Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Launches on WordPress.com VIP

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight, which launched today! FiveThirtyEight is devoted to rigorous analysis of politics, polling, public affairs, sports, science and culture, largely through statistical means.

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The site, which is led by Nate Silver, was formerly part of The New York Times and is now operated by ESPN, and joins ESPN’s Grantland on our WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting platform.

Nate announced the change back in July and his team has since been working hard on launching the new site and its verticals on the VIP platform.

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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.

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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!)

On the development side, WordPress.com VIP Featured Partner 10up assisted in creating the new site:

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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.

USA Today Launches Multiple Sports Sites on WordPress.com VIP

USA Today has launched several sports-focused sites on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting. Welcome to the VIP family! We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.

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.

For The Win | What fans are talking about.

The Big Lead covers sports but also touches on everything from politics to pop culture.

The Big Lead | Sports News and Media

MMA Junkie is a site focused on mixed martial arts news, rumors, live blogs, and more.

MMAjunkie | UFC and MMA news, rumors, live blogs and videos

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.

NFL | Q

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Canadian Olympic Committee launches Winter 2014 Games site on WordPress.com VIP

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.”

We spoke with Todd Denis, Director, Brand Connections of the Canadian Olympic Committee, about the decisions made regarding the Olympic.ca redesign, which is hosted on WordPress.com VIP Cloud Hosting.

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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.

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“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.

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Visit Olympic.ca and see for yourself the new site!

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Now live: WordPress.com VIP Search

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.

Give it a try right here on vip.wordpress.com, or check out the beautiful redesign of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s website developed by our partners at Alley Interactive. And if you’d like more info on VIP Search, get in touch!

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WordPress.com VIP mixes with London VIP clients

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)

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.

We’ll definitely be heading back to London soon and often, so if you’re there or have colleagues there, let us know!

Are you in London or nearby and interested in WordPress.com VIP events? Are you, or an organization you know, doing innovative things with WordPress? Leave a comment below or get in touch.