Case Study

Rolling Stone

A Full CMS Migration and Site Redesign.

Rolling Stone is one of the most recognizable publications in the world. With the advent of RollingStone.com, they’ve continued their streak as an editorial powerhouse into the digital age. In 2018, they received an investment from Penske Media Corporation (PMC). The firm decided they were ready to scale their platform to the next stage of growth, but their legacy CMS didn’t allow for it. Its editorial features were lacking, and the development efficiencies were less than adequate to allow for the changes necessary for expansion.

CMS of Burden

Rolling Stone’s original website was on a legacy PostgreSQL based platform. Their new parent company, PMC, wanted to bring the site onto WordPress to match their other properties. The internal development team had enough on their plate, and couldn’t take on a task as big as this alone. What would the migration entail?

  • Moving 250,000+ articles, images, and other media files. 
  • Managing 20+ years of content.
  • Performing a CMS migration hand-in-hand with a full fledged redesign of the site.
  • Managing page and content redirects. 

This would be a massive undertaking. A migration to WordPress would mean moving tons of data and assets. The new site would have to facilitate new features, work with PMC’s existing platform, and accurately reflect the brand’s new look. 

Plus, PMC had already chosen a platform for their new site: WordPress VIP. VIP was the obvious choice for a WordPress implementation this large, but to use their servers, sites must be coded to strict standards. 

The migration would have to be seamless. The site would have to be coded immaculately. Rolling Stone needed a partner that could pull it off without a hitch. 

Sometimes You Get What You Need

PMC had previously worked with XWP before on a redesign of Variety Magazine’s online platform. The initial work was a huge success, and PMC was more than happy with the results. When they needed to move a site as large as Rolling Stone onto a new platform, they knew they had a trusted partner they could count on to get the job done.

The initial task with Variety was to set up the business rules for content to automatically populate on the new, modular homepage, but also give the editors the ability to customize it. Variety laid the groundwork for a lot of what we did for Rolling Stone.

Anne Louise Currie, PO/QA Specialist, XWP

Start Me Up

After our initial discovery period, we determined that our solution for Rolling Stone would involve three separate scopes. Each was critical to the success of the project. 

CMS Migration

XWP leveraged several Google Cloud Platform services to build a highly-scalable, multi-stage import routine. We first imported data into Cloud SQL from the legacy PostgreSQL based platform, then set up a staging WordPress installation on App Engine and created a mapping database on Cloud Firestore in Datastore mode. 

Then, we developed a set of Cloud Functions that would map and migrate each data record and media object, along with replacing references to them inside the content, to WordPress. We did this using the built-in REST API, which handled an impressive ~800 POST requests per second, and significantly more GET requests. This process could be executed multiple times to capture live changes to the production data after the initial import. This migration plan kept infrastructure costs very low as everything was taken down once completed. 

By using these advanced tools in Google Cloud Platform, we were able to reliably transfer media and images without any data loss or negative impacts to technical SEO, as old URLs were properly mapped and redirected during the process. The other key advantage of leveraging cloud functions is that migration occurs at a significantly faster pace than traditional importing methods for WordPress; instead of hours and days, it takes seconds and minutes. A large part of the migration’s success came down to testing. By the time our team was ready to push the ‘migrate’ button, we had thoroughly tested the process to ensure it would run without issue and with complete accuracy.

Theme & Plugin Development

Rolling Stone is known for their unique breakdowns of music, film, and TV shows into ‘list-icles.’ These have a unique layout, and the editorial team putting them together needed an interface that would allow them to be produced quickly and efficiently. 

Our team worked hand in hand with the editorial team to identify their needs and engineered a custom functionality, including: 

URL Changes: We created a dynamic URL that changes with each list number. This acts as an anchor point for hyperlinks to the content. It also helps with advertising and data tracking. 

Numbered Workflow: In addition to creating URLs that change dynamically as a user scrolled through a list, we also created functionality that changes the header of the page dynamically as the list gets longer or shorter, depending on the editorial team’s needs. The lists were made to either go in ascending or descending order, whichever was specified by the author. 

We also added: 

  • The ability to number and reorder list items.
  • A custom focal-point image cropping tool.
  • Template selection based on the focus of the article (albums vs general).

Some of these articles can contain hundreds of items, so our team created a custom pagination solution that allowed users to easily navigate through them.

WordPress.com VIP Compliance

Since 2015, XWP has partnered with WordPress VIP as an agency partner. Our team is extremely familiar with their coding standards and platform nuances. Every bit of plugin and theme code we worked on was tested according to VIP sniffs. The code we developed met and exceeded VIP’s high standards for development, and went through their extensive review without issue.

The choice of WordPress VIP as a hosting partner was one we would have recommended from the start of the project, even if Rolling Stone hadn’t yet chosen VIP for themselves. VIP is an excellent enterprise WordPress solution, providing a highly-scalable, highly-performant platform for high-traffic, enterprise sites, one that we’ve worked with on multiple occasions in our past. The partnership between XWP and VIP made for a seamless migration. 

Rolling Stone, PMC

This was one of our smoothest and most successful launches to date. Everyone who reviewed the site – both before and after launch – commented on the exceptional quality. This was down to an incredible effort led by you all, with a focus and dedication that was a joy to be involved in.

Nicola Catton, Associate Vice President, Product Delivery @PMC

It’s Only a CMS (But I Like It)

Perhaps the biggest achievements from the Rolling Stone migration are the improvements to the development and design processes throughout PMC’s properties. As previously stated, all of PMC’s properties operate on one CMS, WordPress, to improve productivity. 

While XWP has performed a variety of work with PMC—two redesigns for Variety.com, a migration for RollingStone.com—this, ultimately, is the biggest gain for their team in the long term: the PMC team, along with help from XWP, has helped create a foundation for their business to grow. Their ‘80/20’ philosophy of design and development is what makes it easy for businesses to be onboarded into their portfolio. Each project has brought PMC closer to realizing their ultimate goal of a seamless onboarding process, making new publications more profitable and more in line with their editorial process, due to a solid foundation to build or rebuild websites. 

PMC has also been experimenting recently with the process of creating premium content areas on their platforms, most recently Variety VIP+. Soon, they’ll be rolling out a similar service on RollingStone.com. This wouldn’t be possible without the foundation that XWP has created. 

Time Is on WordPress’s Side

Since the initial migration, Rolling Stone has become an example of what an expert CMS migration can look like. The platform has opened up new doors for the Rolling Stone team, including: 

  • Improved testing capability: Creating new page designs is simple, and teams can easily create, test, and implement new pages based on their performance. 
  • Improved development capability: Developers can work across properties and no longer need to specialize in specific areas. Functions created for one property can work across all sites.
  • Improved functionality: Teams no longer need to spend months creating new functionality. The teams take advantage of plugins or functions and adapt them to their needs.

All this success, thanks to XWP, WordPress VIP, and PMC’s groundbreaking editorial strategy. Two years after the initial migration, RollingStone.com is still performing strong. PMC has used the site as a proving ground for their other platforms. Their ‘Featured Article’ block was first tested on RollingStone.com. Once it was proven and tested, PMC now regularly uses the feature on all sites. 

With WordPress’s strong base of users and contributors consistently publishing updates and improvements, it continues to be a successful, growing platform. It now powers almost 38% of the Internet, and grows every day. 

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