2018: A RebelMouse Year in Review

From product to personal, we flourished on every level.

It's always overwhelming to think about how far we've come as a company every time December rolls around. From all the peaks and valleys our ever-changing industry likes to throw at us, to the personal triumphs and challenges we experience as a team, each year is always one to remember. But this time, 2018 took the cake. It was 365 days of twists, turns, and far more shining moments than ever before.


For the digital publishing ecosystem, it was a turbulent year overall. But we're proud to have navigated it successfully alongside our clients, audiences, and colleagues to come out on top. We had a year of fun, explosive growth both company-wise and personally as a tight-knit team that just happens to live all around the world. Here's a look back at this momentous year in RebelMouse history.

January: Rising Above Facebook's Doomsday Algorithm Change

Facebook's so-called "friends and family" algorithm update at the start of 2018 charted the course for the rest of the year. While the deprioritization of news in Facebook's News Feed resulted in devastating shutdowns for some publishers who relied heavily on the platform, we knew early on that the sweeping change would be an opportunity for publishers — and it was.

Making sense of the new way to publish was an exciting time for an enterprise-grade publishing platform like RebelMouse. While we've always embraced social and the audiences they bring, the algorithm change allowed us to fall in love again with areas that also fuel growth, such as search and site performance. In 2019, it's going to be gratifying to continue watching the decline of platform dependency, because we think publishers should take back control of their content and revenue.

February: Understanding the New Content Lifecycle

As the hangover from Facebook's algorithm shift began to wear off, we took stock of what the social ecosystem looked like in its aftermath. It was actually quite positive. At RebelMouse, our developers have been preparing for massive shifts like Facebook's update since we launched back in early 2012. Born in the age of social, our product has adapted nicely to the countless pendulum swings the tech giants have thrown at us.

We quickly realized it was time for publishers to go all in on a new kind of content lifecycle that included leveraging the universe of creators that already exist. As engagement became the new metric to watch on social, we optimized our own tools that identify social influencers with every publish. Using the power of content that resonates with audiences, we knew publishers, especially our clients, would rise above any algorithm uncertainties through identifying organic audiences who already had a passion for their message. The net result? It worked. Throughout the year, our clients saw massive growth across social, especially on Facebook.

March: The Launch and Growth of La Verità

Throughout 2018, we were able to showcase the vast and diverse portfolio our platform can cater to, from new media powerhouses to legacy brands, and even traditional print publications. The Italian newspaper La Verità was looking to take their popular newspaper into the digital age while still maintaining the trust of their longtime readers.

We were able to use our Social UX design coupled with a customized subscription model to not only bring in sustainable revenue for the media company, but also deliver a positive user experience for their readers. As users and publishers grew weary of the platforms, the stigma of employing a paywall dwindled in 2018, giving La Verità the opportunity to become a true case study for the power of subscriptions —a trend that should be closely watched in 2019.

After launch, La Verità experienced a 74% increase in returning visitors, and new visitors increased by 115%! La Verità is averaging 14 pages per visitor, far above the industry standard. Nine months after launch, the Italian publication experienced an average of nine million monthly page views.

April: Powering the Best and Brightest in New Media

2018 brought no April showers for RebelMouse. We had two extremely exciting launches of new media properties: It's a Southern Thing and Motherly.

It's a Southern Thing was able to take advantage of our fast-loading, content-first platform to make viral stories like this one rack up 431K page views within the first seven days.

Similarly, Motherly experienced massive growth with users up 28%, sessions up 72%, and page views up a staggering 177% after launching.

While the metrics are impressive, these two launches were an important illustration of a successful strategy that is going to be crucial for publishers to follow in 2019. Both properties let go of their heavy tech investments, and instead focused their energy and resources on the content they create to get ahead in the new media landscape. At RebelMouse, our deep tech stack, creative agency support, and engineering team stepped in as their tech solution so they could prioritize their own voice and shine.

