Designing Spider’s Web – the story of building the biggest tech blog in Poland

Spider’s Web started in 2008 as a pretty casual blog about Apple and the ecosystem.

The very beginning of Spider’s Web

After years of evolution, it became a powerful, independent online platform hiring dozens of authors, writing about tech, moto, lifestyle, entertainment, and more, reaching over 8 million users monthly, which is making it the most popular website and took the first place in the Tech category of Megapanel (the main study of online reaches in Poland).

Being part of Spider’s Web means facing neverending challenges – some of them could have been avoided, but most of them were the result of growth, constant development as well as adapting to an extremely dynamic online universe.

My approach? User Design Thinking? Yeah, sure! 

When I started working on this project almost 10 years ago in 2010, it didn’t even cross my mind to design anything with the end-user in mind. It was all about my taste and my preferences and even clients were in second place. 

After all these years my approach has changed, User Experience (UX) has become everything to me.

Today I like to think of myself as being for Spider’s Web what Johny Ive was for Apple – a design mastermind behind a product.

Yeah, I know how this sounds, so just apply some proportions to this slightly exaggerated comparison.

Coming back to Spider’s Web, years passed, visitors grew in numbers and so did our craving for success. It was 2010 when a personal blog called “przemekspider.com.pl“ began its evolution with changing its name to Spider’s Web.

When people dreaded the Aztec-foretold supposed world’s end, we got our another great business deal. Team of creators expanded and the situation got more serious but still it was all about simple and interesting blogging. There were some UI design issues of course, yet nothing too fancy.

UX design played an increasingly more vital role

Tasks were simple but time consuming, we started cooperating with more and more business partners and as a result we produced tons of amazing, highly professional content.

First ever custom UI in Spider’s Web history

There was only one problem – how to promote it all? How to make people see it without “shoving” it rudely in front of them?

After hours of brainstorming in our team I had something of a breakthrough. I introduced widgets to Spider’s Web. One of the most critical changes in project history.

Before that blogging came down to unleashing a constant stream of articles, one after another. Spider’s Web pioneering system of special widgets slicing this stream of content and it was really game changing for us. And not only for us, as many competitors decided to accidently borrow the idea…

This unique way of promoting articles on the homepage pleased our current and potential business partners. Companies like Volvo, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony easily accepted ours offers and joined us in really amazing content projects.

I was right in implementing widgets as a key component of Spider’s Web UI design and even more right, because our readers loved it too.

Then BOOM! The time of desktop ends… 

Is it exaggeration? Yes – only a little one though. The mobile revolution began, somewhere in 2016.

People started to spend more time reading blogs and such on “smart things”. At first we went for responsive web design, which was a big step for us. It meant creating one version of a website, which would adapt when opened at smartphones etc. As it turned out RWD stayed with us forever. 

While people were becoming more “glued” to mobile devices by a day, we did a total makeover of Spider’s Web. Believe me or not, but I looked at tiles in the kitchen and I found them weirdly inspiring. 

We had to find a way to present content in a way that would seem natural and not overwhelming at all. That’s why I’ve decided to introduce blocks, which could be slided. 

This way Spider’s Web became responsive not only vertically but horizontally as well.

Two years passed and the online world went even further with “smartphone obsession”. It was only natural that it had happened when you think about how popular, even common mobile devices became.

They outweighed desktops. If you look at traffic statistics from 3 years ago, 70% of visitors checked Spider’s Web out on smartphones and such.

Spider’s Web went through many, many changes over the years. 

Some of them (more than I would like to admit) were implemented in a kind of experimental, even “yolo” way. As a consequence we created something of “Frankenstein’s Monster” who couldn’t jump without scratching the left side of its chin so to speak.

As a result it turned out that editing the simplest of things became overly complicated for editors. On the other hand users stated in the comments that our website had been unreadable. Why? Because it was completely overloaded.

I knew changes were necessary, also at the same time, we noticed that the number of page views was too small in relation to the number of users and that was an even bigger problem.

After all, we decided to simplify everything that could have been simplified.

Secondly, an idea came up, an idea that seemed too simple to be useful but we discovered that viewers tried to scroll down Spider’s Web articles like posts on Instagram or Facebook.

So we provided such an option. A new article concerning similar interests unfolded below the one finished. Users didn’t need to commit to the next article by clicking at it, just a glance at another line of text became all you needed.

Effects? We got over a 60% increase in the number of views per month and viewers clearly got better access to desired content.

When the mobile revolution was at its best, another problem appeared. The quality of elements displayed on the phone screens forced us to better present the photos taken by the editors, who have also significantly improved their skills over the years.

Everyone took their photos differently and this – despite sounding banal – was a big issue. This is why I’ve decided to drop the previously used grid layout in favor of images being displayed above the titles and we changed the way of cropping photos. 

We introduced changes mainly on mobile. Effects? Readers stopped commenting on badly cropped photos, the support team stopped receiving as many inquiries regarding this topic, and our editorial team was allowed to work faster and smoother.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Spider’s Web was one of the pioneers when it came to clearly promoting authors with their photos and surnames at homepage? For us the Internet was anonymous no more, but our credibility went out through the roof and well further. 

After all, we created a monster! And we need to do something about it.

We reached a point where there was no other solution. We had to completely refresh the project. We had a huge traffic, a growing team and constantly new technology requirements.

But… Upgrading Spider’s Web with users’ needs in mind didn’t happen with a touch of a magic wand. We had to start thinking about “wordpress blog” in terms of a serious product.

We had some of the most important challenges that we had to face:

  • We used up huge resources;
  • The site was large and took a long time to download;
  • We had problems with the website’s speed;
  • and we had to improve the monetization of the service.

First of all Gutenberg was going our way and we decided to look into the future and go with the flow almost immediately. Instead of stalling, we welcomed Gutenberg with its “block-building” philosophy. 

Since 2018 I’ve been upgrading our website with this new WordPress editor and changed the way I thought about our website. Terms like “homepage” “post” “article page” became kind of obsolete to me. 

Instead I perceived our portal as a combination of various components, blocks so to speak. 

Spider’s Web of 2020 is something amazing. It’s more than a website.

During a two-year project of which I was leading, we unified desktop and mobile versions and so our website took a form of Digital Publishing Tool.  

In order to provide our users with a smooth and comfortable experience we also decided to split our WordPress back-end and front-end. From this moment we have different apps for users and editors.

We baldly went for Next.js, the react framework and that completely change the way the data is displayed and this significantly improved UX in general by enormous improvements in performance.

From this moment we have focused very strongly on mobile.

Now Spider’s Web it’s a home, a harbour for work of dozens of people.

It’s one hub to rule (or rather display) them all. It’s a platform capable of displaying content from various sources – other websites of our media group.

It means we are ready for the future regardless of what new fascinating topic it brings – we always have means of displaying new articles etc. in one place.

What began as a pretty casual web design job became a journey that has lasted for 8 years and the end’s not near at all. What was just a mere blog, which nobody had heard about became a huge online media center consisting of more than a few thematically different websites (tech; cars; business; law; entertainment – you name it).

And what is even more important our users don’t have to curse us for too long loading times, because we focused on making Spider’s Web fast.

During this time I’ve observed the evolution of the Internet. I’ve understood that it’s the end user expectations that matter the most and that value of responding to them (and even the snarkiest of comments) with honest work should never be underestimated.

My tastes and preferences, which used to be the most important things ever, gave place to understanding the significance of designing with user experience in mind. 

Working on Spider’s Web media group, having this philosophy in mind, provides me with not only decades worth of experience but with a sense of job well done. Especially while looking at the beautiful numbers that my work generates each day.