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Massachusetts’ Wheaton College Launches Digital Transformation and Fine-Tunes Marketing Engine

Pantheon Enables Small Web Team to Transform Users’ Website Experience

Summary

Business Outcomes

  • Completed digital transformation from legacy internal-facing website to leveraging WordPress on Pantheon as a digital marketing asset that prioritized external visitors

  • Productivity gains from adopting WebOps enabled a one-person development team to drive this transformation, shifting priorities from keeping up with IT maintenance to achieving marketing goals

  • Lightning-fast user experience meets high expectations of prospective students browsing on mobile devices — extending site visits and increasing conversions into the online application process

  • Consistent high-speed performance; even during the college’s highest-ever traffic month with a record two million hits, site performance remained strong 

Challenge

  • Aging, internal-facing website was unable to function as an effective online recruiting tool for prospective students

  • Decade-old legacy infrastructure experienced frequent outages and could not meet modern digital marketing requirements 

  • Small web team needed a powerful, simple-to-manage development environment that did not require adding more staff 

Approach

  • Wheaton chose WordPress as a modern CMS, and later adopted Pantheon WebOps platform for enterprise-level support and improved developer productivity

  • Pantheon enabled a one-person development team to efficiently create, deploy, and optimize the digital marketing website

  • High availability and fast performance provide a positive web experience for Wheaton’s most important digital visitors: prospective students 

Why Pantheon

  • Pantheon’s developer-centric automation increases productivity of web teams; time that used to go to IT maintenance now goes to support marketing campaigns

  • High performance and stability enable developers to create advanced digital campaigns and excellent user experiences without being afraid of being too successful and overwhelming the site

  • Core platform security including container-based infrastructure and Advanced Global CDN to secure data and website at the edge

Introduction: Wheaton College, Massachusetts

Wheaton College was established in 1834 in Norton, Massachusetts, 40 miles from Boston. The 400-acre campus offers a fully residential, liberal arts and sciences education to its 1700 students. The college specializes in customizing each student’s academic experience to their interests, career goals, and aspirations. 

The college’s Compass curriculum and co-curricular model provide professional mentorship and career guidance to its students throughout their time at the institution.

Challenge: 10-Year-Old Website on Life Support

Wheaton’s Marketing and Communications Division grows the institution’s reach and reputation through digital-first marketing campaigns that drive to the college’s online footprint. The main public-facing website is the division’s primary marketing tool, and its lean web and digital team is in charge of the site’s software, infrastructure, and hosting platform. 

The 10-year-old legacy website was no longer the asset the team needed. Its original creators modeled it as more of an internal communications and content archiving tool than a user-facing marketing platform. 

The website was unstable and experienced frequent outages. When one outage lasted an incredible 15 hours, the team immediately switched hosts to Rackspace for stability. They took advantage of the more stable environment to rebrand and redesign the website in WordPress — as a strategic decision to better support digital marketing innovation long-term. 

Once they completed the foundation of a marketing-centric site, they moved on to the second phase: adopting an advanced WebOps backbone to support continual development, accelerate performance and workflow, and improve developer productivity with highly automated processes so they can focus on innovation instead of maintenance.

Approach: Pantheon and WordPress for the Win

Wheaton loved WordPress’ potential as a CMS, and in order to maximize its potential as a long-term investment, they selected Pantheon as their WebOps platform. This gave them the peace of mind that comes with enterprise-level WordPress support, and most importantly the improved productivity from its development-centric workflows.

That productivity enabled the team to shift the WordPress website from an internal communications tool to a high-performance external marketing engine. The sophisticated development environment lets a small team support advanced digital marketing initiatives, and Pantheon’s best-in-class website performance is key in reaching the target audience of prospective students, who have extremely high expectations from a user-experience standpoint and are often browsing via mobile devices.   

The team runs Pantheon Autopilot on all its WordPress sites. Autopilot automatically detects new WordPress updates for core CMS, plugins, and themes. Autopilot then creates isolated Multidev environments for each individual upgrade, runs visual regression tests by comparing before and after screenshots, and deploys the verified updates. This saves the team 10s of hours of digital maintenance work a month, which can instead be directed to improving the quality and effectiveness of the sites.

Pantheon Dev-Test-Live and Multidev automate development workflows, testing, and deployment, and Advanced Global CDN (AGCDN) secures websites against unwanted traffic on the edge. AGCDN runs IP-based and geolocation rules against incoming traffic, blocking unwanted requests before they reach the CMS. 

The team uses Pantheon Terminus and WP-CLI scripting to automate routine site maintenance tasks. Michael McGlynn, former Associate Director of Web & Interactive at Wheaton, said, “Rich tools like Terminus and WP-CLI give us the control we need for our website. Pantheon is ahead of everyone else in that respect. They created a developer-first platform that supports lean development teams and makes it simple enough that even non-developers can use it.”

Why Pantheon: Supporting Small Colleges That Do Big Work 

Pantheon enabled the one-person development team to nearly double its productivity. Rapid development allows the college to optimize its major branding website with excellent visitor experiences, and fast performance along with stability protect those important experiences.  

Pantheon stability was also vital to the college. Gene Begin, VP Marketing and Communications at Wheaton, said, “Pantheon gives us a stable platform to advance brand adoption of the college, which is part of our primary mission as a division. Driving enrollment is our focus, and the website is a critical part of that. It needs to be fast, and it needs to be 100% available to prospective students.” 

Pantheon’s advanced WebOps platform and toolset let the team quickly respond to marketing requests while freeing up time for high-value projects without increasing headcount. 

McGlynn said, “Pantheon is just way ahead of everybody. Its founders are developers, and they understand how to create a developer-first WebOps platform without being exclusionary.”

Results: Fast, Stable, and Development-Centric

Pantheon’s advanced automation and workflows immediately saved time, accelerated processes, and lowered the risk of  manual updates. McGlynn said, “The development workflow was way ahead of its time and it’s still evolving. One example is Pantheon’s ability to transparently push updates. I was at a major university’s technical presentation on updating code, and their solution was clever but quite technical and complicated. I thought, ‘You would have saved yourselves a lot of time if you had just moved to Pantheon.’”

“Our web redesign, or reimagination as we like to call it, truly was a digital transformation for the college,” said Begin. “We were changing workflows, replacing typical behaviors, and prioritizing the external user over the internal user to make it an effective marketing tool. These massive changes sent a shock wave through the community, but the results proved the approach effective.”

Increased page load speed benefited users and improved search results since Google page ranking algorithms reward high-speed page loads. Pantheon consistently delivers that speed: even during the college’s highest-ever traffic month, a record two million hits did not affect its performance. Pantheon also delivered an exceptionally stable platform that provided the college with the high uptime it needs to serve its prospective students.

Performance is also critical for personalization. WordPress enables marketers to gather user information, including biographical, location-based, and site behavior data. However, the personalization process is compute-intensive, which can slow down page loads. Pantheon’s performance prevents slowdowns, allowing the team to offer a personalized user experience without sacrificing speed. 

Webinar Date Tuesday, November 23, 2021 - 15:00

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