Cleaner Code, Industry-Leading Performance Lead to Healthy Core Web Vitals

WP Engine Agency Partner StrategiQ vastly improves page speed and user experience for one of the world's most popular travel blogs.

Industry: Digital Publishing, Tourism & Travel

Site: thebrokebackpacker.com | strategiq.co

Challenge

Refresh a popular website with an intuitive development environment and a more responsive front-end experience to better align with Google Core Web Vitals.

Solution

Custom theme work to simplify the development process, introduction of the Gutenberg editor for easier publishing, and sitewide SEO and page performance updates to improve speed and functionality.

Results

A leaner site with vastly improved performance. The number of plugins used on the site was reduced by 3X, page loading times improved by more than 6X, and teams are continuing to achieve impressive Core Web Vitals scores.

The Broke Backpacker is a widely read blog that focuses on budget-friendly traveling tips. For more than a decade, founder Will Hatton and his team have been helping aspiring adventurers learn how to hit the road without breaking the bank and increasing knowledge about some of the world’s most scenic vacation spots.

StrategiQ is a UK-based full-service digital agency with offices in both Suffolk and the Midlands. A WP Engine Agency Partner, StrategiQ offers a wide range of integrated marketing services including digital consultancy, web development, branding, design, CRO, UX, SEO, PPC, social media, email, video production, and content marketing.

"As a WP Engine Agency Partner, we’re able to bring what we do best—brand evolution, UX design, and web development—and combine it with industry-leading performance as well as a hands-on team of experts at WP Engine who continually work with us to push our standards.”

James Bavington, CTO, StrategiQ 

Finally Tackling a Frankenstein Framework

When travel of all kinds came to a screeching halt during the pandemic, Will Hatton, founder of the wildly popular blog, The Broke Backpacker, and Ralph Cope, the team’s creative lead, decided it was the right time to implement needed improvements to their site.

The project aimed to make their content more appealing to an influx of new explorers—along with the more than 9 million unique readers who visited in 2019—once the travel industry reopened.

It was also important to The Broke Backpacker team that their content creators and site contributors had a great publishing experience, their development workflow was streamlined, and they were set up for success ahead of the Google Core Web Vitals update.

Like many sites with a large readership, The Broke Backpacker’s audience wasn’t born overnight. It grew steadily over the years, and as it did, five different developers had been brought on at various points—all of whom implemented different plugins and third-party scripts to make their improvements.

During their discovery phase, StrategiQ uncovered more than two dozen plugins and third-party scripts that, while once vital to the site’s performance, had become obsolete.

The weight of these unnecessary elements slowed the site, made updates more complicated, and created additional security risks.

And because multiple content creators contribute to the site, navigating it needs to be as intuitive and blogger-friendly as possible. Instead, publishers were met with a cluttered back-end environment.

Simplification for Users and Developers

For the writers and publishers who post content on the site, the Gutenberg editor seemed to be the best solution.

Upgrading to the latest version of WordPress enables the Gutenberg editor by default, and for The Broke Backpacker’s content publishers, it allowed the flexibility they needed with an easy-to-use interface and block-based approach to content creation.

Throughout the process, all SaaS, Javascript, and HTML functions were reconfigured and built back up from scratch to offer a purpose-driven theme that’s specific to the needs of The Broke Backpacker.

From there, the developers at StrategiQ were able to seamlessly migrate all existing content onto the new version of the site. 

While all internal linking, on-page SEO, and existing structures remained, redundant modules were removed and all styling was automated by the theme for consistency across the blog’s approximately 3,000 pages of content. 

StrategiQ used a number of solutions that make both existing and future content more manageable, and native caching features and performance tools created by WP Engine only further improved their new theme.

Instead of trying to update an already complicated development platform, the new lightweight code ensures The Broke Backpacker is built to modern industry standards for coding style and security.

It also helped improve the development workflow and increased overall site speed.

The Results

WP Engine’s industry-leading platform and tools helped StrategiQ build a site that’s easier to navigate for users and easier to manage for content creators.

Utilizing WP Engine’s native performance features, such as EverCache, global CDN, and its integration with Cloudflare, meant much of the heavy lifting was done already—allowing StrategiQ to concentrate on the agility of the new WordPress theme and supporting plugins.

The original Google PageSpeed Insights had been benchmarked at the onset of the project at an average of 31 on mobile devices and 71 on desktops.

Those numbers rose to 52 and 80 respectively upon launching the new site. After continued tweaks to the live site, The Broke Backpacker now averages 90 on mobile and 99 on desktop.

The original site also had Lighthouse scores of 34 on mobile and 28 on desktop. With the new theme and further refinements by StrategiQ, those numbers have risen to 99 on mobile and 100 on desktop.

Google Analytics showed the average load time of the original site was nearly 12 seconds. Most experts, however, dictate that load time should not exceed two seconds.

Thanks to the new framework, the average load time has dropped to 1.87 seconds.

Most importantly, the number of plugins needed to operate The Broke Backpacker was reduced from 72 to 23—a 3X reduction.

Losing those unnecessary plugins by baking simple functional tools into the theme itself provides The Broke Backpacker with the dual benefit of improving website speed and decluttering the development process for any future updates.

After some continued optimization, the StrategiQ team achieved green Core Web Vitals across the board since the site officially launched in September 2020.

“The new website has been transformational for The Broke Backpacker,” said Phil McEwan, Marketing Director at StrategiQ.

“We were able to leverage the early pandemic down-time to relaunch a website that enhances the user experience for both the users and editors of the platform.” 

“Our brief was simple," McEwan added, "But the page speed and incredible benchmarks the new site has achieved would not have been possible without WP Engine’s optimized platform and the incredible support from their technical team, who continually help us fine-tune performance.”

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