricks, too.
The team has expanded to address all the site’s verticals and Nate explains the aim of the site in his launch post, What the Fox Knows.
The breadth of our coverage will be much clearer at this new version of FiveThirtyEight, which is launching Monday under the auspices of ESPN. We’ve expanded our staff from two full-time journalists to 20 and counting. Few of them will focus on politics exclusively; instead, our coverage will span five major subject areas — politics, economics, science, life and sports.
Here’s the FiveThirtyEight team counting down the launch of the new site:
In true FiveThirtyEight style, they even predict the probability of you reaching the new site during the launch (WordPress.com VIP’s note: only during DNS propagation…after which we predict 99.9999% uptime!)
We're live! But there's a 70.617854% chance you'll be able to see http://t.co/MsE0s1lg4P. The site is rolling out in stages. So sit tight!
In this post, WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting client Metro.co.uk‘s Head of Development Dave Jensen shares some insights on how their popular site achieved an incredible growth since its migration and launch on WordPress.com VIP. Originally posted on his blog, he’s agreed to share it here on VIP News as well.
Metro Monthly Unique Visitors (Jan’12 – Feb’14)
Over the past 12 months Metro has been on an amazing growth curve. Some of it is being in the right place at the right time for algorithm changes but a lot of it was planning and then execution of a growth (hacking) strategy.
Hack 1: Responsive Design
Monthly Unique Visitors from Mobile (Jan’12 – Feb’14)
We decided a responsive design would be the best way to capitalise on the explosive growth in mobile. A nine month redesign process culminated in Metro going responsive on 7th Dec ’12. We immediately saw growth from social referrals with Twitter’s almost doubling over night. The other benefit of responsive sites is that there is only one URL. As this is the key used to store ranking information in search and social algorithms you don’t want this split between multiple domains like m dot.
The key takeaway is that if you give people a great experience on all devices then they are much more likely to read, share and return to your content.
Weekly Visits from Twitter (Oct’12 – Feb’13)
Hack 2: Focus all development efforts on growth
WordPress.com Stats for Metro (Dec’12 – Feb’14)
We also migrated to the hosted platform as a service provided by Automattic on wpvip.com. This enabled all of our costs and resources to be focused on growth as they didn’t have to worry about caching, servers or anything that didn’t improve experience for our readers or editorial users. The amazing thing about the platform is that it is a flat fee. This means that although our traffic has grown 350% year on year our costs have not changed. The depth of their out of the box features plus ecosystem of plugins ensured that we did’t have to worry about commodity features such as SEO, site maps and editorial workflows as someone else had built and open sourced an approach.
Hack 3: Open up content creation to anyone
Metro Blogs Monthly Unique Users (Dec’12 – Feb’14)
The other great thing about the WordPress platform is that it enabled us to allow bloggers to contribute content directly into our core CMS. This started out as a feature for Metro employees but grew to encompass a much wider set of sources. Club Metro is now the most prominent and now contributes over 1M unique visitors a month. Having blogs content on the same domain placed amongst the rest of Metro’s content ensured we leveraged our existing algorithmic rankings. A single editorial workflow also helped keep the overheads low. The added bonus that most bloggers were already using WordPress and can write from anywhere helped us secure some top talent.
Club Metro Article
Hack 4: Facebook page as a major marketing channel
173,000 Facebook Page likes Feb ’13 to 562,000 Facebook Page Likes Feb ’14
Social referrals were another large contributor to growth. We focused on growing our Facebook page “Likes” as a content marketing strategy and this was very successful. We had always been careful to only send a small amount of our best posts out a day on our Facebook page. This had a solid base of users and growing this was a key goal for the last year. We employed many strategies including competitions with like gates and boosting posts. Competitions were effective in bringing in users but there were a lot of repeat entries. Varying the prize helped to minimise this and our email based CRM platform really helped to drive entries. The most cost effective way we found was boosting posts as friends of people who already liked Metro were shown a great piece of our content. They were then much more likely to then go on to like the page. As they were similar to people who already liked Metro they were very receptive and continued to engage with our content.
