Fashionista

For the last 2 years I have worked as a part of the team from Panomatics.com to maintain and deploy the website MyColloseum.com, the online presence of a major German fashion retailer.

When I started on the project I was helping to support an old file-system using different tools for the blog and products library and a custom front-end display system that was constructed by a number of different German PHP developers in the 3 years preceding my time on the project.

I was initially brought in to help get the front-end redesign that was taking place at that time back on track. I came on-board and got the new design sliced and running within a few days after getting my head around the custom theme/template system.

Eventually I managed to convince the project manager and the client that we should port the whole site over to Drupal to allow us to extend the site easier, control content more efficiently and deliver a much more secure and stable site.

We then proceeded to build out the new site on a development server using the live site for reference to create an exact copy of the layouts and products. the introduction of Drupal's pluggable architecture allowed us to then add many new areas of the sites functionality easily that would have taken weeks of development time on the previous filesystem.

Using a combination of Display Suite, Blocks and Views and a few custom content types I easily managed to replicate the site layout and give us much more power over the display for admin users. This was the clients main frustration with their old site; they needed a PHP developer to make even any small content changes but wanted their own marketing staff working on it for blog posts, job adverts and product updates.

One of the selling points that helped me to convince the client to switch the site to Drupal was the promise of increased 'findability' and SEO goodness that we could get out of the site compared to the old HTML structure. They spend big each month on marketing and promotion but we also needed to increase natural traffic from search engines to backup the efforts from the newsletter and social media campaigns.

When we first deployed the Drupal site in early 2015 we saw site hits go from ~50,000 a month with 2-3 pageviews/visit up to a consistent 80,000-90,000 hits per month with a 7-8 pageviews/visit ratio. A period of adding and configuring various SEO related modules and meta tag generators to allow content to be tagged and served in a much more SEO/SEM friendly method helped greatly in delivering these traffic increases.

Over the Christmas 2015 period the site broke 110,000+ hits over their peak sales period, a new record for the site.

Responsive views of website

We did have some initial problems bedding the Drupal architecture in for delivering the site on the cloud architecture, mainly within the areas of caching. I knew we were running on a lower powered server than the previous host but I was convinced the site could be served from that platform once it was properly configured and the caches were warmed up. With the help of various commonly used contrib modules such as Varnish, ESI, Advanced-Aggregation and Drupals own caching system I managed to get page load times right down to the sub 2 second mark. This also took a lot of work in reviewing every aspect of the sites backend, including delivery, caching, template optimisation and judicious use of cron tasks.

On this site, there are changes made daily to various content items such as store locations, jobs, products, blog posts and promotional pages. None of these changes were possible on the old framework unless you knew PHP, now the client was doing them all; a vast improvement in admin usability.

Unfortunately for this site we were sorely hit by the AberdeenCloud server crash fiasco and were forced to quickly move the site. We were already aware that the crash was coming to some degree but simply didn't have the time to shift the site before the servers went down. A shame as it was such a great service with a nice backend. Possibly the build tools may return someday in another form.

I had already identified a host that we wanted to use and was already testing out an account on http://www.platform.sh; so getting the site transferred and setup was fairly smooth apart from some withheld data arriving late in the day due to being locked out of the previous filesystem. This new hosting environment would give us so much more at our disposal for site building and deployment which helped us improve upon the sites build process and structure.

During the move, I felt it would be faster for me to set the site up this time using Drush make files to fetch and construct the site structure on deploy. A much more portable method for site delivery and something that allows me to have greater control over the sites deployment by fetching and placing any 3rd party plugins and performing any module patches with no worry of overwriting them on subsequent deploys.

I still love watching it automatically run through the commands as you trigger a site build, even better when it doesn't fail!

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