Fast Company’s past is getting its ass kicked into shape.
Over the past year, the technology that powers Fast Company has been completely overhauled. Everything from the tech stack to the content management system, the video platform, and analytics package has changed.
To appreciate the magnitude of this upgrade, you’ll have to scroll back to February 2008. That’s when Fast Company announced its grand relaunch on the open source CMS platform Drupal, version 6. Believe it or not, Fast Company was still running on Drupal 6 nine years later. We had tried unsuccessfully to upgrade to Drupal 7, but our software was so tricked out with customizations that it had become a tangled mess of technologies. The technical debt had become so large that, for a couple years, we didn’t want to acknowledge it, and turned a blind eye to the opportunity cost of doing dev work in that environment.
Full recognition of the challenges came as we worked on what would be the February 2016 redesign. It was a challenge executing effectively and ultimately realizing our vision for the sites. The debt was much more than a technical challenge.
Fast-forward to 2017, and Fast Company is now in the final stages of a transition to a React.js progressive web app that is server rendered in node.js, and backed by the open source WordPress platform (REST API). This will unlock the next phase of our growth, making the site better for readers as well as for the writers and editors who work on the site every day.
Here are a few of the features we’ve implemented over the last six months.
1. Fast Company and Co.Design are now running on HTTPS. Among many other benefits (a modest SEO boost among them), this guarantees that any data being provided from Fast Company is genuine and has not been altered by a third party. It will allow us to create better, and trusted, user experiences across our sites.
2. For video, we migrated off an aging platform and onto the JW Player platform. This has allowed us to optimize our video workflow and to experiment with new integrations across our sites. As a result, our video views have more than doubled since the beginning of this year, and continue to grow.
3. Search got optimized. Without getting into all the gory details, the migration of 20+ years of content allowed us to address numerous internal issues exposed by our SEO audit. As a result, we are seeing record organic search traffic (sessions from search have more than doubled), and more important have established a consistent week-over-week growth trend.
4. The site was redesigned. We took the start-fresh opportunity to build a framework that is simpler to grok and enables both modularity and experimentation. Expect improved experience for our readers, our writers, and advertisers.
5. Our page load time is the best it has ever been. Google PageSpeed puts us at 80/100 on mobile and 90/100 on desktop.
6. Viewability is better. Advertising viewability is a constant challenge for publishers, and an area where we continue looking for optimizations without the need for third-party add-ons. We are currently seeing 64% viewability across all devices, and expect to get above 70% in the weeks ahead.
This is nothing short of a gargantuan undertaking, that includes training the entire editorial and marketing teams on how to use new content management tools, updating the way we use keyword tags, and changing our daily workflow. The engineering team has done an amazing amount of work getting this all done, with barely any service interruptions—save for the day we pushed our new CMS live, which in a twisted coincidence was also the day that Amazon AWS went out of service.