Metro Facebook Page
Hack 5: Made to share content
Weekly Social Visits to Metro (Jan’13 – Feb’14)
Ensuring that not just the content put out on the Facebook page was made to share also really helped grow our social referrals. When the content is written they set a success measure of 100 shares on an article and then set performance targets on achieving that on 25% of our content. This has allowed some interesting conversations around the areas of the site where that was less prevalent. More than anything it is a very easy test for all of the content creators to know what they should focus on. If it won’t hit that bar then find something else. A key growth hack we developed was the ability to show different headlines for social and search so we didn’t impact our search traffic.
SEO and Social Headlines on Made to Share Content
Hack 6: Made to share UX
Share and follow functionality on Metro.co.uk after the Made to Share focus.
The other side of social was increasing the number of people sharing from the site. The development team had a made to share focus where we introduced much larger, clearer social buttons and reduced the number of clicks it took to share. This with the addition of a sticky sharing bar that floats on desktop has seen a large increase in the number of direct shares from our site. This seems to have also affected the amount of people copying and pasting links from the site from the subtle reinforcement due constantly present share cues. It would also seem that Facebook take direct site shares as a strong signal in their algorithm as we have continued to see growth from social.
Hack 7: If something feels wrong don’t give up on it
Referral from Natural Search (Google Fixed, July ’12)
After the redesign only 20% of our stories indexed in Google News had our pictures next to them. We spent months experimenting on different options before we finally managed to ask Google the right question in July ’13 so they could fix it for us. It turned out that they were still using the Webmaster Tools account we had been using before the migration which pointed to our old domain that included www. Not only did this change help our referrals from Google News but it gave us a major kick in all search referrals. It would have been much easier to give up on this earlier but relentlessly focusing on this until we solved it really paid dividends.
Hack 8: Let technology automate repetition
Metro Development Releases to Production (Nov’12 – Feb’14)
Automation of all of our development and test processes allowed us to release 4.5 times on average every day (apart from Fridays) for the past 12 months. This enabled short feedback cycles and decision making to happen at a much faster pace. We have five different environments that are used for testing before we push code live. This kept errors to a minimum and kept the feedback flowing. This environment of automated front end tests and frameworks was a major investment but has continued to pay dividends.
Hack 9: Ensure proximity of key people who are focusing on a goal
Single Goal: 700,000 Average Daily Mobile Visitors in September 2013
A single goal of growth allowed us to work together cross functionally and a focus on data and numbers ensured that feedback was alway digestible. Content, social and tech sitting together and working together enabled the good ideas to come to the top quicker and equally the bad ones get ignored. Equally focusing on data helped take emotion out of decision making which enabled data to win arguments. This sped up innovation and focus. In most cases we have done less but done what we have done better to achieve growth.
Hack 10: Get out of the way
Voticle: Are you a true Brit?
Once people are working cross functionally together towards a goal then get out of the way and let them get on with it. In the past two months we have relaxed our process and now the content creators are working directly with the developers on new article formats to continue our growth. Out of this we have developed five new ways of displaying content from quizzes to lists and beyond.
Quizicle: How much of a Londoner are you.
None of the above would have been possible without the adoption of a lean mindset and the approach of build, measure, learn, iterate. It has been an amazing 12 months of growth at Metro and an great feeling to be part of a team that came up with and then executed a plan which delivered these results.
It was a pleasure to work with the below as well as many others on this journey.
TIME.com just launched a great responsive redesign of their homepage, and the site is now hosted on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting! The popular homepage joins their numerous other TIME sites already running on the WordPress.com VIP infrastructure.
Their new design also focuses on their growing mobile audience:
…the new site is designed especially for busy, mobile readers. In fact, our data suggest that nearly half of you are currently reading this on a smartphone or tablet. TIME invented the news brief; the original magazine included 100 stories, none longer than 400 words. Fittingly, the centerpiece of our new home page is The Brief, a fast take on the 12 stories you need to know about right now, as chosen by TIME’s editors. No matter where you enter our site, you’ll get a continuous story feed on every page that allows you to move around TIME.com for a quick take on what’s happening now.
More Filters. We now have four new filters that provide a lot of similar functionality as is available on the regular WP.com sitemaps:
`msm_sitemap_namespace` — Customize the namespace declaration for the sitemap during generation
`msm_sitemap_skip_post` — Allows a post to be skipped during sitemap generation
`msm_sitemap_entry` — Runs for each entry during generation. Allows you to customize every SimpleXMLElement before it is outputted.
