Automation.com has been serving the automation engineering community for 15+ years and has steadily built a following in the millions per month. As a subscribing member you are provided a secure login granting access to website functions that the non-subscriber public does not. There are several revenue generating features included on the website, but advertising is the primary revenue source for this online portal. Automation.com is fully integrated with Google's Double Click for Publishers (DFP) ad serving platform, which allows them to serve custom advertising along side Ad Sense for open inventory. With a staff of 8-10, this portal website publishes mass amounts of content each day and requires a robust management system to streamline the effort.
In the 15+ years Automation.com had been around, they had not seen a major redesign. Visits to the site were up, advertising inventory was hitting a ceiling, content publishing was at an all time high, and the process to manage the site was growing more difficult with each day. Going into the project we had a short list of objectives that were critical to success:
As you can see we had our work cut out for us, but knowing we had a good amount of experience in all areas we went in with a lot of confidence.
A project of this magnitude requires attention to detail in the discovery phase. Having worked along side them from the start we had a good understanding of Automation.com's processes, but we were venturing into some new territory and needed to do some research. To ensure no assumptions were being made, we brought in a partner that knew much less about Automation.com to help with the usability, technical design, and graphic design efforts.
The first objective was to document the system. This included user types, user roles, navigation, content types, content publishing process, e-commerce and subscriber process, advertising requirements, dashboards, portal layouts, etc. There was a lot to discuss and this process required several question and answer sessions with the client.
The resulting deliverable was a 45 page process document outlining every detail of every page and process throughout the site. Irish Titan produced this document and presented to the client for a walk through to ensure what was communicated had accurately made it to the documentation process.
To ensure the graphic designer was provided a clear understanding of what was being built, wireframes for the major pages were created. Traditionally we would only need 5-8 wireframes, but for this portal website we were required to produce 30+ wireframes outlining the layout of each unique page template.
With process documentation complete, a site map drawn up, and wireframes for all unique templates and responsive states, we were ready to get the graphic design team in play.
A custom website design presents many challenges on its own, but a custom, responsive website design is a whole other beast. Irish Titan was up to the task and put their best foot forward in the responsive design produced for the Automation.com redesign.
The object for this responsive design was to cater to the desktop, which is by far the largest population of visitors, but also provide a usable interface for the tablet and mobile growing audience. The home page and portal pages took center stage to start and then we started seeing desktop, tablet, and mobile mocks for the supporting pages such as company directory, user dashboard, details pages, subscription process, eCommerce, and job directory pages.
Advertising would be a critical element to success, so the graphic designer had to ensure each responsive state had the correct sized banner in the correct spot for each design template. This may sound trivial, but with 3 responsive states and 8-10 ad slots on each page attention to detail was needed. How would the different styled banners blend in, what happens when the space is blank, will moving ads affect the design differently than the static ones? All questions that needed answers.
Upon detailed inspection by the Automation.com team, we had sign-off on the design and pushed it to the slicing team for HTML and CSS pages. We were ready to move this project into the programmer's den for the next few months.
Due to the large scope to this project, we were required to pull 2 engineers, 2 web developers, and a user interface specialist into the project. If this wasn't a website redesign and being built from scratch, the implementation process would have been a bit less complex. But it was a redesign so in building the custom content management we had to carefully consider the data migration process.
The first step in the implementation process was to build out the base modules that would store the content for web publishing. Each of the content types were mapped out nicely in the technical design documents, so it was fairly easy to build a plug-in that would accommodate the differing content types yet allow pieces of content to reside in all areas of the site. An admin console was built so that it was easy for the 8-10 content publishers to get in there and manage their content easily and efficiently.
Next on the agenda was the user database and associated subscribe process. There was already a large subscriber base containing both company and individual subscribers, so the goal was to build a dashboard that allowed them to gain access to all subscriber functions without losing them in the process. This process if often one that is overlooked, but paying attention to usability on this dashboard was of utmost importance. Some analytics research would be needed down the road, but we started with a dashboard that brought the most important functions to the forefront.
