The perfect fit for the internet's highest honor.

  A case study of  

To award the internet’s highest honor, you have to walk the walk–and that means curating flawless digital experiences on home turf–your website.

In 2017, The Webby Awards realized it was time to secure fast, reliable, and secure digital experiences that were adaptable for the future. By switching their websites to WordPress and migrating to WP Engine’s Digital Experience Platform, they gained peace of mind, usability, and longer, more engaged user sessions onsite.

Spinning up the Webbys.

When the Webby Awards were created in 1996, the internet was really still in its infancy. That same year, AOL changed its pricing model from hourly to monthly, and Hotmail, the free email program, was rolled out. Search engines were just starting to rank their results according to relevancy.
The Webby Awards were started by a magazine called The Web, which was run by a technology publisher called IDG. “We started with 15 categories, which were all honoring websites. The submissions were judged by a group of experts, which is the foundation for our academy as it is today,” said Claire Graves, Executive Director for The Webby Awards.

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“We’ve grown as the internet has grown. We started off just honoring websites, but as more content was made on the internet, we started to grow. We started to honor video, then podcasts, and added mobile when the iPhone came out, and then social. This year, we expanded even more to honor games,” said Graves.

The breakthrough moment.

Ten years after their inception, it seemed that the Webby Awards had achieved royalty status. At the show, music legend, Prince, was presented with the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his visionary use of the internet to distribute music and connect with fans. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and rushed the stage.“From a production side, the year that we had Prince performing at the Webby’s was sort of a breakthrough moment. When people rush the stage, you know you’ve done something special,” said Steve Marchese, Executive Producer for The Webby Awards. He wasn’t wrong. Just prior to this, The Webby Awards were proclaimed “the Internet's highest honor” by the New York Times.

Open source for open minds.

With so much momentum, the team at The Webby Awards needed to ensure they were leading by example. For their own website, they turned to WordPress.“We worked with an agency called Code & Theory to redesign the site. They had been doing a whole lot of WordPress sites for really big media agencies like Vogue and Interview Magazine. A lot of publishers. When they said we should do this on WordPress, it seemed like an obvious choice, because you can just build really beautiful websites with it,” said Graves.

With an entire community of contributors, and a strong open source software, WordPress was the perfect solution for a company that honors web innovations.  

“We loved being able to upgrade it regularly without doing too much. It’s really easy to use, with a low barrier to entry for people that might not be developers. So, the team can go in and update pages really frequently. That ease of use in addition to 40,000 plug-ins allows us to do quite a bit,” said Steve.

If you (re)build it, the traffic will come.

The largest amount of traffic on The Webby Awards site flows through the Winners Gallery. Here, visitors can view the most recent winners, and even look back through 22 years worth of award winning content. All the work that went into winning the awards is displayed, making the gallery an extremely valuable resource.

“The experience of searching through 22 years of content in a pretty massive archive, accessing that content, and experiencing it here on the site is incredibly important,” said Steve. “We’re an organization that gives an award for internet excellence, we need to have a website that also exemplifies that,” said Steve.

Since 2015, The Webby Awards team has worked to transition the site to be more centered around featured content and stories. Site flexibility has been a big focus along with user experience. “We do a lot of iterations on the site as well. Branded partnerships, building new galleries within the Winner’s Gallery,” said Graves.

A partner to lean on.

To help facilitate that user experience, The Webby Awards team started to work with the engineers from WP Engine. The transition of the site onto the WP Engine platform took place over the summer of 2017.

“Being able to take 20 years of content and seamlessly move that over was a scary thought. But, the team was incredibly professional, and sort of held our hands the whole time. We didn’t have to do very much, to be honest with you. John and his team at WP Engine seamlessly moved us over piece by piece until we figured out theplatform level that we needed. We saw some of the traffic go up and down, and found right where we needed to be in terms of customer service,” said Steve.

The biggest website concern for the Webby Awards team was the traffic spike around announcements. “The biggest traffic we get is when we announce the awards over two days. We announce the nominees in the beginning of April, so we see a huge traffic spike there as people go to the site to see if they’ve been honored. And then, we announce the winners about three weeks after that, and that’s when we see a massive spike. We open up the call for entries in early September, and we have deadlines throughout that period, where the site gets a lot of traffic as well,” said Steve.

“The WP Engine team reached out to us about these times of high traffic, and we started by putting together a production calendar to see when those dates are coming. Prior to a big event, WP Engine is proactively reaching out to monitor the spikes with a team onboard in case to help with if needed. It’s been phenomenal customer service. More than I even expected in terms of people reaching out letting us know that eyes are on the site, and that always makes us feel really good.

There were even points at which I said, “you don’t have to keep emailing me, I know you’re on top of it,” said Steve.

Banking intellectual capital.

Over the years, the team at The Webby Awards had issues with their tech stack, and spent a lot of time making sure the site didn’t go down. “It was a lot of intellectual capital invested to make sure it didn’t. And now, I don't really think about it anymore–it is an incredible burden lifted from our shoulders,” said Steve.
Not having to worry about downtime and site performance allows the team to focus on user experience, and providing the kind of online excellence that their award winners produce. “It’s a lot of pressure to be the Webby Awards, because we have to do everything totally correct on the internet. And everybody thinks it’s hilarious if something is a little bit wrong or anything happens on our site. We just have to be totally on top of our stuff,” said Graves.
“People will say, ‘you need a nicer 404 page,’ and really go deep into the site and point things out for us. We’ll get emails from university professors saying, ‘you need to make your site more accessible.’ The critical eye is definitely there. It’s helpful, but it’s also nice that with WordPress and WP Engine, you’re able to go in there really quickly and flexibly change these things. People will look at the site and what we’ve done creatively and if it’s stable from a programmatic sense, and they’ll also look at how quickly we respond to the feedback,” said Steve.
Being free from worrying about performance allows the team to focus on experience, customer service, and what’s next in the internet evolution.

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