`msm_sitemap_query_args` — Allows you to customize the WP_Query that is used to fetch the posts to be inserted in the sitemap.
No Sitemaps for Non-Public Blogs. Sitemaps are no longer generated or available on non-public blogs. The cron job itself is killed so it doesn’t suck up any resources and a nice 404 is given when the sitemap is requested. In the administration panel, the main sitemaps options and stats are no longer available when the sitemap is private (see screenshot):
Admin Page Name Changed and Code Restructured. There is only one admin page and it lives in Tools->Sitemap. The code for the admin page has been greatly restructured and is now 314% better*.
The admin page now lives in msm_sitemap.php instead of the cron builder, where it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the functions on the block. In addition to fixing a number of translation problems we’ve also made it so that the action buttons and status text are customizable via actions and filters.
The admin page now has the following new filter and action:
`msm_sitemap_actions` — Allows actions to be registered for the admin page. This is how the `Generate Sitemaps` buttons and others are generated.
`msm_sitemap_action-$action` — This action (not a filter) is called when a pre-registered action is performed by a user. When you register an action via `msm_sitemap_actions` you provide a `$action` slug, which is used to generate the action name to be performed. If your action needs to print out a status message to the user it can use the new `Metro_Sitemap::show_action_message()` helper function.
Additional Stats Tracking. We now track the number of sitemaps that have been generated and the number of URLs indexed in each sitemap. This info is informative and helpful, and we may be able to present it in a pretty infographic in the future.
If you already have Comprehensive Sitemaps running on your blog you will have to regenerate your sitemaps for these new stats to update.
For the Win is about tracking sports news before it goes viral and the sharing stats for each article are prominent and an important part of the site.
The Big Leadcovers sports but also touches on everything from politics to pop culture.
MMA Junkie is a site focused on mixed martial arts news, rumors, live blogs, and more.
The Q is at the center of its NFL coverage on Sundays, Monday nights and Thursday nights as an optimal second-screen companion for fans following NFL games, filtering out everything but the best real-time analysis through editor-vetted curation and exclusive, original content.
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Today, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) officially re-launched Olympic.ca, marking the 3-month countdown to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Derek Kent, CMO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, remarked on the site’s redesign: “Our vision is to create a website that is best-in-class among National Olympic Committees. We know our fans, athletes and our partners are hungry for Canadian Olympic team content. This and the next generation of the website will ensure our athletes’ stories are told, and shared in more compelling ways with fans at home and around the world.”
Q: How is the website different from previous Olympic Games?
We wanted to make sure that the entire digital experience was driven by a ‘fans first’ approach. We’ve seen mobile traffic on Olympic.ca go from 15% in 2012, to 30% in the first half of 2013, and as of October, 2013 it was at 40%. So, in addition to the more obvious social hooks, we knew that re-designing around fans meant meant we needed to be ‘mobile first’.
We had our design partner Zync focus on how things would actually behave as mobile content and navigation – on function, then form – making it easy to share articles, photographs and videos, with a content and menu system built specifically for those smaller screens.
And the site lives within a responsive grid, as we felt this provided our best immediate mobile product, while putting us in a great long-term position to benefit from the constant evolution in responsive design.
“WordPress.com VIP allowed us to focus on the fan experience and front-facing content, instead of the servers powering it.” — Todd Denis, Director, Brand Connections, Olympic.ca.
Q: Why did your team choose WordPress.com VIP as the platform for the Olympic.ca website?
We had to ensure that the site would be ready for any traffic and performance load that the massive Olympic Games audience could throw at it, but we also had to be aware of the limited internal resources we could expend on site administration. We were already running a self-hosted WordPress site, but it was in serious need of a technology and stability update. WordPress.com VIP allowed us to focus on the fan experience and front-facing content, instead of the servers powering it.
Q: How long did it take to put the project together, from start to finish?
From initial RFP to final launch was more than six months, but it was approximately 16 weeks as a pure timeline around UX, wires, content migration and development. We worked with Toronto based brand and marketing agency Zync, and their programming partner Trew Knowledge, to design, develop and support the site.
Q: How will your team use social media to complement the Canadian Olympic Committee website, and to drive traffic to it?
