Why we relaunched our website with Middleman

Published 2016-07-04 by Jochen Lillich

This week, we’ve relaunched our website with a refreshed design courtesy of our friends at the Palasthotel. When I launched freistil IT back in 2010, I hired Markus (who later joined me as my business partner) to build me a Drupal website. Later, we switched to WordPress. This latest incarnation now is based on Middleman, a static website generator. All the pages are generated locally, uploaded to the web server and delivered as-is. Why did we make this radical change?

There’s a single reason: content creation workflow.

We’re DevOps experts and we’re used to efficient tools and clear worflows. We use our favourite text editors to write code and documentation. We use Git to put everything under version control, to propose changes as pull requests, and to review code before it is released. We use testing frameworks like RSpec and a Continuous Integration process to make sure our work meets our quality standards.

When we encountered Middleman, we asked ourselves: What if we applied the same tools and workflows to our work on web content?

This is the result of this thought process. Our website with all its content is now in a Git repository and every change is reviewed in a pull request before it goes live. This applies to all kinds of changes:

  • a new blog post in form of a Markdown file,
  • a modification of a HTML layout,
  • changes in CSS styling, or
  • added Javascript code.

Merging a pull request automatically triggers a CI run which runs RSpec tests on the website source code. These tests make sure we adhere to basic rules and quality standards like “Do all important pages have meta descriptions and keywords?” and “Do all Markdown documents adhere to our style guide?” Only if these “integration tests” are successful, the static site content is deployed to the web for public consumption.

Being able to use the same basic workflow we’ve been using for years in DevOps now also for content generation makes us much more efficient. No more pasting HTML code into web forms; just a simple git push. In a tiny team with heavy time constraints such as ours, improved efficiency means a lot. Enough to ditch the powerful dynamic content management systems for something lean and nimble.

We’ve put a lot of work into this relaunch and we’re so happy with the design support we got from Palasthotel (separation of concerns FTW!). The new website will be the platform for many product campaigns, some of which are already in the works. And now that we’ve reduced friction to a minimum, we are determined to crank up the helpful-articles machine. So make sure to watch this space!