The Client & The Problem
The Asheville Watchdog is an Asheville, NC based not for profit online news publication, run by a team of retired newspaper executives and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, dedicated to providing news and analysis that promotes Civic understanding and participation.
Like all clients who come to us, the Asheville Watchdog had a problem. Their problem was that they didn’t have a website at all!
After an in-depth discovery call, we came up with the following list of requirements for the site. It needed to be:
- Simple, and straight to the point. No frills, just news
- Easy to use on the backend so that the staff could easily paste in articles composed in word and publish them with minimal re-formatting required
- A site with a newsletter signup flow that would allow visitors to easily subscribe and receive updates from The Asheville Watchdog
- Fast, responsive, and mobile-friendly
- Capable of handling high volumes of traffic so that content could go viral without a dropoff in site performance
With those requirements in mind, along with a list of similar news sites to model the site after in hand, we were ready to get to work.
Dundee Design & Development Had A Solution
So, how did we help solve the Asheville Watchdog’s problem? With the task being straightforward enough, we pretty much just did exactly what the asked of us.
Almost all of the websites that The Asheville Watchdog wanted to model their website after were built using the same WordPress theme. This theme was made specifically for non-profit news organizations, but it was a little dated. Because of this, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel by developing a custom theme from scratch, we used the theme that they liked as a prototype for creating a custom “child theme.” Our child theme took everything from the parent theme that worked, left behind what didn’t, and included a handful of additional features and improvements.
The custom child theme was ready to meet all of the requirements for the site itself, but to meet the requirement of being able to handle high volumes of traffic, the site needed some good hosting. The only host we would ever consider for a site with these requirements is Kinsta. Kinsta offers the best WordPress hosting on multiple fronts and has been able to handle multiple Asheville Watchdog articles going viral without a dropoff in site performance.
Within about one month, the Asheville Watchdog’s site was ready to launch. The launch came just in time to publish a timely article on Asheville’s road to recovery from the economic impacts of coronavirus. Before we speak to the success of the site, here is a screenshot of the homepage.
With the first article being written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, it was no surprise that the site went viral instantly. Fortunately, we planned accordingly, and the viral launch day went smooth as silk. Within the first 24 hours of the site being live, it received around 2600 visitors, and roughly 1400 of them subscribed to the mailing list. That boils down to a 55% conversion rate, something that is unheard of (2-5% is considered to be a good conversion rate, 10% is exceptional).
Overall, the AVL watchdog site has been a tremendous success. They have had numerous articles go viral with tens of thousands of views each and are on pace to surpass a quarter million page views in their first year of operation.
While the success of the site has a lot to do with the quality of the journalism, we would like to think that the caliber of the website itself has also contributed to The Asheville Watchdog’s success. The desktop version of the homepage scores a 97/100 on Google’s Pagespeed Insights, with their most popular article achieving the same. Here, check out a screenshot of Google’s tool for reporting on page speed when we tested the homepage.
When it comes to their article pages, the results are just as impressive! Their most popular article loads fully in less than 1 second on desktop and less than 5 seconds on mobile over cellular. This places the articles from the Asheville Watchdog above the 90th percentile for load times on both mobile and desktop. Meaning that their pages load faster than 90% of websites on the internet!
With page load times having a huge impact on user experience and bounce rates, we can’t help but think that the blazing fast pages on avlwatchdog.org have contributed to their success. After all, 40% of users will flat out leave a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
With the massive traffic that The Asheville Watchdog receives and the huge success of their site, they also decided to sign on for one of our website support and care plans. This has proven to be an excellent choice and has enabled us to continue to improve their site, while also keeping it secure and backed up.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to help such an impactful local organization have such a successful launch of their site and brand. Beyond the initial launch, we are thrilled by the opportunity to continue helping them grow.
Do you want to have a massively successful launch like the Asheville Watchdog? We can’t offer any Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, but we can promise the same quality web presence demanded by such esteemed professionals. Here are our offerings for custom websites, and here is where you can get in touch with us. We would be honored to help you build an equally flawless web presence!