Could you share any evidence that would demonstrate the productivity, quality of work, or the impact of the engagement?
One case example is the blog. When I came in, we had about 78,000 total users, maybe 50,000 on the website, and 23,000 on the blog. We spent a lot of money with a different design firm doing a frontend for the blog which was originally on WordPress in 2011. I came in and basically flipped the entire blog around, working with them to make it SEO friendly (I had SEO training from running other websites, so I knew certain things weren't working well). We took the existing design we had been given by a prior designer and replicated it but made it much easier to find SEO content especially with WordPress which is a pretty friendly platform for that.
The fact that we did the investment work in SEO doubled our traffic immediately. I made sure that I worked with him a lot on basic SEO stuff: making sure everything was crawled, that all the links worked, that we didn't have any dead pages, and really redesigning all the page titles to make sure they were SEO friendly. There's a lot of simple things you can do in the backend of a product that makes it perform well in Google search. In my world, everything is Google, Apple, and Facebook, but especially Google with our kind of content. We went from having about 30,000 blog readers to about 200,000 in about two years’ time.
We ditched WordPress and moved into ExpressionEngine, and we still have about 400,000 uniques on our blog which is significant for a museum website. I don't think there's another one in the country that has more blog readership. That's also part of a relationship we leveraged with Yahoo News where they take our RSS feed (we’re a contributor for that).What I was able to do with that was take my traffic from the blog and put linkbacks to other products on the main website to drive traffic back to that. That's a strategy that I wanted to execute, but I couldn't do it until I had them make WordPress and then ExpressionEngine much more SEO friendly. It was critical having a good developer who understands SEO.
That would be one good example of the metrics: going from 23,000 to 200,000 to 400,000 over a five-year period. Since we don't have advertisers, we get our money from people who are donors or corporate sponsors. When we go out into development, we pitch our reach to people, especially young people. We have the numbers to bring the money in to pay for our products.
How did Pedrera perform from a project management standpoint?
They do a lot of my project management work. We'll have an agreement on a project, scope everything out (start date, end date, milestones), and have an agreement on when and where the content will be. Then I hand it off to Tim and his team, and they actually do the project management for me. We use the same format, which I’ve been using for years, about how the whole system works. We have deadlines. They’re very good about meeting deadlines, I’ve never had then miss a deliverable deadline in five years which, for me, is unusual because I used to work with a lot of developers especially when I did TD websites where you would hope that you can hit your launch date. Because I worked with advertisers, you would have problems if that didn't happen. They've never missed a launch date for us in five years, and we've had some pretty large projects. That's why I like working with them. I’ve worked with a lot of developers in the past, and it's hit or miss especially for specialized products like we do. They’re quite good at scoping work and they're always on budget. We've never gone over budget with them nor missed a deadline.
I do the high milestones. We talk all the time. We do check-ins if they have questions for me. We share the project management responsibilities. It's a joint agreement about how it's going to get done, and I trust him at this point to get it done. He'll handle the backend stuff. Occasionally I will get involved if it’s a last-minute customer change request, which doesn't happen a lot, but it is a business and we do that occasionally. They do a lot of the project management for me, and it's all done to the deadline. I'm very happy with that part of it because I also do a lot of content creation and I don't have time to micromanage projects.
I’ve used Basecamp when we get a third-party vendor that’s a designer. For example, we did a project with the University of Texas where they had a product that shows the evolution of rights and how different parts of the Constitution were written. A third-party developer did the frontend. When I had to manage two developers at the same time, I would use Basecamp just to make sure I have an overview. If I work directly with Pedrera, I don't need to use Basecamp; we just do everything via email. I do have a product document where we have a road map, so I use the email to make sure we're on the road map.
What did you find most impressive about Pedrera?
It’s the fact that they have hit all of our deadlines. We've had some major projects from nonprofits and corporations that have had last second changes to products, and they've been very good at handling the curveball stuff. When you get a last-second change request, it's not really in the deal, but it’s something that someone who is a prominent donor, or for whatever reason, will want at the last second. They're very good at handling crisis management and security issues. We've had very little downtime in five years for our products. To me, that's very impressive because, at the end of the day, I have to deliver a product to the people I work for and the customers, and we've never had a problem doing that.
Are there any areas Pedrera could improve?
Not really, and I have worked with a lot of developers. I could tell you horror stories. I ran TV websites for 13 years, and we would always have the debate—whether you’re going to buy or build. You could either hire your own developers at a corporate level and have a team of developers. They deal with 13 stations, or you could farm it out to a company that does that. There was always drama with the developers, but I didn’t have drama with Pedrera. That makes my life a lot easier because I do a lot of other things aside from managing the digital production part of the equation.
What tips or recommendations could you share that might increase the likelihood of success with Pedrera?
Have a clear sense of what you want to accomplish, what the end goal is, understand what your limitations are, and see where they can fill the gaps in for you. For a lot of people, project management can be difficult especially if you don't have a lot of experience with digital projects. Make sure everything is scoped out in advance and that you have a clear understanding of the deadlines, the deliverables, and the budget.