A couple months into the development process and it was time to venture into the content display implementation. From an SEO perspective this presented challenges, so we had to pay particular attention to pieces of content that were published in multiple areas of the site. Each page displayed content types slightly different (preview lists, tabs, details, preview image, no image, date specific, featured, most read, etc.) and great effort was needed to balance this management.
Advertising is the primary source of revenue for this online publication, so it was important for the advertising team to have a platform that offered the most flexibility. In previous versions we had implemented an open source ad server solution, but Automation.com was becoming more and more successful, and thus a target of not so helpful hackers. Research was done and it was decided to integrate with a Google owned ad server called DoubleClick for Publishers. The platform provided a powerful administration console for managing inventory and placement of custom ads throughout the site. The integration that was needed was straight forward, and included mapping locations and inventory to a placement on the pages. DFP made this effort seamless through their well documented system.
Data Migration. As part of the transition we were going to need to transition 10 years of data from the old management platform to the new. If you have ever been involved in this process you know that data is unpredictable and the old data does not always play nicely with the new format. It's a complex process that requires a great amount of patience as you drudge through each content type until all the data has been mapped and migrated.
Search Engine Optimization. All features and functions were working, content was migrated, admins were updating content, and it was time to make sure search engines would not only index the entire site, but not lose track of old pages that had already been indexed. We could write an entire case study on this process alone, but in the end the SEO team spent considerable time with 301 redirects, page names (url) and titles for dynamic content, image optimization, broken links in old content, canonical URL clean-up, as well as reducing the number of links on pages. SEO on a portal website with this much content is a challenge, but the site was now technically sound from a Search Engine Optimization standpoint.
The programming team has concluded and it was time for the QA and testing team to get in there and try to break it. Automation.com played a huge role in this process, which is something we like to do to not only better test the site but to save costs on the project. The team at A.com works with the site every day, so just by doing their job they were able to uncover bugs that our team otherwise would have missed. A good 3-4 weeks of quality assurance and this website redesign was ready to go live.
The redesign of an online publication website is a risky proposition, so all involved were anxious to see how the user base would react. The admin team was happy with their new publishing platform, but that didn't mean much if the users weren't comfortable with the redesign. Let's take a look at our objectives to measure how we did.
Custom Content Management Platform. The content publishing team was trained on the new system and managing content more efficiently than ever before. It was easy to create a piece of content once and publish to corresponding pages as needed. All content types were administered from the same place, so there wasn't the site familiarity requirement that was needed in the past to find something. This object was a huge success.
Rapidly Growing Mobile Audience. The responsive design on this portal website presented some challenges, but in the end the kinks were worked out and users from desktop, tablet and mobile could now interact with the site in an optimized environment. Bounce rates for mobile users plummeted and with more and more people accessing from mobile each day A.com is in a good position to take advantage of this shift. Success.
Increased Conversions. A lot of time was spent mapping out the subscription process in the discovery phase, yet the drop rate in the subscription process was not going down. Shortly after the go live date a new, simpler process for subscribing to the site was designed and implemented. We are currently looking at the metrics to see if the updates are helping, so the verdict is still out on this objective.
Distribute Content to Portals. The metrics on visitors to portal pages is at an all time high. Rather than the concentration of content being the home page, A.com is now able to distribute this to the portal that best matches the content topic. More and more users are coming from search engines directly to portal pages, increasing visits on these pages, thus increasing the worth of advertising on portal pages. Success.
Custom Ad Server. The DoubleClick for Publishers ad server is working as we had hoped. The management of inventory and publishing of ads on the site is as easy as it has ever been. The option to populate ad sense with open inventory is built right into the system and is increasing revenue without doing much. A great tool and a big thank you to Google for making this available and easy to use. Objective is a success.
Organic Search Marketing. The technical SEO updates made to the site have helped the search engines crawl and index the site more and more each week. With the number of pages crawled a critical element to SEO success, you can imagine that rankings and organic search traffic is on the rise. It's a bit early to start publishing results, but please check back if you need more detail on the results of this effort. As far as the objective I would say the verdict is still out on this one.
Of the hundreds of projects we have worked hard to complete over the 15+ years of Five Technology, this one has been the most rewarding. We have been working with Automation.com since the site was an idea, and we are truly excited for the future of this great online publication.