10 Growth Hacks That Helped Metro.Co.Uk Achieve 27 Million Monthly Visitors

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. 

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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

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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.

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Weekly Visits from Twitter (Oct’12 – Feb’13)

Hack 2: Focus all development efforts on growth

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WordPress.com Stats for Metro (Dec’12 – Feb’14)

We also migrated to the hosted platform as a service provided by Automattic on vip.wordpress.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

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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.

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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.

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Metro Facebook Page

Hack 5: Made to share content

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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.

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SEO and Social Headlines on Made to Share Content

Hack 6: Made to share UX

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Quizicle: How much of a Londoner are you.

Conclusion

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.

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

New Embed for Getty Images

Getty Images, one of our Featured Partners, announced today that it is making its library of award-winning professional photographs available for free through a new embed feature. We are very excited to bring this embed to WordPress.com and wanted to make sure that our VIPs are also aware of this awesome new feature.

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As you know, Getty Images is also a Featured Partner and has built a VIP plugin that allows users to license and access images directly from the Editor. Unlike the free embed, this plugin requires a license to Getty Images.

For more information about the new embed feature, check out this post.

If you’d like more information about using this feature, visit our Getty Images embed support page.

TIME.com Launches on WordPress.com VIP

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.

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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.

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You can read more about TIME.com’s redesign in their launch post or visit TIME.com.

The WordPress.com VIP team was all on hand during our team meetup to oversee the exciting launch.

Want more information about WordPress services for your enterprise site? Get in touch

Remaining Spaces for the VIP Workshop in March – Register Now!

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The WordPress.com VIP Intensive Developer Workshop is March 31 – April 3, 2014. The event will dive deep into topics which concern enterprise-level sites the most like security & performance, and provides many opportunities to talk strategy and learn from other VIPs in beautiful Napa Valley, California.

We’ve had an incredibly good response from participants in the past two editions (100% and 95% respectively said they would recommend the VIP Workshop to a colleague) and we can’t wait to welcome this year’s group.

Participation costs $3,600 per person, and covers 3-nights’ lodging, meals, and airport transfer. So pretty much all you need to do is book a flight! What are you waiting for?
This event will sell out, but as of today spaces are still available for current VIP clients and partners. Here’s more information, or register directly.

Comprehensive Sitemap Plugin Enhancements

Some exciting development work from Michael Blouin, our VIP Intern Code Wrangler. Here’s what he’s been working on: 

A lot of upgrades have gone into Comprehensive Sitemap plugin recently, and here’s what’s new:

More Filters. We now have four new filters that provide a lot of similar functionality as is available on the regular WP.com sitemaps:

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  • `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):

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msmsitemap_changes2Admin 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.

*approximate improvement, results may vary.

Thanks Michael! 

WordPress Agencies: Facing Challenges for the Next 10 Years

Last week I gave a presentation at WordCamp Paris, focused on what WordPress agencies need to do to be enterprise-ready which I think is the biggest challenge the WordPress community is facing in the next ten years.

At WordPress.com VIP, we’re at the forefront of evaluating, analyzing, and enabling enterprise and large-organization WordPress projects with WordPress developers and agencies all over the world.  As the software matures and becomes more well-known, the demand for bigger and more innovative projects is increasing, too, and the many WordPress consultancies around the world need to be ready to answer that call.

Below are the slides from my presentation and then some additional insights and advice from WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partners to WordPress agencies and consultancies all over the world.

Q: When did you know it was time to grow your team & how did you do it? What has contributed the most to your growth?

Austin Smith from Alley Interactive: Our project management team keeps a close eye on resource allocation and lets us know when it’s time to hire. We don’t allow ourselves to grow rapidly in response to any one big site build project—the baseline revenue has to grow in order for us to take on a new FTE. This also means that we can’t say yes to every large project. We’re lucky to have watched a similar agency expansion in the Drupal world from the sidelines, and we’ve witnessed that the agencies that grew rapidly in response to a few big contracts had a very hard time surviving after those projects were delivered and the big checks stopped coming. Don’t accept a project that you can’t deliver with the team you have at the moment you sign the agreement.

Tom Willmot from Human MadeWe’ve grown organically as the amount of work coming in has grown, we’ve generally been pretty cautious when adding to the team which I think has served us well. In the beginning that growth is slow as adding a single new person could be the equivalence of growing the team size by 33% but as you grow it becomes easier to grow more quickly.