May: Introducing RebelMouse's Creators Network

In preceding years, the role of the publisher was typically isolated, and the inner workings of how content was created was confined to the hands of creators. Publishers once operated a behind-the-scenes news desk that designated content for its readers. Then came the internet and the rise of social. Now content is a gigantic whiteboard meeting attended by the entire populace of the digital ecosystem. There is no such thing as flat media anymore.

As we continued to optimize and adapt following Facebook's January algorithm change, we built a new product designed for fluid and dynamic media created by multiple creators. Because now that the platforms are no longer a sure bet, content needs to be set up for multiple avenues of success. RebelMouse's Creators Network is an intuitive collaboration platform that allows the creation and publication of each article to become a collective process between team members, influencers, and any other contributor that's part of your content creation process. From there, we debuted a new content workflow that leverages tagging, commenting, annotations, author roles, and rankings so that every stage of the publishing process is seamless.

You can check out RebelMouse's Creators Network live on Odyssey.

June: Creating Dev-Free Designs With Particle Assembler

The explosion of social put web design — and even home pages in general — on life support. And thanks to the continuous algorithm changes of 2018 that bogged down users and publishers alike, the concept of the website came back in full force. Publishers have clearly shifted from trying to rely on social ROI alone to once again creating a web experience that keeps readers on their sites.

Brands, new media companies, and publishers don't have the time or money to invest in expensive developer teams to build out beautiful, design-heavy websites. The new home page not only needs to be aesthetically pleasing, but also fast, nimble, and built for quick consumption. It's got to be easy. And even more importantly, its experience must be driven by content creators. This quickly became one of our missions for the year.

Our Particle Assembler is a content creation suite available right from within our Entry Editor. It breaks down every article into micro pieces of content, which we call particles (or a part of an article), that can be accelerated on social. While Assembler had been a part of our tool belt for awhile, we elevated it this past summer from a straightforward organization tool to a full-fledged design experience. Within just a few clicks, content creators on our platform are now able to create stunning designs that can feature multi-column layouts, parallax effects, full-screen takeovers, and more without the use of a dedicated developer. Our client PAPER Magazine took full advantage of Assembler 2.0 to bend the industry norms of site design.

July: The Return of SEO

More than halfway through the year, we were able to take a more comprehensive view of the results of Facebook's January algorithm update. And one of the most exciting changes we noticed was the resurgence of search engine optimization. Google edged ahead of Facebook as the primary source of referral traffic, and our sites began to experience the positive benefits of increased web traffic.

RebelMouse's CMS features proprietary technology that allows each article to be optimized to win a search phrase. The reversal in platform leaders not only gave sites another chance at control over their content and page views, but it also illustrated that users are willing to diversify away from the platforms.

Our unique SEO infrastructure is designed to secure a search win with every publish. Each article can be given a new search phrase to win, and our search optimization tools will help you optimize external links, URL slugs, and metadata to win your phrase. It's what has helped many of our clients reach page one on Google. It helped clients like Motherly increase referrals from Google by 1,164% and increase page views 2,018%.

August: United Airlines' Journey Contest

We had a lot of fun all year helping United Airlines create engaging campaigns for their content hub. Since travel naturally lends itself to amazing stories, United created a campaign and platform for travelers to share stories of their adventures and how United helped make them possible. The main impetus for the contest? Five contestants were given a chance to win one million free airline miles.

United received over 64,000 submissions from site and social in the form of videos, photos, and trip summaries. Not only were they getting spectacular engagement and raised awareness, but the submissions have now become a gold mine of premium content that United can now repurpose.

September: An Important Avatar Change

While our platform and the industry gave us plenty of adventure all year long, we had a few shining moments in our company's culture that are too important not to mention. Since RebelMouse launched in 2012, our avatar has been of a boy mouse. He's pretty cute and you can still find him all over our website. But on social, we took a step forward by changing our avatar to a girl mouse holding an LGBT pride flag.

