The history of the rise and fall of a news site from 10 thousand to 1 million uniques per day and back, and what does Joomla!

Yes, there is a mistake in the title. Indeed, there was (and is) such a regional news site, whose traffic (and, of course, earnings) was

I was asked to voice this instructive story several times already by acquaintances and not very like-minded people from the Joomla community who witnessed it. Well, here it is. There will not be so many technical moments, something else is important here.

I admit, not without pride and vanity, I actively shared with the community in a thematic telegram chat the unprecedented results of migrating a news site from the Bitrix engine to Joomla! The story is really instructive, be sure to draw conclusions. There will be screenshots of evidence, money and a little technical details, but the main thing, of course, is morality)

background

It all started with a simple phone call. They offered work to, so to speak, “bring the regional newsman to a new qualitative level.”

The caller turned out to be one of the most driven people I’ve ever met in my life. He enthusiastically described his plans for the development of the site, offered innovative, interesting ideas and forms of their implementation, he was so passionate about the project that I had no chance to refuse. He even came 2000km to my small southern town for “personal contact”.

In the end, I agreed, but on the condition that we will do the upgraded project only on Joomla !, no more Bitrix. I immediately foresee the indignation of amateurs (and professionals), who consider this my demand a personal insult, and I hasten to reassure them. The point is not at all how bad Bitrix is ​​for creating a site. The thing is, how bad I personally am at creating sites on Bitrix. Only and everything.

They agreed to my conditions, but they asked me to keep the previous materials. It turned out that a couple of years ago the site had already been reworked, ditching the entire legacy of their ancestors. The customer did not want to repeat history.

This is how the first unpleasant and unplanned task appeared – to transfer several thousand articles from the Bitrix database to a completely different Joomla! And later there were so many such tasks that I lost count.

Joomla Community

I don’t even know what I would do without our community. Rescued and advice, and action. They helped incredibly with cross-platform migration of articles, writing a unique parser specifically for this. Several thousand materials flowed into the new site in a matter of minutes. But this is only a small part of the help from the community.

Sometimes I was on the verge of despair, such as during peak hours, when a server with 10 processors and 20 gigabytes of RAM simply could not withstand the unheard-of influx of visitors. But they saved again, in slang, the rescue process sounds quite simple – they “finished” the server settings. Thank you brothers!

Start

So, the translation of the modernized site from Bitrix to Joomla! happened at the very end of 2018. On this occasion, we managed to find an eloquent picture of statistics in the screenshoter database.

Screenshot of traffic statistics of the news site at the time of moving from Bitrix to Joomla

To be honest, looking at these statistics, I simply did not count on any global success then. Well, how many percent could we grow? At 30 – already good, at 50 – generally excellent. Yes, even by 100 – in absolute terms, it’s still crumbs. Based on the statistics, such a VPS server with a margin of safety was selected.

But as soon as we started to grow, problems immediately arose with its stable operation. This is how the car behaved.

Optimization

What was it that loaded the server so much? After all, our site is just a bare Joomla! + Gantry 5 framework for flexible customization of content output. We have not had time to hang anything “extra”, and suddenly this behavior immediately.

And the problem was banal: at the first analysis, it turned out that the previous developers did not bother with any optimization at all, and we kept all the old articles, including pictures! Look what it led to.

 

Of course, there was something to work with besides pictures. But fir-trees-sticks, this is the simplest and most obvious, it didn’t even occur to me that this was not done by previous specialists …

Images (and much more) have been optimized automatically using the paid version of JCH Optimize – a popular extension for joomla! In addition, the cache and gzip compression of scripts were subsequently included.

Here we must immediately warn that such measures are a double-edged sword. The correctness of the scripts after compression must be checked. In our case, there were some problems, the photo gallery component stopped working after compression was turned on. After a short search, an alternative was found that successfully replaced the whim.

Well, with serious traffic, as we have seen in practice, it is simply impossible to do without a cache. Yes, after turning it on, there were a lot of problems, but without it, the server plunged into the five hundredth digital nirvana without an alternative.

The standard solution was not enough, so the JotCache component was used. It can be fine-tuned so that the server says thank you, and users receive relevant articles immediately, and not with a delay in the news module of 15-20 minutes, as happened on our site at first.

Optimization results

The history did not save the indicators at the beginning of the journey, but we reached an honest 94 points according to PageSpeed ​​Insights on the desktop and 67 on the mobile version.

Traffic growth of 100% in the first two months is an excellent result! Then we rejoiced at these figures, like children.

Looking ahead, I’ll say that, of course, neither I nor the guys from the editorial office at that moment could seriously think that in six months we would grow by another thousand percent to a stable 250-350 thousand visitors per day, and on good days we would collect up to half a million. And that such a rosy at that time figure of 25,000 “uniques” will be considered by the leadership, and by us, too, as a catastrophe and the collapse of the project.

What kind of site is this?

