Website Development and SEO for Blog Writers - LaunchUX

Case Studies

LaunchUX Case Study: Franklin County Free Press


Following a long career as a reporter, experienced, respected and newly retired journalist Vicky Taylor founded Franklin County Free Press. Her vision for the project was an online news site that kept the residents of Franklin County informed of goings-on in their community.

Taylor also wanted Franklin County Free Press to be free in the first amendment sense, but she also wanted there to be no cost for readers to access unlimited articles (the company she retired from used a “soft paywall” model in which visitors to the site could read several articles for free before being asked to subscribe). For revenue, Franklin County Free Press relied on advertising, which requires a steady flow of visitors.

To grow her readership, Franklin County Free Press would need to be easily found online.

Taylor’s reporting and publishing skills were unquestioned, but the site was plagued with DDOS attacks and malware. When the website wasn’t being shutdown by the attacks, it was painfully slow to use.

Readers who found Franklin County Free Press are skeptical of the media by nature, and the poor online presence was further undercutting Taylor’s credibility.

News sites – like their print counterparts – are almost hyper-focused on the user experience. They need to be easily navigated and understood by the widest possible audience. The stakes are raised even higher by the fact that a news site’s trustworthiness is directly related to its user experience.

Franklin County Free Press
When LaunchUX was called in to help in 2021, we were an ideal pairing to fix what was broken and extend what was working.

Opportunity 1:
Secure the reputation by securing the website.

Franklin County Free Press was under attack. Before SEO and web design projects could be discussed, the site would need to be secured. Driving new users to the site or investing in the user experience before protecting the site from DDOS attacks and malware would be like rearranging the furniture in a house that was on fire. Additionally, a secure website would increase the website’s credibility within the community.

Opportunity 2:
Make the website easier to find online and make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for when they get there.

News sites are unique within the world of web building because they are updated with fresh articles every day covering topics as diverse as the community served by that website. Visitors either need to see what they are looking for immediately – without being overwhelmed – or know how to find it with as few steps as possible.

Opportunity 3:
Keep the public informed about news and information that is by, for and about the local community.

Vicky created Franklin County Free Press to fill a gap in local news coverage that was created when the dominant newspapers in town, which were owned by the same corporation, began to pull back their local news coverage in favor of syndicated content and pieces from their own news network. Residents in Chambersburg, PA were now being served articles from newspapers in Erie – nearly 300 miles away – as if it was local coverage. Chambersburg was quickly becoming a news desert. Local news sites are notoriously idealistic enterprises, and all of the SEO, web design and user experience initiatives would need to be done in the service of creating an informed public.

As a website builder, Nathan Neil was intrigued by the challenge posed by Franklin County Free Press’s predicament. As a resident, he recognized the importance of supporting an independent press in his local community.

Skills Needed

Removing the obstructions that were preventing Franklin County Free Press from expanding its audience reach would require knowledge and skill in the following core competencies:

  • Website hosting
  • Website security
  • Website design
  • User experience
  • Social media
Early in the relationship, LaunchUX migrated Franklin County Free Press to its hosting environment. We ensured that all of their plugins were up-to-date, and we leveraged caching to improve the website load time.
As part of the hosting migration, we secured the website using Cloudflare to protect against bot traffic and DDOS attacks. Since we have taken control of the hosting and security operations, we have not had any issues with DDOS attacks, malware or other security threats.
Another benefit of taking over the hosting duties was that the faster page load times allowed us to emphasize images in our updated layout. In website design, content is still king, but it is often the images that get the initial clicks.

The content of a local news site is both never ending and staggeringly varied. Nowhere was this more evident than the matter of obituaries, a mainstay of local news publishing. Vicky Taylor had committed to running them at no cost as a service to the community, a service that LaunchUX continued. However, the obituaries ran in such quantities that in a strictly chronological news feed, other news stories would be buried.

We redesigned the site so that the obituaries would be shown across the bottom area of the website and non-obituary news stories would show across the top. This way, visitors could see the most recent news stories and scroll down to see recent deaths in the area. We also made it easier for readers to search and find obituaries for particular friends or family members. This solution increased the overall usability of the website while maintaining the respectful dignity of the content in question.

We then developed an API interface between Facebook and Twitter that allowed Franklin County Free Press to automatically have their news stories published through those social media channels whenever the site was updated. Franklin County Free Press is a grassroots organization running on donations with a small staff. The social media engagement increased their traffic while the automation saved time that could be spent developing content. We also developed a syndicated feed for NewsBreak, an app that delivers a lot of local news to Franklin County Free Press’s local readers (and beyond).
We have essentially quadrupled Franklin County Free Press’s monthly traffic in less than three years. In 2020, Franklin County Free Press averaged about 40,000 readers per month. Given that the population of adults in Franklin County is around 101,000, those numbers were already respectable.

Today, the website’s numbers are between 160 and 200,000 readers per month.

Additionally, the SEO services provided by LaunchUX have made Franklin County Free Press a higher authority domain for their postings, and their articles frequently come up in searches alongside the top news providers in the area, such as the ABC and FOX affiliates.

LaunchUX’s experience perfecting the security, design and UX of Franklin County Free Press’s, which was already considered successful by local news site standards, is a testament to what can achieved through further improvements and refining.

Our ongoing relationship with Franklin County Free Press demonstrate that an ongoing relationship with an SEO provider/web developer that provides continuous support can increase overall traffic and create a user experience that makes people want to come back and visit the website again.

As the “giants” roll back their local news coverage, there is a real opportunity for startups with low overhead and high ambition to replace them. In our time with Franklin County Free Press, we have seen how streamlining the overall content distribution process and making information more accessible to local audiences can make that happen.

The single most significant step in the entire process, however, was the decision to migrate the website to LaunchUX’s hosting services. This transition made all of the tweaks and enhancements that followed

LaunchUX is a boutique digital marketing firm located in Chambersburg, PA that specializes in building websites, search engine optimization and secure web hosting. Ranked by UpCity in the top 10% of SEO firms nationwide, you can be sure that LaunchUX delivers measurable results.

Contact us today to discuss where you want your company to go next – and how we can help you get there.

I’m always skeptical of web and SEO companies, but I decided to go for it. I was surprised by the results. We used to get someone contacting us online a few times a year, but now with the work LaunchUX has done, we get inquiries online weekly. Highly recommend these folks.

Matthew Baer