Content management systems (CMS) have come a long way in the last decade. Most of the popular platforms have advanced to the point where marketers could settle for just about anything that gets the job done. But if you want to go beyond basic marketing and content management, only a handful of CMS platforms are capable of doing the heavy lifting required for truly interactive digital experiences. One particular platform shines brightly in the eyes of savvy developers: Drupal.
In an age when off-the-shelf website platforms (think SquareSpace or Wix) offer a buffet of options and features, from streamlined content management to email marketing to CRM capabilities, Drupal rises above thanks to its extreme flexibility. Before shedding light on how Drupal can be leveraged strategically beyond the off-the-shelf CMS experience, we’ll first touch on some of the main reasons why Drupal is a popular solution for general content management.
A content management system (CMS) is a management tool for creating, modifying, and publishing digital content. The most common CMS platforms are web-based and support multiple users logging in and collaborating across various posts, pages, and content types. And, since modern digital content (read: websites) consists of much more than just text, web content management systems typically support the management of embedded graphics, photos, videos, audio files, maps and program code that displays the content.
A CMS is usually made up of two major components:
And while most companies use a CMS primarily to store, control, revise, and publish information to feature on their website, the most common CMS platforms also feature search engine optimization tools, customizable page template options, version control, media libraries and many other features that enhance functionality, usability, and content design and display options.
According to Wikipedia, the three most common CMS platforms are:
Drupal is a content management framework written in PHP, and provides back-end framework for at least 2.3% of all websites (more than 1,000,000) worldwide.
Several huge web properties and popular brands are currently using Drupal to power their online experiences, including:
Drupal core is free to download and use. While this is the case for most of the popular CMS products on the market, Drupal’s advanced configuration and scalability options create more value out-of-the-box than comparable free platforms.
Drupal is an open-source CMS, which means it’s free to use and develop further through additional programming and coding. And since it’s the oft-preferred platform of the most technically advanced developers, those Drupal developments (in the form of distributions, modules, themes and other tools) are typically very reliable additions. This is one of the reasons Drupal stands out compared to other open source CMS options like WordPress, which is known to support bug-ridden, spammy, and insecure plug-ins.
Being such a widely used and accepted open-source platform has encouraged a strong community of Drupal users (over 1,375,000 total users), developers, and stakeholders that are available to help guide unfamiliar users. As a Drupal developer, this type of access is invaluable since it creates a natural support system in the form of a responsive and growing community. Essentially, newbies and Drupal experts alike can find something of value from the community at large, which provides answers to questions that range from very basic to highly technical or niche.
Drupal also holds a distinct advantage when it comes to ease-of-integration with extension tools (known as “plug-ins” on WordPress and “modules” on Drupal). Whereas Drupal modules are known for being free to download and use, and also free from bugs, WordPress plug-ins are notorious for not playing nicely with other plug-ins installed on the same site. Meanwhile, the WordPress plug-ins that do function correctly usually cost money to use.
Additionally, Drupal’s core functionality is set up in a way that reduces the need for additional extensions and modules. Right out of the box, Drupal is highly capable, flexible, and customizable, meaning most users won’t typically need to add much more on top of it to get optimal performance.
Like most modern CMS’s, Drupal features secure user sign-in, account management features, and permissions control. Unlike other leading CMS’s Drupal does not force users to integrate 3rd-party plug-ins in order to extend capabilities. These 3rd-Party plug-ins can often introduce vulnerabilities to a CMS, offering would-be hackers yet another entry point into the backend of your website or application. For every installed plug-in on a competing CMS such as WordPress, the vulnerabilities continue compounding, continuously heightening your security risk.
On the other hand, because Drupal is much less reliant on third-party extensions by default, it is less susceptible to the most common security vulnerabilities that come with uploading potentially malicious code.
Often, the most appealing aspect of Drupal is its enhanced flexibility when it comes to capabilities and customization. The core version is already extremely flexible right out of the box, which reduces the need to download additional modules. And, if you do decide to add a new module, it won’t interfere with your system’s core functions.
Starting with Drupal 8.0, which launched in 2015, the Drupal’s core standards updates make it more developer friendly. In fact, the enhanced flexibility of Drupal 8.0 is one reason why Drupal is so popular now, as developers recognize the vast improvements in the latest version.
Large enterprises and massive corporations love Drupal for its scalability, and it’s considered one of the most (if not THE most) scalable CMS platform on the market (with the right hosting set up, of course).
On the front-end, Drupal can handle massive amounts of traffic without impacting the user experience (UX) for site visitors. Behind the scenes, Drupal is capable of supporting thousands of content contributors and users with multiple permission levels to generate or manage content within several different content types. This makes it ideally suited to handle the most content-rich site and digital experiences. Meanwhile, most other CMS platforms don’t scale up quite as easily. And speaking of other CMS platforms...
Anytime CMS platforms are in discussion, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the most popular platform in the world: WordPress. Both Drupal and WordPress are extremely popular and share similar capabilities. However, WordPress is substantially more common on the global web, and for good reason. In fact, 33% of all websites are using a WordPress CMS, while only 2% of sites are built on Drupal.
The popularity of WordPress stems from how user-friendly it is for simple websites and rookie developers alike. WordPress is preferred by DIY website managers due to the extensive library of themes that allow them to construct an entire web experience with little to no development knowledge. For site administrators, WordPress’ strength is rooted in its ease of use for quick editing, page creation, and overall site management.