Unfortunately, I cannot publicly announce the name of the resource, although my friends and comrades certainly know it. And a little later you will understand why this is so. But in general, it is of course necessary to describe the specifics of the work.

Imagine a semi-Soviet, ossified state. structure in the outback of our country, where everything is tied to the editor-in-chief. In parallel, two editions coexist at once: one for the paper version, the second for the electronic version. Only three writing journalists and a photojournalist work for the site at once. Over 30 one-day short news items and several long-playing longreads come out from under their keyboards per day. The editor-in-chief looks at each material for compliance with the editorial policy, which strictly did not allow many things.

For comparison, our most successful competitor in the regional information field was a private publication, which allowed itself much more. Trash content, rumors, gossip, investigations – in general, all the game that people like so much, brought them up to 50,000 visitors a day. We couldn’t afford this. There were three or four more prominent private traders with indicators in the region of 10,000-15,000 “uniques”, on which we no longer paid our attention from the height of the increased indicators.

Looking at such a rapid growth in traffic, the project curator, who also played the role of a link with me as a performer, was given a completely socialist task – to catch up and overtake, you understand. At the same time, the payment figures remained the same, and now I will announce them.

The project itself was created in several stages of about 3-4 months and in total cost the customer about 300 thousand rubles until the launch. And then we agreed to support and develop the project for quite a modest 10 thousand rubles a month.

The fact is that the site at the time of the restart brought only 100 thousand in total, so the payment for my work at that time was quite adequate. In addition, I myself was very interested in how high we could rise in the total.

The curator, in turn, received about 30 thousand of our amazingly wonderful rubles, and at the same time performed a simply colossal amount of work. In a couple of months, he built a sales department from scratch, which actively attracted cash flows in the wake of growing traffic. They sold everything from banal banners to information support for organizations and participation in special projects. And the result was not long in coming.

Takeoff

For 2019-2020, it was very simple to calculate income from contextual advertising: every 10,000 visitors were approximately equal to 1,000 rubles (these figures were obtained empirically, that is, in practice, it just turned out that way when comparing traffic and income for any period at that time). moment I don’t know how things are with the income from the context in this market now).

So, it is quite logical that the main task in these conditions, of course, was to increase traffic, which is tantamount to increasing profits. But how to do it quickly?

In the process of analyzing the indicators of published articles, we noticed that some topics are called “enter”. There weren’t many, unfortunately. The search for new interests of readers did not give the desired result absolutely.

Then we decided to artificially multiply the top articles by rewriting them from ourselves and releasing them with a different title and picture. And it worked!

And now we have 10,000 online visitors on our website.

The record was set in the region of a million visitors, but I could not find a screen confirming this fact, so you can take my word for it (or not).

Of course, we also raised the server parameters almost immediately, in February 2019. Although the monster with 10 processor cores and 20 gigs of RAM also had a hard time from time to time.

climax

Now about the catch in this sea of ​​traffic. Of course, everyone can calculate for himself, but for general convenience, I will still give some calculations.

So, the average daily attendance was approximately equal to 330,000 visitors. As already mentioned above, every 10,000 readers brought about 1,000 rubles only on the context. By simple calculations, we get an income of 33,000 rubles per day or 999,000 per month. In fact, the monthly income of the context slightly exceeded a million rubles, which does not change the essence, but, on the contrary, reinforces our “approximate” calculations.

And that’s not even counting the related income of the sales department from advertising contracts with “whales” like five large banks, various telecom operators, and medium-small local business projects.

Thus, already six months after the migration, we overtook the paper version of the newspaper in terms of revenue, and brought in 6 times more money in terms of profit than the Old Believer bundles of information delivered by the postman with a huge cost.

Combined, the site’s revenue increased by about 1700% (yes, about 17 times).

My fee for the work remained the same – 10,000 rubles. Personally, it seemed to me at least unfair, and at most – an offensive circumstance. Several times, through the project curator, I tried to organize a promotion for myself, I didn’t ask for much, it was about 20,000 rubles a month. To which he received an answer in the spirit: why would you immediately double the salary, did the work become 2 times more?

Well, there really was no work twice as much, just as there was no enthusiasm, no desire to improve something and cooperate further. I reduced my participation in the project to a formal minimum, and in the spring of 2020 I completely ended commercial relations with this organization. In general, we parted not well. The burden of maintaining and promoting the site fell on the full-time editorial system administrator, who was generally a great guy and all the time of our cooperation, to the best of his ability, “learned from experience”.

And here we come to the denouement

For some time, about half a year approximately, the site, by inertia, brought about the same traffic. Already without my participation, they continued to improve it with about the same success as they improved the USSR in the late 80s.

The result was an 80% drop in traffic by the end of 2020. In the spring of 2021, they unsuccessfully tried to restore an employment relationship with me on any of my terms.

I, of course, enjoyed it. But no longer needed. It’s like with a girl who rejected you at the beginning, but, not finding better options, asks back, agreeing to everything in general. I refused.

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