The Blast: Bringing A Viral Media Site To Life While Accounting For Scale And Performance

Launched in September 2017 by renowned celebrity reporter Mike Walters, The Blast provides 24/7, up- to-the-minute news about the world’s biggest celebrities, all optimized for mobile consumption and social media engagement. The site is comprised of a staff that has been instrumental in breaking the biggest stories about some of the most talked about celebrities in the world with credibility, backbone, and authority.

The Blast is financed by Banijay Group—one of the world’s largest independent television production and distribution companies—whose holdings in the United States include Bunim/Murray Productions that produces shows like Project Runway and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

The Challenge

With extensive experience designing and engineering high-scale, high-traffic publishing sites, Zeek was hired by Banijay Group to bring The Blast to life in a highly-compressed timeline and ensure it could:

  • Leverage multiple monetization methods and a variety of media types while providing a fantastic user experience across all browsers and devices.
  • Handle large amounts of concurrent website traffic and huge viral traffic spikes without negatively affecting page load speed or performance.

The Publishing System

The design and engineering timeline for this new media site was tight, with the entire project moving from conception to launch in only 12 weeks. With opportunities to flex our engineering muscles, dig into performance metrics, and partner with incredibly smart and talented people, this was an exciting project for the Zeek Interactive team.

Following strategic consulting and discovery, the Zeek design team created a bold, responsive design with a mobile-first approach that looks stunning on all screens from mobile to desktop.

  • Mult-Card Layout: The multi-size card layout allows The Blast to showcase a variety of breaking stories in a small space and brightly-colored visual flags label content with featured calls to action like exclusive, see pics, and play video.
  • Image Slideshows: Image slideshows are used throughout the site not only to display galleries of images, but to create a monetization opportunity. Zeek developed a custom slideshow feature tightly integrated with ads and analytics to increase ad impressions and track slides viewed.

The approved website design was then turned into a custom WordPress site developed in PHP, JavaScript, and MySQL. WordPress is an open-source, user-friendly content management system that allows The Blast to manage the website and all of its content and media without needing to edit code or engage a developer.

The custom solution Zeek delivered:

  • Gives The Blast in-house publishing team the ability to curate content and quickly create user polls, media slideshows, image galleries, and video features.
  • Leverages integrations with a third-party ad network, YouTube, and Brightcove for video management and monetization, as well as a deep integration with analytics.
  • Includes the ability to easily add a visual flag label to a published piece of content and the development of a custom plugin to manage the curated homepage stories.

Each day at 4:00 am Eastern Time, The Blast homepage is updated to display a new set of curated entertainment stories with hand-selected page placement.

To manage this unique publishing workflow, Zeek built a homepage publishing tool as a custom WordPress plugin. The plugin allows The Blast team to plan, curate, and prepare the homepage design in advance and even pre-schedule Saturday and Sunday editions on Friday to eliminate the need to have staff working over the weekend.

Performance Considerations

When working on a site like The Blast, scalability, optimization, and performance must be top of mind from day one, as performance is a foundational aspect of good user experiences and a crucial key to improving conversions and increasing ad revenue.

  • Mobile Viewing Is Increasing: While the number of mobile users is increasing worldwide, many of these users access the web through mobile LTE, 4G, 3G and even 2G networks, which makes website optimization and performance even more critical to the delivery of content and audience engagement.
  • Site Speed Matters: A DoubleClick by Google study, found 53% of mobile site visits were abandoned if a page took longer than 3 seconds to load and that sites loading within 5 seconds had 70% longer sessions, 35% lower bounce rates, and 25% higher ad viewability than sites taking nearly four times longer at 19 seconds. DoubleClick also discovered publishers whose sites loaded within five seconds earned up to twice as much ad revenue than sites loading within 19 seconds.

In the first 30 days, The Blast went from zero to nearly 2 million unique views. Today the site averages 4.5 million uniques and 8+ million page views per month and experiences viral traffic spikes that bring 10,000+ users to the site at the same time. When operating at the scale, slow page load speeds and downtime are not an option. For ad and media heavy sites like The Blast, it is critical to streamline the code, secure the right hosting and caching solutions, and incorporate image optimizations.

With years of experience building and managing high-scale, high-traffic publishing sites, our team focused on building for scale and optimization throughout development to find the right balance between monetization and performance. We also partnered with WP Engine, a leader in the Managed WordPress Hosting and Digital Experience space for a reliable, scalable hosting solution.

Our Ongoing Collaboration

Our clients often come to us with internal or third-party resources in place and our processes enable us to seamlessly collaborate with teams of all types. Today, we continue to work closely with The Blast — their in-house team manages the website and content and our team operates as their technology arm.

We pay attention to the site’s page load speed and performance, monitoring monthly site visits and page views, as well as individual traffic spikes to ensure the site continues to perform well, load quickly, and provide a premium brand experience even with high amounts of concurrent traffic.

From large-scale digital publishing and media sites to high-traffic eCommerce, membership, and online course sites, to complex integrations with smartphone apps, the team at Zeek Interactive has done it all. When combined with our experience in platform technologies such as WordPress, Drupal, and Laravel, we can help you discover, design, and engineer the right solution for your unique needs.

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