Al Bawaba - The Largest Independent Digital News Platform in the Middle East & North Africa

Publishing / Media


Vardot provided Al Bawaba with a needed transformative revamp. From an outdated website & unresponsive UI/UX features to a content publishing powerhouse digital experience befitting their stature.

Case description

Vardot pitched the merits and benefits that Drupal 8 can bring to a digital platform that relies on heavy content publishing and user experience. The revamp started soon after.


Enhance Digital Experience

In general; the revamp was meant to upgrade Al Bawaba’s digital experience. From best practices for on-site SEO to complex integrations critical to their content publishing process.

“The new concept emphasizes original content, premium long-form research, expanded visibility for Op-Eds and a nascent infrastructure for paying subscribers. At a time when many publishers are exploring AI and automating the news feed, we’re focusing on original content” - John Lillywhite, Executive Publisher @ Al Bawaba

They had an old grid layout and an almost nonexistent user journey. They were limited in their ability to add components and features that allowed for a more engaging experience for readers. As a result, readers spent little time on the website.

Robust DAM

Being a digital news and media platform naturally demands that Al Bawaba needed a robust digital asset management solution that enables technical scalability. They intended to continue growing their already sizeable content and reach much higher volumes of multimedia content.

Search Engine Optimization

Ad revenue is a critical issue for digital businesses in the news and media sector and as such they needed to ensure that their website’s SEO doesn’t suffer or drop when they intend to launch their new website.
As of early 2019, they had over 850,000 articles indexed with Google which meant that data migration was a key factor to consider with regards to SEO.

Digital Content Publishing CMS
Al Bawaba are expanding their already sizable team of researchers, journalists, editors and developers and as such required a CMS and framework that enables them to run a smooth original content publishing process with identified roles.


Introduced Layout Builder

In a bid to create a more dynamic experience for the readers of Al Bawaba; we implemented Layout Builder. Layout Builder is unique in that it can work with structured and unstructured content, and with templated and free-form pages.

Thanks to the flexibility of Layout Builder; staff editors and content publishing team members can now create personalized pages for unique content or target audiences.

Moreover, we added an upgraded design and color coding for all the different content categories in Al Bawaba’s new website.

We added widgets that can be customized across all webpages and added to create more relevant content for readers especially mobile.

Practical DAM

In the process of upgrading Al Bawaba to Drupal 8; we replaced their Drupal 6 Entity browser with an upgraded and customizable media library that enables content publishers, editors and/or admins to manage and access digital assets (videos, images etc.) easier than ever.

Due to their extensive library of digital assets and files; Al Bawaba needed a more practical method of retrieving the desired digital file when needed.

The previous media library of digital files needed to be browsed thoroughly to identify the desired image or video. This cumbersome task could potentially take up to 10 minutes from the content publishing process.

As such; we patched the Drupal 8 media library to provide Al Bawaba with:

Faster loading… potentially saving valuable content publishing time.
Convenient file preview… enabling quicker file identification.
With the new Drupal 8 media library; Al Bawaba can now identify and use the video or image they need in under 30 seconds.

Customized Newsire

Al Bawaba has their own dedicated newswire system called Syndigate.
They use this system to import a daily feed of at least 100,000 articles across the world in 3 different languages - English, Arabic and French. In order to optimize and multiply their traffic from content publishing; they needed an efficient solution that enables them to parse relevant content from Syndigate and publish it on their website.
To address this; we integrated Drupal with Syndigate to enable them to seamlessly integrate content from Syndigate into their content publishing and management process with one click and without opening a new tab to browse the content on the original source website.

Content Migration

Digital frailty is an issue that all journalism agencies are concerned with. It refers to the permanent loss of published content and articles.
Al Bawaba had almost 1,000,000 nodes that needed to be migrated intact from the old Drupal 6 website to the new Drupal 8 website. A challenging prospect for anyone tasked with migrating this massive amount of content.
Extra care and consideration was paid to ensure that all content was migrated safely with at least a 99.99% success rate.

Powerful Search

The website search now features the best-in-class Apache Solr 7 search engine which enables an effective search experience for Al Bawaba’s visitors.
An Apache Solr 7 engine feature was also added to Al Bawaba’s dedicated newswire system. Rather than browsing through the massive amount of articles they receive daily; editors now can find the specific search result amongst millions of searchable items.

