How Zephyr built a blazing-fast CMS and cut support tickets by 75%

  • industry
    Content management systems
  • headquarters
    Indianapolis, USA
  • zephyrcms.com
Zephyr is a cloud-based content management system for web design agencies. They required a CDN platform with extended image processing capabilities to help their clients easily create and deliver websites that follow the best web performance practices.

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Zephyr is a cloud-based content management system built exclusively for web design and marketing agencies. It allows its users to create multiple powerful websites for their clients with ease. Today, there are over 300 websites powered by Zephyr.

The platform is built on Microsoft Azure, and its infrastructure consists of microservices. As an entirely cloud-based solution, Zephyr puts the highest priority on the actual platform’s speed and the speed of deployment of web sites.

Michael Reynolds, Zephyr President/CEO
Michael Reynolds, Zephyr President/CEO
Zephyr was built inside of an agency, so we felt various levels of pain working with different platforms. We wanted to build a platform that served our needs as an agency, as opposed to DIY website building platforms that don't really meet agencies’ needs in the best way.

Zephyr works in a relatively specific segment: they offer their CMS to web design and marketing agencies only. But regardless of the segment, the CMS market is a high-density one. There are plenty of solutions, from open-source to six-figure enterprise-level platforms. To stand out, Zephyr had to pay close attention to its clients’ needs, including fast deployment and optimal web performance.

Instead of competing on the number of features, Zephyr focused on providing deployment efficiency and enabling their clients to make web design a breeze. They were looking for a technological partner that would ensure ultimate infrastructure performance and speed.

The biggest challenge for Zephyr was images. Proper image handling is a nuanced task, but people who manage websites often don’t know all the fine points. They get the wrong sizing, choose the incorrect formats, and fail to compress images efficiently. For example, they might take large raw photos taken on their digital SLR cameras and post them directly on the website, which dramatically hurts the overall performance.

Zephyr strived to take these struggles away from their end users. They wanted agencies to stop overthinking websites and focus on their core value instead, which would also help Zephyr stand out in the crowded CMS market.

In its early days, Zephyr tried some different CDNs and server buckets, so each server and each website held its own assets. It turned out to be inefficient and not scalable enough, so they decided to go to a distributed system and become a truly cloud-based platform. That’s why they were looking for a CDN partner to help them build a reliable product and scale its growth. The Zephyr team was looking for these four elements:

Since Zephyr was to become a fully cloud-based CMS, having a reliable media handling solution was crucial for its performance.

Mobile devices make up a significant share of the market, so it was essential to be able to automatically create responsive image sets to fit each screen without extra effort.

Zephyr required pre-processing options to be able to edit and manipulate files on the fly. They wanted their CMS to free up their customers from addressing image-related issues, such as size, shape, color, format, etc.

It was important for the Zephyr team to have comprehensive documentation on the solution and work within a comfortable tech stack (which was mostly JavaScript).

With prior experience working within a web design agency, the Zephyr team had a clear vision of the perfect solution for a purpose-built CMS. Uploadcare met all their requirements and proposed flexible pricing terms, so Zephyr ran with the solution.

Zephyr CMS has a microservice-based infrastructure, meaning it consists of building blocks that handle the specific tasks. Uploadcare works as one of these blocks and covers file uploading, processing, and delivery.

All media assets go to Uploadcare, where they are directed to separate projects linked to client websites.

Solution: Uploadcare Media Pipeline

Uploadcare enables Zephyr to relieve its end users from the need for painful manual image tweaking. The CMS automatically turns all the user-generated media assets into high-quality, lightweight files in the right format. End users don’t even notice this is happening: they upload images, choose the images they want to use, and Uploadcare does the rest on the fly.

Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
Those simple image manipulations are our heaviest used feature, mostly because we built them everywhere in our platform to make sure everything is falling into best practices with the web. Everything loads so much faster on mobile devices.

Mobile is a huge part of traffic today, so that was a huge area of focus for Zephyr. Thanks to Uploadcare, the CMS automatically serves images that fit any screen: they’re resized automatically and look good on both smartphones and larger devices. Since the images are tailored to each user’s context, it results in an excellent user experience for websites built with Zephyr.

Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
We really wanted something that could look at the device that is requesting that web page and then adjust all of the assets that we serve. We basically say, ‘this is the size of the device, make sure everything is resized to a maximum of that device.’ This way, we get the absolute most speed we can when loading our web pages across mobile devices.

Uploadcare Image CDN automated and streamlined Zephyr’s media pipeline, so the best web performance and file handling practices are built right into the platform. That resulted in:

Results: More client-centered product

—Hey, I uploaded this image, and it's breaking my website because it's taking over the homepage/slowing down my site.

Zephyr uses a ticketing system for support to handle customer care. In the early days, almost half of the support tickets for agencies were related to images: wrong sizes, wrong dimensions, slowing down the website, and other problems.

Uploadcare helped Zephyr build a CMS that has guardrails for clients. They programmatically put in best practices for images, so they don’t have to worry about any technical issues or layout sizes. Over four years after implementing Uploadcare as a core feature set of the platform, the flow of the image-related issues dramatically decreased—the team has 50 to 75% less support load.

Having eliminated image issues for themselves, Zephyr also eliminated much of the support load for marketing agencies that use the CMS. They spend significantly less time troubleshooting and explaining to the clients that they need to resize their 6,000 pixel-wide image to be shown on a normal human device. Now, images are something they never have to worry about, and their end users don’t have to worry about them either.

One of the most prominent benefits of using Uploadcare as part of a CMS infrastructure is speedy content delivery. Zephyr made their web pages lose some weight: they scale everything down and resize everything on the fly.

The change was particularly noticeable for mobile website versions: Uploadcare was able to cut over half the weight of pages meant for mobile devices, making everything much faster.

Today, Zephyr’s internal benchmark shows that the CMS-based pages are rendered in less than 200 milliseconds; and right now, they’re under 100 milliseconds on average. Not only does this make Zephyr a super-fast CMS, but it improves the search engine positions of websites built with Zephyr and enhances the overall user experience.

Uploadcare, as implemented in Zephyr CMS, provides better performance and reliability, so Zephyr can easily convey those benefits to their customers, and even their customers’ end users.

Zephyr’s customers also don’t have to handle things like plugins, security, or maintenance because Zephyr is a fully managed cloud platform. Everything is scaled correctly, compressed, and delivered in a snap through a reliable CDN. Web design and marketing agencies appreciate that they no longer have to deal with image-related issues, and it helps Zephyr retain more clients.

Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
Sam McKinney, Director of Agency Services at Zephyr
Since we don’t have to spend time creating any of the features that Uploadcare delivers, this has increased our ability to roll out new features faster. The same goes for our clients. Instead of having to spend hours on editing and resizing images, they can really focus on their market, target audience, and strategy.

Uploadcare is an end-to-end cloud platform that provides a next-gen infrastructure for file handling. It can cover any part of the media pipeline or all of them at once:

  • One of the world’s fastest File Uploaders
  • Automated secure Smart Storage
  • AI-driven Image Transformations Engine
  • Proprietary designed Visual Intelligence Algorithms
  • Adaptive Delivery solution