This is particularly important to us because our CEO and founder, Andrea Breanna, is a trans woman who has a burning passion for bringing more women into the tech space. Secondly, the adorable girl mouse serves as a symbol of our company's dedication to inclusion for all individuals willing to work hard and form meaningful relationships beyond our platform.

October: Sharing Our Halloween Pictures

On a lighter cultural note, we had quite the teamwide email thread going on at the end of October that showcased pictures of our families all over the world dressing up for Halloween. While it may have seemed like normal routine for the time of year, it was instead a heartwarming illustration of the culture we value at RebelMouse. We operate as a fully remote company, with Rebels living all over the globe spanning multiple time zones.

One of our biggest company mantras is around the prioritization of happiness —meaning each member of the team has a responsibility to pursue what makes them happy at work and in their own environment. This means plenty of Rebel babies, traveling digital nomads, and everyone and everything in between. Our remote lifestyle allows every member of our team to live their best life possible.

Our culture of happiness also bleeds into our product and our attitude, allowing us to conquer what makes us smile — even if it's something as simple as getting into the spooky spirit of Halloween.

November: We Helped PAPER Magazine Break the Internet (Again)

Our team launched new functionality in November that lets our clients create quizzes and surveys with a professional design that's easy to use and even easier to monetize. PAPER Magazine used this new feature to put its iconic "Break the Internet" Awards to an audience vote.

The design was stunning, and resulted in over 900K votes.

December: Ending the Year With a Bang

The final month of 2018 was not slowed down in the least by the busy holiday season. A shining moment occurred when one of our idols, Ariana Grande, tweeted one of the results from PAPER Magazine's "Break the Internet" Awards. Her pet pig, Piggy Smalls, won the category for best celebrity pet. While it was well deserved for Piggy, we're still in shock that something we helped create and build was linked to by an A-level superstar we admire.

Onward to 2019

2018 brought us way too much to be summed up entirely in a recap post, but all in all it was a fantastic year for RebelMouse tech, culture, and our position as an industry leader. Every quarter was bigger than the last when it came to revenue, and we're excited to continue this growth alongside more sites and partners in 2019.

January 2018's Facebook algorithm update gave the entire internet an opportunity to wise up, including users, publishers, and the platforms themselves. On the whole, the space is positioned to enter 2019 with a focus on fast, nimble publishing experiences that do not cost as much as heavy, custom, and outdated CMS options that have been holding back publishers for years. We're excited to lead this fresh new movement in publishing.

Cheers to 2019!

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Our Core Web Vitals drastically outpace every competitor, and we have the receipts

In an effort to build user retention and increase conversions, publishers are making a common mistake. They're adding more features to their websites, including ad placements, but losing sight of the main revenue driver: user experience.

The key to unlocking user retention lies completely in site performance. Currently, publishers are trying to build optimized websites that translate easily across devices and platforms, but fail to deliver an experience that checks all their boxes and prioritizes their readers. It takes less than a second of delayed load time to turn away a user. This is why Google has made page speed a top ranking factor on search, and shepherded the entire open web's newfound prioritization on site performance.

Game Changer: Google's Core Web Vitals Announcement

Google cemented its seriousness about page experience with the announcement of its Core Web Vitals measurements in Google Search Console. Core Web Vitals are three specific metrics that Google uses to determine a site's overall usability. While these data points will evolve over time, the 2020 version of vitals consists of three specific metrics:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): A website's LCP is the time it takes to load the main content on a page. Google wants LCP to happen within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.

First Input Delay (FID): This metric quantifies a user's experience when trying to interact with unresponsive pages. This usually occurs between First Meaningful Paint (FMP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) (more on what these two mean below). You want your FID score to be low to prove the usability of your site. According to Google, pages should haven an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.

Cumulative Layout Shift Score (CLS): CLS determines how often your users experience unexpected layout shifts or changes on a page. To ensure visual stability, you want your CLS score to be low. Google wants pages to maintain a CLS score of less than 0.1.

From Google.