The site is social from top to bottom, with best practices in place for social sharing and channel promotion. But we’ve also got widgets that pull in context specific content from our social channels. For example, while the universal footer across the site is a direct pull in from Instagram, many of the Twitter feeds are grabbed based on the context specifics of the athlete or sport tags on the page. It’s these small things that help build to a more engaged fan-to-athlete experience.
We will also be launching a Canadian Olympic I.D. in the coming months, which will initially behave as a sort of registration system on the site to help streamline saving and sharing of content – and the I.D. will be powered by social registration to help us better understand who our fans are and what type of content they enjoy.
Visit Olympic.ca and see for yourself the new site!
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WordPress’s standard search features are capable and easy to use, but when you’re developing search-driven web applications with WordPress, you need a tool ready-made for that purpose. That’s why today we’re introducing our new WordPress.com VIP Search add-on, and are excited to debut it as part of the relaunch of the Kaiser Family Foundation here on WordPress.com VIP.
WordPress.com VIP Search is a new premium service for our Cloud Hosting customers that delivers the features and flexibility of the powerful elasticsearch software—all hosted, managed, and supported by the WordPress.com VIP team.
With VIP Search enabled, your search results will be more relevant and timely out of the box—but the real benefit is that developers can leverage this new functionality to deeply customize your search results, including support for faceted search. With faceted search features, your users can filter search results on your sites however you’d like—by type of content, category, tag, author, date ranges, and more.
In February many members of the WordPress.com VIP team headed to London to meet up with some of our VIP clients and partners. One evening we organized a WordPress.com VIP client and partner meetup and the turnout was great!
There were many conversations about what’s next for the growing WordPress community in the United Kingdom, how UK enterprises, media companies, and large organizations are doing interesting things with WordPress, and what’s coming up in WordPress 3.6.
That week, we were also happy to sponsor the WP Meetup in London and meet some of the WordPress users and developers using and building web applications with WordPress in London. (Are you following us on Twitter? @WordPressVIP)
We're here in the back – come say hi! RT @wpldn: @WordPressVIP sponsored tonight's drinks at WordPress London. Thanks guys! #wpldn
That weekend, Automattic also sponsored the PHP UK conference and several WordPress.com VIP developers were on hand to interact with the PHP UK community, as well as to share how a PHP application can scale as large as it does on WordPress.com.
Last June, WordPress.com VIP unveiled automatic deploys for static CSS and images for WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting clients as one of our meetup projects. We’re always looking for ways to make client code changes faster while keeping their sites safe and secure at the same time.
Our WordPress.com VIP clients commit and deploy code daily, and often each team commits several times a day to keep up with their changing site features and improvements. We do several checks on code optimization and security before approving their commit for deployment, and we’re really proud to get 90% of commits deployed within two hours of submission.
Automatic deploys have now made deploying instantaneous for thousands of client code commits. Thanks to the automatic deploys, we’ve now auto-deployed more than 3,400 commits for VIP clients in the last 8 months! We’re averaging between 15-20 auto-deploys a day, and we see that number steadily increasing. Many of our clients are also experimenting with LESS or Sass, and those .less and .sass files are auto-deployed as well.
Watch this space as we continue to make it possible for WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting clients to iterate on their high-performance WordPress sites as securely and quickly as possible.
Man Meets Scale, site of Weight Watchers International’s CEO, David Kirchhoff, has launched on WordPress.com VIP. Kirchhoff recently launched a book, Weight Loss Boss, about his experience losing weight.
A complement to O’Reilly Media’s popular Make Magazine, Make: Kit Reviews | The Ultimate Kit Guide is for DIY projects involving computers, electronics, robotics, metalworking, woodworking and other disciplines, and it’s now on WordPress! It should awaken the handyman or woman inside you.
Started by award-winning journalist Matt Marshall in 2006, VentureBeat has long been a WordPress showcase site. Today, nearly 30,000 articles have been published on VentureBeat, and the archives dates back to August, 2004. There is a lot of our tech industry history laid out in these articles, and insights throughout.
While monitoring the import to WordPress.com, it was cool to see the team growth and the breadth of topics covered increase tenfold from its inception.
No matter where you are in the planning process, we’re happy to help, and we’re actual humans here on the other side of the form. 👋 We’re here to discuss your challenges and plans, evaluate your existing resources or a potential partner, or even make some initial recommendations. And, of course, we’re here to help any time you’re in the market for some robust WordPress awesomeness.