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Rebuilding Paywall and Metering System for a Current Affairs Publisher

Prospect Magazine is a monthly periodical and website focused on in-depth analysis of current affairs and the exploration of new ideas. It is focused on interesting and different viewpoints within public discourse, rather than being just another to the moment news source.

In this article, we’ll look back on the project we took on with Prospect Magazine, which gave us some great opportunities to help them solve interesting problems and in turn helped take their website to the next level.

Prospect’s readership has grown 45 per cent year on year, this is undoubtedly down to the content the team commissions and manages but, without a stable fast platform for their content, they wouldn’t have been able to achieve that and we’re delighted to say we’ve been a part of that story.

Rebuilding Prospect Magazine’s paywall

When we started working with Prospect, we were commissioned to help them rebuild their paywall and metering system, which was unreliable and causing content access and site speed problems.

Prospect Magazine allows new users to view three articles on the site per month for free. On their fourth article they are asked to log in to their account, sign up for a subscription or join the newsletter. If they sign up to the newsletter they can access a total of seven articles. Once they have viewed their seventh article, they must either subscribe or come back next month.

For Prospect then, it is crucial to their business model that each user accesses the content they are entitled to in accordance with their membership status. This is why metering can be effective for membership publishing websites, as it allows a membership platform to configure gated pages in the specific ways they require.

Developing a more reliable metering system

We developed a relatively simple metering system for Prospect. It allows readers to access certain content if certain conditions are met and prevents them if they are not.

If a user is prevented from accessing then they are directed to perform an action Prospect would like them to take. Ultimately, Prospect want to convert users into customers, whether that’s encouraging them to sign up to the newsletter or to create a new subscription.

The metering system allows for changes in the thresholds for triggering. So, Prospect can modify how much of the post a reader can see before the signup forms are shown, and individual pieces or whole taxonomy groups of content can be exempt from article access counts.

The revamped system is also integrated with Prospect’s email marketing platform and identity management platforms, so users with print based subscriptions and accounts can access content that they have purchased.

The metering system is now faster, more accurate and causes fewer problems. This is very helpful to Prospect as a small, independent publisher, Prospect is very much a journalistic and editorial team, they don’t have a technical team that can help them internally and need external support to manage their websites. This is where we come in.

Improving hosting and website performance

By running on a single dedicated server, Prospect were experiencing regular performance and reliability concerns with their website, due to their server’s age. Our solution was to change their hosting to smaller, load balanced servers on AWS.As a result, website performance went through the roof, as we reduced page load times from more than eight seconds to under one second in virtually every case.

As mentioned earlier, Prospect needed their metering system to be strict so that premium content wouldn’t leak to non-members. This meant it had to act at load time. Because of this, full-page caching was not an option. 

Full page caching is when the entire HTML output for a page is cached. This means new requests for the page will return the cached HTML, this improves page load time substantially. 

Our solution was aggressively fragment caching the majority of the website, excluding the main content. Fragment caching means, rather than caching the full HTML of a page that only elements of the HTML are cached, this is a good compromise when full caching isn’t possible.

The fragment cache runs on a Redis based elastic-cache cluster. For non-cached content, we optimised an AWS Aurora RDS instance.

To complete the puzzle, we used an app that serves content running on multiple EC2 instances in an autoscaling environment and uses New Relic, Query Monitor and Cachegrind to analyse and rewrite slow parts of their templating system.

Helping Prospect publish new content more efficiently

As well as managing the performance of their website in support of their existing content, we helped Prospect improve their editorial publishing process so they could get more of their exceptional journalism in front of their audience.

Building landing pages in the past had been a struggle for the design and marketing team at Prospect, with inefficiencies meaning that landing pages could often take more than a day to build. So it was our task to work with the Prospect teams to enable quicker delivery of marketing campaigns and marketing collateral.

Their existing website backend already had the functionality to make this possible; however, it was too confusing and hard to manage. The new system we delivered for them allows the marketing team to create new landing pages in under an hour. This is essential for the team, as they don’t have technical support in house, these improvements give them more flexibility and the ability to reactively publish new content.

We based the landing page creator on the WordPress Gutenberg editor, analytics data and a WordPress install for managing the pages. Gutenberg is the default WordPress text editor, it’s a massive improvement on the classic WordPress editor. The beauty of it is it allows marketing teams, writers and editors to easily post their content using the intuitive block based system. The functionality of Gutenberg makes it really quite simple to add rich content from video to images and gifs into webpages, without the need for technical knowhow or developer support.

We recently wrote a blog that outlines five ways Gutenberg can improve a media brand’s authoring experience. Check it out to see the power of the Gutenberg text editor.

Building successful membership websites

We’re vastly experienced at building successful membership websites for publishing brands. If your membership website has performance and reliability issues then we can help. If you need help with tightening your paywall or improving your metering system, we’re on hand to help. Contact us with your project requirements and we can discuss our enterprise WordPress development service.

Jim Kersey

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