Migrating rabble.ca from Drupal to Newspack and WordPress

After a series of painful Drupal upgrades, Canada’s progressive independent media publication, rabble.ca made the smart decision to move to WordPress.

The Code Company led the data migration and custom implementation of publishing plugin Newspack.

The Challenge

Making the leap to a WordPress publishing platform

Like many digital publishers using Drupal 7, rabble.ca had reached a point where growth was no longer possible. The website was hobbled by tech debt and was prohibitively expensive to maintain.

The visual experience was outdated and clunky, and the in-house team were heavily reliant on external developers to perform basic tasks such as updating the navigation bar and adding images to articles.

The investment required to upgrade from Drupal 7 to Drupal 9 was the same as migrating to WordPress, so it made sense to choose a CMS that was built for content publishers.

We’d had a difficult experience with Drupal and had been through a few painful upgrades over our twenty years of publishing. Our architecture had serious problems baked into it so we knew we had to build again from scratch.

Kim Elliot,  Publisher rabble.ca

Getting the basics right with Newspack

Replatforming is an ideal time to review site design and identify any opportunities to optimise user experience.

The Newspack plugin was chosen as a foundation for the rabble.ca site because it provides a collection of custom templates built specifically for news publishers.

Newspack also offers a number of basic publishing tools out-of-the-box such as Yoast SEO and the SiteKit analytics dashboard.

For most digital publishers, some level of customisation is required when using Newspack – and Rabble.ca was no exception.

In order to refresh and modernise the front end experience The Code Company’s design team modified the standard Newspack templates.

We also implemented a breadcrumb navigation scheme throughout the site to improve UX and help readers discover higher-level content

I cannot say enough good things about The Code Company. What impressed us most was the team’s commitment and drive to make the launch deadline.

To see a project as complex as this done on budget, on time, is admirable.

Kim Elliot,  Publisher rabble.ca

A complex data migration and content clean-up

Migrating data from a large legacy Drupal site to WordPress is no simple task.

Particularly when there is twenty years of content and multiple changes to URL structures

Due to the way author bios had been set up – as custom taxonomies – a standard mapping process wasn’t possible.

Instead, our migration team embarked on a complex exercise to:

  • Identify authors, create guest profiles and import corresponding bio data from Drupal
  • Lay out and review existing content (approx. 34,000 articles)
  • Remove and/or redirect outdated or redundant content
  • Simplify content categories and tags
  • Determine how each piece of content maps to different sections of WordPress
  • Manually migrate comments from third-party plugin Disqus into WordPress comments

Bespoke content workflow

Cutting through editorial complexity

The introduction of custom Gutenberg blocks was transformative for rabble’s editorial team.

Instead of relying on external developers to perform the most simple of tasks, they now have full control over site layout.

Built-in logic makes it easy to automate business rules and prevents content from being duplicated throughout the site.

A dedicated page was created for podcasts and audio content and we worked with rabble.ca to create a more bespoke workflow that allows the team to:

  • Add multiple authors to a post
  • Manage permissions and approvals
  • Create checklists
  • Manage post promotion & display

Boosting Core Web Vitals

Since migrating to WordPress, rabble.ca has seen a significant increase in both desktop and mobile CLS scores.

More URLs are now classified as ‘GOOD’ and readers are enjoying a more streamlined and intuitive user experience.

We now have a modern site that’s easily accessible across mobile devices, increased SEO and far more editorial control.

Kim Elliot,  Publisher rabble.ca