The Tab

We stepped in to help this thriving online student newspaper network complete a major site update, making improvements for their readers, advertisers and contributors.

The Tab is a network of online student newspapers covering over 60 universities in the UK. It was founded in 2009 and has grown rapidly, now with over 500 active student contributors and 3 million monthly visitors. This success has created its own challenges with a constant need for updates, new functionality and redesign.

Our friends at Code for the People had completed a big round of changes when their company was acquired. We stepped in at short notice to continue development.

The Tab has pressure from two sides, a large readership viewing the front-end and over 500 contributors needing to access the admin side of the site. The Tab needed to address functionality in both of these areas. Managing a large WordPress multisite install adds another layer of complexity.

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Optimising for readers and advertisers

The site relies heavily on advertising so content needs to be optimised both for a great reader experience and to achieve the results that the advertisers require.

We set up customised (key-value) targeting so that the ads could be tailored to the content, allowing them to run alongside a certain content whilst being hidden from others.

They are also able to run ad campaigns aimed at a specific audiences – a single university for example.

We also increased the range of advertising providers that could be integrated with the site, giving a wider advertising market to The Tab.

Simplifying sign up

The site benefits from a large number of contributors who can register for the site and submit their stories using the WordPress admin. The experience for contributors needs to be as straightforward as possible.

We focused on streamlining the registration proccess using a single form. Gravity Forms was used to ensure flexibility and allow The Tab to collect additional key information that they required.

Tracking the many contributors is vital, so we built a system to automatically sync site author information with Zoho CRM system, allowing for smoother administration and monitoring of The Tab’s many writers.

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jack rivlin

Human Made are absolutely world-class. We have worked with a number of other WordPress agencies and none have come close to providing such quality work, great customer service and quick results. I was initially nervous about working with a distributed agency, but every process was managed in a simple and clear way. Matt, Dasha, Joe, Tom and others were all very understanding about our needs (this is rare with other agencies) and they communicated things very clearly – I have no real technical knowledge, but I have learned a lot by working with them.

Jack Rivlin – Editor-in-Chief

Gamifying contributions

It important to get new contributors, but even more importantly they need to produce a good volume of articles. In order to encourage their authors, the Tab has tried to gamify the contribution process using rankings and statistics to show the authors how they rate compared to others and how their articles are performing.

The key driver of this process is a plugin that pulls in and analyses pageview and share data from the Google Analytics API and SharedCount.com API. Getting this data isn’t easy on such a large site and we wrote a custom plugin to handle this that did not impact upon performance.

Each author has their own public profile page on The Tab site that includes user profile information and key statistics to show how popular their articles have been and how they rank as an author. This provides motivation to keep contributing and improve their ratings, as well as something they can use on a CV!

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jack rivlin

Human Made have been excellent. We’ve worked with lots of agencies and the normal tensions just didn’t exist. It felt like Matt, Joe and Dasha were working in house. We have a lot of trust in them

George Marangos-Gilks – CEO

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Automated email encouragement

The automated email process helps to make sure that once signed up, contributors get involved and continue to write articles.

Emails are sent out triggered by specific actions and events e.g. if a new user has registered but not submitted a post for two weeks after registration, they are emailed to remind them.

It also takes the gamification a step further. Using the data we gathered, emails are sent to the top 100 authors each week letting them know their rank and total pageview stats. When an article starts to become very popular, we can automatically email the author to let them know that their story is going viral.

We created a specific email section in the site admin where The Tab editorial team can access and modify the content of the various automatic emails that have been set up. We also worked closely with them to determine the triggers that were required and hook the e-mail events into the appropriate place.

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Improving site performance

For any large and growing site, performance and speed are key issues. We worked closely with The Tab and their hosting provider to ensure better uptime. We implemented centralised image/file storage using Amazon S3 that allowed us to employ multiple servers. We also set up a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to ensure all resources were loaded quickly. Long term it was decided to migrate the site to an Amazon-based hosting package that would enable us to provide better value with round-the-clock support and in-depth performance monitoring.

jack rivlin

There were plenty of big achievements but I would highlight two main ones. Firstly, Matt and Dasha instinctively understood our engine of growth was our contributors, and set to work making it much easier for writers to sign-up, contribute and come back for more. Secondly, hosting has always been an area that has filled me with fear and joy, but after Joe migrated us to Human Made’s setup, we have not had a single problem, and we have hit record traffic levels. In any business, you need to know you can do big traffic without any risk of going down, and thanks to Human Made, I sleep soundly at night.

Jack Rivlin – Editor-in-Chief

Successful outcomes

The initial work was completed successfully and we continue our involvement with The Tab, looking towards improvements for the future.

Which Humans?