Google says Core Web Vitals scores will be considered across every page, and will be a ranking factor in its Top Stories feature. While relevant quality content will always be the most important, the page experience ranking is now a make-or-break metric for your site's survival.

"A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content. However, in cases where there are multiple pages that have similar content, page experience becomes much more important for visibility in Search." —From Google's page experience announcement, May 2020

Core Web Vitals will determine every site's performance score. You can see your site's Core Web Vitals specifically via Google Search Console, but your website's overall page performance is measured using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools.

At RebelMouse, we guarantee a performance score of 90 or higher via PageSpeed Insights. To do this, we've built out a platform infrastructure that exceeds industry standards on Google's key metrics, particularly its Core Web Vitals, outperforming most industry leaders.

You can read more about how we've mastered Google's KPIs here. But the truth is in the data. Below is table that provides a snapshot into how RebelMouse-powered sites score:

And here's what the scores look like for some of the biggest sites on the open web:

As you can see, there's a lot of data Google takes into account even outside of Core Web Vitals. Here's a quick summary of the other important metrics that Google trusts to measure page performance:

First Contentful Paint (FCP): This metric measures the time from click to the time when a user's browser renders the first bit of content from the Document Object Model (DOM), which is your site's HTML structure. According to Google, this is an important milestone for your readers because it provides signals that your page is loading.

First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements," to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric helps determine your site's usability.

Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This is a critical point when slow load time can occur, usually because JavaScript or other complex content hasn't fully rendered. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load in its entirety.

Total Blocking Time (TBT): TBT measures a page's load responsiveness to quantify how long a page is non-interactive prior to becoming interactive. You want your site to have a low TBT to maintain its usability.

Speed Index (SI): SI is the measurement of how quickly the contents of a page are populated. You want your speed index score to be as low as possible.

Creating quality content is only half the battle in 2020, and publishers are already burdened with the around-the-clock task of creating content that resonates. This is why quality content must be supported by modern technology that can keep up with the speed of the web. RebelMouse provides publishers with a CMS that supports the new content lifecycle with an editorial suite designed for reach on site, search, and social.

Click here to read more about our modern approach to web performance. If you want to make performance a priority, request a proposal today. We can easily transform your site into one of the fastest on the web, giving you increased user retention and better conversion rates than ever before.

A Modern Story of Web Performance From RebelMouse Founder + CEO Andrea Breanna

If I had more time, this website would have loaded faster

In the first months of 2020, we've focused at RebelMouse on page speed and performance. We worked very hard and found ways to take 90% of the sites we power to 90+ performance scores via Google's PageSpeed Insights tool — even with sites that are loaded with ads, embeds, third-party analytics, and other typical slow-loading elements. You can read more about our victories here.

A few months after we started this process, COVID-19 hit the world very hard. Suddenly, every media company was faced with a huge problem: Advertising fell off a cliff in what seemed like seconds. The only way to survive this unprecedented downturn is to grow traffic and control costs at the same time. So we started to shave our code and made our websites faster. We dropped costs just as dramatically as we were increasing scores.

Here are some surprises we found when doing this: If you want truly exceptional performance, none of the JavaScript and CSS frameworks that developers love so much make the cut. We thought the React version of RebelMouse was going to be the huge page speed breakthrough, until we realized the only way to achieve this goal was to write the code carefully and refactor it endlessly until it was as short as possible. As any author will tell you, like editing a book or a blog post, the revision process is never really done. By stepping away from frameworks, and methodically shaving vanilla code, our customers continue to see major improvements in performance.

As we announced this to our site network and rolled it out publicly, many of our clients asked me personally, "How did you do it?" The answer is easy to understand regardless of how technical you may be. It's perfectly summarized in this wonderful quote attributed to Mark Twain:

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
—Blaise Pascal, 1657 (and later, more famously Mark Twain)

The universe is sometimes very beautiful, and especially when you keep it simple. If you would like to start publishing on a site optimized for both speed and sustainability, request a proposal and let's start working together.

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