Marine Biological Lab Lands Over 20% Increase in Time on Page

Learn how the University of Chicago affiliate revived its 10-year-old WordPress Multisite platform with Pantheon and Sandstorm.

The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago. The Lab welcomes researchers from early-career scientists and Nobel Laureates to high-school students to postdoctoral fellows.

With so many bright minds dependent on the MBL’s educational opportunities and research, a website redesign with impeccable navigation, search and security was in order. Pantheon and its strategic partner Sandstorm stepped in with a plan, and the results quickly followed. Unique page views have increased by 13%, while the amount of time spent on individual pages has gone up by 22%.


Marine Biological Society's web page

Challenge: Bots and Site Crashes

The MBL’s 10-year-old WordPress Multisite platform was at the heart of the organization’s website woes. Denise Kergo, MBL’s Website Manager, saliently described the problem in one sentence: “It was awful.”

The site often went down and an inability to make core updates left the website’s security compromised.

In addition to getting a lot of spam uploads to the website’s forms, the site often became so overloaded that it crashed. “We suspected the problem was due to a denial-of-service storm,” said Scott Koerner, MBL’s IT Director. “But because the site was so old and our hosting provider had limited capabilities, there wasn’t much we could do but reboot and hope it resolved the issue.”

On top of the security and website availability headaches, the site was not responsive, limiting access to users on mobile devices. Search functionality was also severely impaired.

Solution: The Right Tool for the Team

The MBL knew it was time to address functionality issues and modernize. The organization opted to invest in a brand-new, Drupal-based website. “After a lot of discussions, we decided that Drupal had the kind of functionality we were looking for,” Kergo said. "The Drupal database capabilities are so superior to those of WordPress Multisite, and we wanted to create tools such as a marine resource catalog and scientist directories that we thought would work better in Drupal in terms of filtering and so forth."

“Sandstorm especially appreciates Pantheon’s Multidev, which makes it easy for our developers to set up environments and DevOps from scratch, which normally take about 40 hours to do manually,” said Andy Cullen, Senior Developer at Sandstorm. 

Results: Freedom for Content Editors and Ease for Developers

With Sandstorm taking care of backend updates, life is much easier and simpler for Kergo and Koerner. And it’s much more efficient for MBL’s two dozen content editors to manage their own updates to the site’s 3,000+ pages. Best of all, the MBL no longer has to worry about the website going down, thanks to Pantheon’s reliability and consistent uptime.

We had a few different hosting platforms before. The site went down a couple of times a year, if not more often. It would always happen at the worst time, and then we’d have to spend time troubleshooting, which always took at least a couple of hours. We don’t have that problem anymore.

Scott Koerner, IT Director at the Marine Biological Laboratory 

The MBL is also excited about its latest Pantheon feature, Autopilot, which automatically detects, performs, tests and deploys updates. Kergo anticipates that its visual regression testing capabilities will enable the Lab to see if there are any devastating changes to the site immediately, which will be very helpful.

“The combination of uptime, cost efficiency and security we get with Autopilot made the Pantheon platform a great fit for the MBL,” said Cullen at Sandstorm. 

Thanks to Sandstorm and Pantheon, MBL now has a dazzling, easy-to-navigate website that delivers consistent uptime. Visits, sessions and visitors are up by more than 12%. And most importantly, the organization can continue to showcase innovations and feature inspiring, interactive content.

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