Simon Dickson from Code for the People: I think of the early days of WordPress as a ‘serious’ platform – by which I’m talking 2006-8 – as its ‘punk rock’ years. I had seen corporate web development become slow, costly and too clever by half: think Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Emerson Lake and Palmer. For me and many others, involvement in WordPress was a reaction against all that, powered by enthusiasm rather than education. We could produce great work in small teams with minimal knowledge and minimal overheads. And although we could see amazing potential in WordPress, we tended to keep our ambitions in check – no concept albums or twenty-minute solos.

But as WordPress developed, and as we kept proving ourselves on the small stuff, clients began bringing bigger and bigger projects to us. Instead of modest microsites, we were being asked to develop the main website, or a corporate publishing platform. And with greater budgets come greater responsibility. We needed to expand the team, to provide cover for the skills we already had, and to add extra skills we didn’t already have.

The bar to becoming a great web developer is higher now than it ever has been. It’s unrealistic for someone to be an end-to-end expert in everything from responsive visuals to server efficiency, not to mention sales and business management. There’s still a huge market for ‘jacks of all trades’ – building smaller sites or working with smaller clients. But to build the kind of sites we wanted, for the kind of clients we wanted, we needed to put together a team of specialists.

Q: How has your coding workflow & style changed as you’ve grown? What prompted the changes?

Tom: We’ve evolved our workflow a lot, from what was a mish-mash of personal coding styles / workflows to what we have now which is pretty clearly defined. This was important to us for a number of reasons:

  1. We enforce internal code review, all code is reviewed by a coding buddy and vice-versa. This increases overall code quality, reduces bugs, promotes consistency and is a great way to learn from each other. We rotate those buddy pairs quarterly and purposefully pair across skill levels.
  2. Having a clearly defined workflow helps us work more effectively with freelancers and clients as they can easily get up to speed on how we like to work.
  3. Our local development environment is based on Vagrant which is huge in terms of ensuring everyone is working from a consistent base.

Simon: Over the past year, as we’ve added extra employees and expanded our freelancer pool, git has become absolutely pivotal to our work process.

We are a distributed team, scattered across the UK; yet we can all collaborate safely and effectively. Features can be developed in parallel, and merged together when ready – all the more important as we each specialise in different facets of site development. And with a visual tool such as SourceTree, we always have an overview of who’s working on what, and which version of the code is on which server. I can’t imagine how we ever coped without it.

Austin: The most significant change we made was to implement code review for everything we deliver. Every line of code we ship has at least one extra set of eyes on it. It’s not supervisory, it’s peer review, which fosters collaboration. This had a very positive side effect in terms of natural exchange of ideas, and has also ensured that our Github repositories now all use feature branches, which is definitely a best practice.

We formalized this practice when we grew our management team beyond the co-founders—it’s a way for us to ensure high quality code delivery whether the founders are involved in a project or not.

Q: What was the biggest challenge your team faced in serving larger clients? 

Simon: In our experience, even with the largest clients, the day-to-day responsibility for a project usually rests with one individual. And whenever possible, we like that individual to feel like part of our extended team. We often give them a login to our company-only chatroom and our code repository, so they can see the commit messages and join the ongoing dialogue. Transparency builds trust, with benefits for both sides.

Our biggest challenge has been learning to be patient. I spent most of my career working for large organisations, from national governments to tech multinationals, so I know all about dealing with slow decision-making processes, and challenging long-established policy or practice. In those first few months working for myself, I couldn’t quite believe how productive I could be. It’s all too easy to forget that others are still suffering.If you want to deal with large clients, you just have to accept the slowness. ‘No brainer’ decisions can take months, and there’s almost nothing you can do about it – apart from being ready to respond, as best you can, when the answer finally arrives.

Austin: We started our firm to work on big projects with big clients, so the size of work has only gotten incrementally bigger. We’ve always enforced internal consistency per project, but allow for overall standards to improve from project to project.

Tom: Assuming clients want the cheapest not the best – when you come from the mindset of serving small-business you tend to be hyper focused on delivering solutions as cheaply as possible. Often when estimating a project, say to add a simple e-commerce section you’ll think “we could knock something simple together in 2 days, but to really build something great we’ll need 2 weeks”. We want to seek out clients that want us to go for the latter option.

