By April 21, 2014
Duran Goodyear is the web developer and principal of Alphex Information Systems, LLC, which builds Drupal websites for small businesses.
HOW WEBSITES ARE EVOLVING
A few years ago, people thought of their websites as separate from the business: “This will cost $15 a month, and I just have to write a blog post once in a while.” The industry has evolved into seeing the website as more of a business hub. Social was just the tip of the iceberg. Demand is growing for responsive, modern websites—and for better content. Web development is evolving, too.
I tell my clients we’re not just building a website. We’re building a web application that happens to have photos and text. It’s a powerful thing. It can do a lot of stuff. But you need to think of it as a legitimate business expense and treat it with respect. That means regular upgrades, mobile capabilities, social sharing, daily updates. More people are starting to take their websites seriously and to plan strategically.
DEMAND FOR PRO WEBSITES = 1 BOOKED-SOLID WEB DEVELOPER
I’m very busy, which is a great problem to have. It’s only April, and I’ve already launched 6 websites this year. A typical project includes all aspects web application planning and development, from planning and information architecture, all the way through technology decision-making and complete product build outs and launch. Once a site is launched, I also handle long-term support. I partner with graphic designers for the visual design aspects. They work off of the wireframes and information architecture I’ve completed with the client.
HOW TAVERN ON THE GREEN RELAUNCHED WITH A PRO WEBSITE
When the new owners of Tavern on the Green came to me to build their website for the restaurant’s reopening, the stakes were high. This was an incredibly popular landmark property in the middle of Central Park. I told them, “You’re about to get 20 thousand visits a day. It’s critical that your website can handle it.” I recommended Pantheon.
A STRAIGHTFORWARD WEBSITE BUILDOUT
The process of building the site didn’t change too radically. We went through a normal process of information architecture, discovery, and research. They came up with a wish list and then an execution plan. I built the website from start to finish, except for the aesthetic layer. For that, I partnered with a digital design person they’d brought in, who had done all the brand identity and print materials.
PANTHEON CUTS 20-MINUTE TASKS INTO 2 MINUTES
Pantheon was an amazing solution for development and production hosting. In the dev and test environment settings on Pantheon, I didn’t have to spend time making sure it was configured on my staging environment. I also didn’t have to set up the backups, the cron jobs, and all this other stuff that’s absolutely required—but that can distract you from focusing on the product.
The Launch Check saved me time, too. You could spend a couple hours digging to make sure you hit that one checkbox in the Admin UI. Or, you could just look at the Launch Check dashboard. It shows you if you have 3 views that aren’t cached properly. Here they are. It takes 2 minutes instead of 20 minutes to find and fix what’s going on. These are things I’ve done dozens of times before, but having them in your face in the form of this status screen was helpful.
HOW WE EASILY LAUNCHED WITH LAST-MINUTE CHANGES
Because of everything else that was on my clients’ plates—they’re opening one of the craziest, biggest places in NYC—what was supposed to be a 15-week project actually took 30 weeks. Finally, when I was about to leave for vacation, well after the original launch deadline, the client asked if we could launch ASAP, with the content and photography they had. The Pantheon workflow allowed me to set up a different branch in version control that showed a different scope of functionality and content. We were able to present the new version and launch quickly, despite the radical change of plans. We didn’t need to rewrite half the website in a more traditional way, and then set up different staging environments for the “new” version of the website.
15,000 VISITORS. CHECK, PLEASE.
The relaunch got a ton of press. Major newspapers like the New York Times covered the reopening. Within two days of launching, daily traffic went from 300 visits a day to 15 thousand. We were all able to enjoy a moment of glory when we saw that 80 percent of traffic was hitting the reservation page. We could also see from Google Analytics that people were looking at the website for a long time and bookmarking it. The traffic spike wasn’t a problem. There was no blip of any kind. My clients got so many reservations they were jumping for joy.
ADVICE TO OTHERS CONSIDERING DRUPAL & PANTHEON:
Pantheon has completely changed the way I think about launching websites. It’s also made me more responsive to last-minute requests that would have been impossible before. Here’s why I recommend Drupal and Pantheon together:
1. SHARED HOSTING IS A HEADACHE. Last year, one of my clients who uses shared hosting had a traffic spike that killed their server. I had to double the RAM on that server through Rackspace configurations, but the site was still slow and responding badly for 2 days before we figured out what was going on. This would never have happened on Pantheon.
2. LAUNCH ON TIME, AT THE LAST MINUTE. Unforeseen website delays and last-minute changes are my biggest business pain point. Now, it’s no problem when clients come to me with a last-minute request like, “Can you launch the site by 4:30pm with the content we have?” I just push the button to move it to Live, and the site is up. The workflow ties right in.
3. FOLLOW THE 80/20 RULE. Why spend 80 percent of time on the stupid stuff? Drupal’s flexibility and the baseline philosophy of its architecture allows you to just turn it on and not worry about user management and other boring parts. You can use the theme engine to build completely custom designs, while leveraging the architecture of the platform. Pantheon lets you leverage your time building, launching, and managing Drupal sites. The biggest benefit is technical. You don’t have to buy and configure servers for my clients. And they don’t need to worry about it going down.Topics: Education