Automated Semantics

Tags are an essential feature for a platform that relies on content publishing. Tags are also a critical on-site SEO factor that Google considers important to the user’s news and content consumption experience.
We utilized OpenCalais (provided by Thomson Reuters) so that Al Bawaba are able to publish articles with automatically generated tags relevant to the article.
A practical and time-saving solution in their content publishing arsenal.
However; OpenCalais generates and adds tags in one single field, which could lead to the website’s performance suffering from the heavy load eventually.
As such; we addressed this potential concern by patching OpenCalais to categorize each tag generated in a separate field.
This patch provided the following benefits:
A stronger website search thanks to categorized tags.
Performance of the website will not suffer due to the distribution of tags across numerous fields.

Tailored Content Publishing UX
As a digital content publishing platform; Al Bawaba has the strategic advantage of utilizing Uberpublisher. Built on Drupal, Uber Publisher allows publishers to control the way their content is experienced.
From layout management, custom workflows, integrations, to an app store with growing features Uber Publisher provides a full solution that allows digital news and media platforms to focus on crafting their narratives.
Uberpublisher is AMP supported and integrated with essential UX features such as Disqus and Yoast SEO.
Contextual ad placement is also a built-in intelligent feature of Uberpublisher as ad revenue has become a key aspect of monetization and revenue generation for digital news platforms.
Enjoying full control over the process; editors at Al Bawaba can easily manage the ad placement process without compromising the quality of the reader’s experience.

Op-Eds/Long Form Articles
Al Bawaba wanted to launch their new digital experience with a focus on original content and long-form articles such as Op-Eds in a bid to humanize the content publishing process and experience for their community of readers.
Given that Al Bawaba is ultimately built on Varbase, a built in paragraph module enabled Al Bawaba to publish long-form articles such as Op-Eds, that feature multimedia content such as videos and images which enriched the user experience across all devices.
Particular attention was given to the design of the UI/UX of Op-Eds and long form articles as it was Al Bawaba’s strategy moving forward to focus on them as personalized in-depth content for relevant audiences. As such, design had to be distinct to highlight this feature.

Case goals and results

Goal 1: Enhance UI/UX for readers. Result: 300% increase in comment engagement with focus on the News section of Al Bawaba’s platform.

Goal 2: Enhance backend experience for staff and simplify the content publishing and moderating process. Results: 12% increase in PR submissions and 25% increase in submissions from journalists based in the UK and USA.

Goal 3: Seamless integration with Syndigate, their dedicated newswire system so that they can filter and publish relevant content with a click of a button. Results: Integration successful and smoother than ever as they can easily filter through hundreds of thousands of articles being fed through the system. All content published previously (almost 1,000,000 nodes) were 100% migrated safely.



We had to migrate all the data and some of it was corrupted. We needed to find a solution to migrate to fix that data so we can migrate it safely and without losing any articles.

After analyzing all the data, we looked for patterns and noticed that there was a problem within article not sync’ed correctly to their translated version. We managed to find solutions for all issues and resolved them so that we not only migrated the content but resolved the issue.


They have custom newswire system that feeds them 100,000 articles on a daily basis and they were looking for a solution that enables a smooth publishing process for those articles being fed from Syndigate.

We built a custom integration between Syndigate and Solr. Then we integrated Solr Server with Drupal. This enabled them to find the article they needed from amongst the 100,000 daily feeds and publish with a click of a button. Saving them a lot of time and making the publishing process much more smoother.

Community contributions

OpenCalais generates and adds tags in one single field, which could lead to the website’s performance suffering from the heavy load eventually.
As such; we addressed this potential concern by patching OpenCalais to categorize each tag generated in a separate field.

This patch provided the following benefits:

A stronger website search thanks to categorized tags.
Performance of the website will not suffer due to the distribution of tags across numerous fields.

Why should this case win the splash awards?

In addition to suffering from an inflexible content publishing and management process; the previous website was suffering from search issues, outdated design, and responsiveness.

This revamp to D8 gave Al Bawaba a serious foundation for future growth and expansion as a serious digital powerhouse in the region.
As a result; partnership requests from UK and US based tech and media events/programs have also increased.

Almost immediately the feedback from readers and staff editors was overwhelmingly positive with regards to their respective user experiences. Our team’s implementation of the newly introduced Layout Builder has been a major boon for the content editor staff and in-house devs at Al Bawaba. It allows the staff to create special layouts for specific articles or breaking news stories directly on the production site without requiring development effort.

If the award is meant to showcase the power of Drupal’s ability to enhance a digital experience, then Al Bawaba has benefitted exponentially from Drupal 8.