Q: What’s one thing you wish you had done from the very beginning?

Tom: I wish we had participated more in the WordPress community, in the early days I was more of a lurker than an interacter and definitely lost out because of it, more WordPress agencies need to wake up to the power of being part of the WP community.

Austin: I’d say code review, but it I’m not sure it would’ve been a reasonable thing to ask of our smaller team a couple years ago.

Simon: Simon & I had both been through the ‘starting a company’ thing previously; and we had been working as an unofficial partnership for a couple of years. So we knew the pitfalls which lay in wait during that first year.My advice to others would be to look for opportunities to use third-party services wherever possible. Time is the one thing you can’t stockpile: so it’s almost always worth spending a few pounds/euros/dollars on a good hosted service which will ‘just work’, even if there’s a free self-hosted equivalent.

Thanks to our WordPress.com VIP Featured Service Partners for their insights! We’ll be adding more to this as the answers come in. 

Consequence of Sound Launches on WordPress.com VIP

We’re excited to announce that Chicago-based online music publication Consequence of Sound launched on WordPress.com VIP today.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.52.31 AMTo build this beautifully responsive site, Consequence of Sound teamed up with WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner Doejo.

Consequence of Sound is now mobile responsive and will look just as great on your iPhone or Android phone as it does on the web,” site creator Alex Young wrote. “The homepage is easier to navigate, our content is better presented, and Festival Outlook has been completely revamped.”

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The Consequence of Sound team is planning on rolling out new features in the coming weeks, including the ability to personalize the homepage.

“In other words, if you no longer want to see stories about Kanye West, you no longer have to see stories about Kanye West,” Young writes. “Your settings will also carry over to our mobile app, which will also soon get a fresh update.”

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We’re excited to bring such a beautiful and dynamic site onto WordPress.com VIP. Congrats again to the team!

Big Media WordPress Meetup: How Parade.com Uses the WordPress Theme Customizer API

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Shortly before the holiday break, Taylor Buley of Parade.com presented at the Big Media WordPress Meetup on how his team uses the theme customizer to make editorial changes on the fly.

Take a look at his slides or watch his entire presentation below. To see presentations from previous Big Media WordPress Meetups, click here.

Extreme Makeover, Data.gov Edition

Earlier this week, Data.gov relaunched with a beautiful new redesign. Behind it is a powerful CMS platform called WordPress. The previous version of the site ran on a mix of Drupal and other proprietary systems, but as Marion Royal points out in a blog post explaining the relaunch, development on the previous version of the site was done behind closed doors. Marion goes on to explain the open source ethos that was put into play with this update of the site:

Now we’re using open source systems, including WordPress and CKAN. Most importantly, the development is public from the beginning on GitHub so you can see how the site came to be, and will continue to grow. We’ve already had significant help from the open source community and look forward to more.

Data.gov is one of the most innovative initiatives inside of the federal government. A talented team of designers and developers are working hard to expose millions of pieces of government data from across the entire government so that citizens, along with government entities, can leverage that data for good. From the Data.gov website:

Data.gov is the home of the US government’s open data. You can find Federal, state and local data, tools, and resources to conduct research, build apps, design data visualizations, and more. The Data.gov team works at the U.S. General Services Administration, but the site itself is open source, and we’d love your help making it even better.

I have personally worked closely with many of the developers who helped to steer this project. I have been continuously impressed by their level of dedication to opening up government data and putting it into the hands of those who want to use it to make America a better place. I expect big things out of this team, and I believe that Data.gov — and other similar initiatives — can help redefine the way citizens view the work that the government does. It’s an exciting time to be working on these issues and I’m very excited to see WordPress at the center of the action in Washington, DC.

Data.gov on GitHub.

ESPN’s Grantland launches on WordPress.com VIP

Welcome to ESPN’s Grantland, a popular sports & pop-culture blog started by veteran writer and sports journalist Bill Simmons — it now has a home on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting!

10up partnered with ESPN to develop the new site and worked with our team to transition its content to WordPress.com. 10up is one of our Featured Partners.

Grantland features stories from a long list of contributors, several podcasts and video content, as well as the Grantland Quarterly, a printed companion to the site.

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Visit Grantland.