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Wheels.ca began as the digital version of a traditional magazine, but as print publishing declined, the website took on a life of its own. It ultimately became the go-to resource for Canadians who wanted to learn about cars and the automotive industry.

Technology Stack

The problem? When Wheels.ca came to Net Solutions, they’d seen a continuous three-year decline in unique visitors to their website.

In fact, for the first time in the website’s history, it had fallen out of Comscore’s list of Top 10 Automotive Sites by visitor count. As visitors decreased, advertising declined as well, since their major stream of revenue came from brand advertising. Management needed to course-correct, and fast!

Results

Net Solutions built a heavily customized publishing platform that helped Wheels.ca regain its pole position in the Canadian market.

The WordPress Platform:

  • Allowed easy publishing with a comprehensive & customizable workflows
  • Offered powerful search tools to delight users
  • Integrated external databases giving readers access to detailed automotive specs.

Rethinking the Existing Platform

Anyone who has run an online business can attest to the fact that a platform’s design, layout, and functionality are just as important as its content, and simple cosmetic changes would not suffice. Since the old site was designed as a publishing platform, it simply couldn’t support customization or advanced features—all of which seemed necessary to turn things around and boost unique monthly visitors.

In short, they needed to rebuild from the ground up. It had to be highly configurable and future-proof, with powerful search tools for users and streamlined workflows for the Wheels.ca staff.

After all, to become relevant again, they had to re-establish themselves as the definitive destination for Candian auto enthusiasts.

Finding a Tech Partner

Finding a Tech Partner

Anirudh Sharma, Senior Product Manager, had already chosen a creative agency to redesign the UX and UI for the new platform, but he still needed a reliable tech partner to take care of back-end development. That’s when he reached out to Net Solutions.

Net Solutions stood apart from the other vendors by their willingness to ask probing questions, truly making an effort to understand Wheels.ca’s needs. After numerous rounds of interviews, Wheels.ca decided to hire Net Solutions to conduct a two-phased approach.

The first phase would focus on rebuilding the foundation of the platform and implementing core features. The second phase would consist of optimizing and fine-tuning the platform.

Phase 1: Building a New Platform from the Ground up

The first phase of this ambitious project required careful planning and implementation. To both optimize the user experience and streamline workflows for internal staff, Net Solutions built a platform with the following features.

Custom Widgets for WordPress

One challenge was ensuring that the new platform didn’t lose any existing content that lived on the current website, which was created on a much older version of WordPress. Implementing a new platform slightly increased the risk of data loss, and using the existing platform made it easier for the staff, who wouldn’t have to learn a new publishing system.

For the sake of easier data retention and ease of publishing, Wheels.ca and Net Solutions decided to build the new platform on WordPress as well. However, since Wheels.ca needed a highly dynamic and configurable website, Net Solutions needed to create dozens of widgets and custom plugins that were not available on WordPress out-of-the-box.

For example, Net Solutions created a widget that allowed editors at Wheels.ca to override formatting and partially customize post titles.

Integrated Third-party Data Services

Wheels.ca wanted to make it easy for users to find relevant data for all cars running on Canadian roads, so they partnered with Autodata—a third-party data service that sourced tech specs for cars. The database would help link all articles related to any given make and model, making it easy for users to find relevant information on any car.

The problem was that Autodata had an MS SQL database and no API, so there was no means to relay the specs from Autodata to Wheels.ca. To work around this issue, Net Solutions created a microframework layer, allowing WordPress to retrieve the data. This also acted as a buffer between users of the WordPress interface and the highly sensitive Autodata database, essentially hiding it from the end-user.

Configurable Roles and Better Workflows

On the editorial side, the Net Solutions team created highly configurable roles with granular permissions. This allowed the administrators to add additional users under specific roles, and the WordPress interface modified itself based on the role permissions.

This gave staff access to only those options they were authorized to access. Of course, the administrator could also override role-based permissions to allow and/or deny specific permissions to select users.

This functionality also acted as the basis for optimal workflow functionality when it came to publishing. The administrator could create approval workflows, moving the draft through different phases, from editing to a posting. By following a sequence, it ensured that posts would publish to the main site only after they had received the requisite sign-offs.

Phase 2: Optimizing User Experience (UX)

Phase 2: Optimizing User Experience (UX)

Following a successful launch, Net Solutions worked with the Wheels.ca Product team to further improve the portal. To this end, they focused many of their changes on optimizing UX, such as:

A Return to Glory

A Return to Glory

Wheels.ca management chose not to take the easy path, and it paid off. Rather than performing a simple, superficial redesign, they partnered with well-respected agencies like Net Solutions to create a powerful, 21st-century user experience.

The comprehensive changes that Net Solutions implemented helped Wheels.ca regain its place as Canada’s premier resource for all things automotive. Unique monthly visitors bounced back, advertisers took notice, and the revenues returned.

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