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Case Study

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Helping digital publication Charlottesville Tomorrow keep local citizens informed and engaged.

The Challenge

To create an organized, industry-leading website to inform Charlottesville citizens, improve local decision-making, and foster a vibrant community.

The Solution

A best-in-class website that is beautiful, performs well on all devices, and allows for custom-designed long-form editorial content to enhance Charlottesville Tomorrow’s storytelling capabilities.

The Outcome

Time on site has nearly doubled in a few short months, and the website’s consistently high performance means the Charlottesville Tomorrow team can keep its focus on local issues.

Charlottesville Tomorrow website interface

For the last 15 years, Charlottesville Tomorrow has provided in-depth information on issues surrounding the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, with the mantra that “informed citizens make better communities.”

But as its years as a nonprofit have grown, and its number of published articles accordingly, the digital-only publication understandably became mired in its own content; the homepage took 10 seconds to load, and the site was in need of a new content strategy.

Strategy

Giles Morris, who took over as Charlottesville Tomorrow’s second executive director in June 2018, brought Braid in to help plan for a new best-in-class website that would match the high quality of Charlottesville Tomorrow's content, be tuned for performance, and better serve the organization’s mission of keeping the public informed and engaged.

Strategy

One of the most important initiatives included in the project was a complete overhaul of the content strategy. Many years of maintaining and adding to the previous website had resulted in a sprawling site that’s labyrinth of content diluted the focus of readers’ attention. Together, we formulated a simple, uncluttered, and bold (by virtue of being willing to exclude previously “important” items) navigation structure.

“I really like Braid’s approach as a developer-led team, because there’s not really anything that gets lost in translation”

“I really like Braid’s approach as a developer-led team, because there’s not really anything that gets lost in translation,” says Giles, “And there’s never really a bait-and-switch or under-executed feature set, because they as developers know what they can and can’t do, so they’re honest about it.”

Engineering

The previous iteration of Charlottesville Tomorrow's site had been built on a proprietary content management system that was shuttered shortly after launch. This left Charlottesville Tomorrow struggling to find developers who could update the site and respond to changing needs. Moving forward, it was important to avoid vendor lock-in. We leveraged the open-source WordPress CMS and used its capabilities to create a modular page builder system which allows the Charlottesville Tomorrow team to create beautiful pages and articles with minimal effort.

Engineering

“It’s a much more user-friendly CMS for our reporters,” says Giles. “The fewer barriers you can put in their way while they’re doing their work, the better. And the more creative ability you give them, the better.”

Unlike most WordPress sites, which utilize WordPress’ antiquated theming system, we used WordPress solely as a REST API to deliver the content. The front end is a JavaScript server-side-rendered Single Page Application (SPA). Pairing the WordPress API with a decoupled front-end results in a blazing fast website with luxuries such as cross-page transitions and other niceties that create a native-feeling reading environment for visitors — an important reality when “most people read news on their phones and through email,” says Giles.

User Experience

Since launching in November of 2018, Giles says time on site has nearly doubled. “That’s a huge metric for us. It just means that people experience the content in a different way and are spending more time, and that’s a big part about telling a story about impact when you’re dealing with journalism.”

User Experience

An important goal for the site rebuild was to increase the humanity of Charlottesville Tomorrow’s content, enabling reporters to include rich photo and video components in order to better connect with their audience. Together, we’ve not only enabled those greater storytelling features for regular articles, but we’ve also helped introduce a new content type: dynamic long-form editorial pieces.

As bespoke features, these pieces — such as a recent one on the redevelopment of Friendship Court — are custom-designed and developed one at a time, to best serve the content at hand.

And though the previous version was formatted only for desktop, every aspect of the new site looks beautiful across all viewports — something that Giles calls a “game changer.” The site loads quickly, looks great and performs well, meaning he and the rest of his team can keep their attention where it needs to be: on local issues.

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