On the technical side, however, Drupal is the clear favorite amongst web developers for all the previously mentioned advantages mentioned above, and beyond. More than any other kind of company, enterprises are drawn to Drupal for its unmatched scalability and security. That flexibility allows Drupal developers to stretch the performance and utility of websites far beyond the traditional brochure or sales sites common on WordPress.
Savvy developers have been increasingly drawn to Drupal for several years due to its ease of integration and vast technical capabilities. With the many advancements over the last 15 years, the line between business logic and the functional aspects of digital tools is continuously being blurred as websites and user portals can actually help to automate/complete complex business logic tasks. Drupal has proven to be the preferred platform for these types of custom applications.
Hancock Natural Resource Group (HNRG) specializes in the management and leasing of timberland and farmland properties. Their unique service pairs landowners with investors interested in leasing and/or sustainably developing land for agricultural or recreational use. They are essentially in the business of licensing out parcels of land all around the globe.
With this business model, HNRG is challenged with managing both new and existing licenses for their investors to peruse and potentially lease. With the power of Drupal, however, much of the business logic tasks associated with parcel leasing management is automated and handled by their web application, including the commerce portion.
Investors log into any of HNRG’s platforms to get a visual map of land parcel locations, which is filterable/searchable in many ways. From there, users view the unique licensing rules for each property and decide whether to invest. The platform then allows the users to actually invest in their chosen property, essentially streamlining and automating the users’ entire licensing process, all the way from selection to payment. At the end of the parcels’ lease, the system can auto-renew the lease (60 days before the license expires) or make the parcel available for new investors to lease (30 days before the license expires).
For users and HNRG alike, the Drupal-powered tool simplifies the entire licensing process, effectively reducing the need for significant man hours for both parties. Instead, this type of administrative process is managed completely by a custom-developed, Drupal-powered website. Each of HNRG’s six US-based offices uses this licensing automation tool, and each office has customized the tool a little bit differently.
A decoupled Drupal environment opens up its capabilities in a number of ways.
Decoupling, which is sometimes referred to as a “headless CMS”, refers to a content management system stripped down to its content management essentials, which are:
When a coupled CMS is deployed, the content and the website’s front-end design are closely interconnected, as traditional platforms will control the appearance and presentation of that content. Content entered into the CMS is used to fill up areas on very specific pages that are displayed through themes and page templates that dictate what the content looks like on the front-end to a web user. As a result, the content itself is set up to fit directly into one specific application or website - and this is reflected in the content editor.
So what does all this mean? What does the end product look like and do? The following case studies help elaborate on how a headless CMS with Drupal can be applied:
When Princess Cruises wanted to overhaul how and where their onboard passengers accessed and interacted with content, they turned to their Drupal platform (18 different Drupal environments, to be exact). With the help of some Drupal web development resources, Princess Cruises first set up a centralized, decoupled Drupal site. From this central content hub, Princess Cruises manages all of their general content that gets migrated to all 17 of the ships in their fleet. With this approach, Princess Cruises can push the same information out to all of their devices and displays across their entire fleet. That’s the beauty of a headless Drupal site - an unrivaled level of flexibility and adaptability with how, where, and when your content displays.
For example, all 17 Princess ships are equipped with their own separate Drupal site that not only receives the content from the central site, but also has its own separate content management system to manage content specific to the current voyage taking place. Each ships’ content providers can monitor, add, and update content that their passengers access (alongside the content migrated directly from the centralized Drupal site).
The POWDR Corporation is one of the largest ski resort operators in North America, overseeing dozens of mountain resorts from coast to coast. The corporation was looking for a solution to a pretty common content management problem: similar content spread across multiple sites but managed separately.
They turned to Drupal in hopes of creating a central content repository that could be used by all of their brands and locations across the country. What this created was a massive shared pool of resources that each brands’ website could use. From ready-to-use content to reusable page template and modules, individual POWDR resorts intelligently and intuitively leverage tools and content from the central Drupal site to power their own websites’ experiences.
For content management on each site, this means less work re-creating or adapting corporate-level content, and allows local-resort content contributors to focus on the content specific to their unique visitors. Meanwhile, POWDR corporate content managers can focus on much broader shared content and have more control over the digital unification of all their resort brands.
As virtual reality continues to creep into our everyday lives, Drupal is oft-preferred for VR-based web applications. In 2018, a jam-packed DrupalCon in Nashville (Drupal’s annual technical conference) revealed some pretty impressive capabilities when VR and Drupal are coupled together.
Attendees at DrupalCon Nashville 2018 got to experience a unique VR application powered by a Drupal platform. Two iPads scanned visitors using a mobile 3D-scanning application. Those 3D model files were then automatically delivered to an endpoint, which would then upload the OBJ file to a Drupal site which would then compose it into a small virtual postcard.
Built using Drupal as the backend and React as the front-end, a new VR editor was also unveiled at DrupalCon. With the VR editor, users can merge 360-degree photos with sounds, animations, and more to create immersive experiences. And with the power of a decoupled Drupal environment, those immersive experiences (“content”) can then be delivered in browsers across mobile VR devices using VR technology and in desktops with VR hardware.
As technology advances at a more rapid pace than any other time in history, now is the time to ensure that your digital strategies are scalable and adaptable to what the future brings. Contact us today if you’re ready to take your digital strategy to the next level of possibility.