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RealCedar.com: Going 5x Faster with Gatsby + WordPress

Michael Anft
November 16th, 2020

The Western Red Cedar Lumber Association’s website provides a firm foundation for builders, contractors, and homeowners to learn all about cedar construction products. Over time, however, the site’s original construction had begun to weigh down performance. Navigating RealCedar.com was slow, with image load times especially so — resulting in a 73 percent bounce rate.

It was high time for a makeover. The association brought in Vancouver-based Jambaree, a subsidiary of Bare Advertising & Communications.  Jambaree is an agency of JAMstack experts specializing in building design-forward static websites. 

Re-architecting the original 

The original site had been built with core WordPress, and its fundamental structure was sound. However, though seven years worth of patches and plugins kept RealCedar.com going, performance had slowed. As a result, three out of four visitors to the site spent less than one minute looking around before navigating away.

“Even though we had been able to improve the look and feel of the website over the years, we weren’t able to do a lot of functional improvements just because of the platform itself,” says Blaine Yamakawa, project manager at Jambaree. “Because of the technical limitations, we had to perform optimization of the site and even the server to make improvements.”

Everything about the site lagged. With many large images, as well as scads of data and hefty resources pages, viewing it had become an exercise in patience for visitors. Additionally, the site had also been subject to some minor-league hacking, which exposed security flaws.

“One of the things with a traditional WordPress site is that it requires more CPU usage,” says Caleb Barnes, a front end web developer at Jambaree with a speciality in building with Gatsby. “When that reaches the maximum amount, you either have to upgrade the tier of your server or change something else. Otherwise, there’s going to be performance issues.”

Quick fixes and regular tweaks were no longer enough. The Jambaree team knew the time had come for a full rebuild.

“Re-architecting to Gatsby was the clear solution,” says Yamakawa.

Rebuilding with growth in mind

“Every Gatsby website we’ve built is lightning fast, secure, and easy for our clients to maintain,” Yamakawa says, adding that customers report deeper user engagement and better search rankings. “Just out of the box, launching a Gatsby site, you’ll most likely do better in SEO than with any other kind of site.”

Beyond major performance improvements, the team also worked to correct WordPress security vulnerabilities. WordPress would remain as the administrative tool and content management system. Gatsby would serve as the website’s rapid-fire driver. WordPress empowered administrators to log in and edit content the way they always had. But, behind the scenes, Gatsby helps developers power the RealCedar.com site that customers see.  (Now faster than ever before, thanks to the new WPGraphQL plugin).  

“Something like 40 percent of all websites are on WordPress,” says Yamakawa. “And so for us to be able to offer that backend administration to our clients, many of whom already have familiarity with that system, it gives us a leg up.”

Building in new features

By pairing headless WordPress with Gatsby, Jambaree was also able to add a raft of new and useful features, including:

  • A Polylang translator that allows speakers of five languages to access and use the site, furthering the cedar association’s goal of reaching an international audience
  • A shopping cart functionality that includes a brochure and sample orders
  • A rebuilt customer relations management tool, via Zoho, that helps customers get quotes on certain products
  • Upgraded mapping technology that helps customers locate the nearest cedar products retailer
  • Redesigned and more informative individual pages for association members

These enhancements answered the wishes of the site’s many cedar industry customers and retailers. But adding Gatsby helped on the back end, too, by freeing up the developers.

“Now, we’ll be able to spend our time on developing features and actively improving the site — instead of just keeping it going,” says Barnes.

real cedar english language landing page

As soon as it went live in July, the new WordPress-plus-Gatsby-powered RealCedar.com was a hit. 

“We were able to deliver a site that is up to five times faster than what we had before, with better search-engine rankings, more stability, and increased functionality,” Yamakama says.

Jambaree’s client is happy, too. 

“I can definitely see that the speed has increased, with almost no lag time when changing pages,” says Meghan Kavelman, executive administrator at the WRCLA. “And I have been told that the site is more secure now than ever.”

The makeover’s net result is that the site now contains the responsiveness, flexibility and speed the association needs for taking on the North American lumber market — and global markets beyond.

Curious to know more about using headless WordPress with Gatsby? Check out our free webinar, “WordPress Without the Worry: Going Headless with Gatsby.”  Jambaree’s Blaine Yamakawa and Robin Zimmer join Gatsby software engineer  Jason Bahl to talk about rebuilding a content heavy WordPress site to be scalable, secure, and performant: https://www.gatsbyjs.com/headless-wordpress-webinar

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