Drupal for Dynamic Websites

Druplicon, Drupal's logo, the blue drop with sunglasses

The Drupal logo is a blue drop wearing sunglasses. From Drupal.org, "The name Drupal, pronounced 'droo-puhl,' derives from the English pronunciation of the Dutch word 'druppel,' which means 'drop.'"

Entrepreneurs seeking to build an interactive website with e-commerce features should take a look at Drupal, the Content Management System (CMS) that powers the Fashion Belle website. In researching what type of website framework to use for this site, the book Codin' for the Web by Charles Wyke-Smith (New Riders, 2007) turned our attention to Content Management Systems as platforms for building dynamic, interactive websites. Wyke-Smith refers to the new reality of interactivity as the Internet's driving force, ". . . Today's Web sites are more like applications and less like online brochures - the approach that set the commercial development of the Web in motion" (p. xiv).

Among the options for an open source (meaning free, among other things) CMS based in the English language, three stood out in our research, Drupal, Wordpress and Joomla. Several others would be added to this list for users outside of North America, and Drupal ranks high among all the open source CMS options worldwide. Drupal is stronger in functionality than Wordpress or Joomla, but some say Drupal is more difficult to learn with fewer theming options than the other two. In answer to this, as Drupal progresses with each release, improvements are making it easier to learn to use. New Drupal theming companies are emerging to add to the options for custom appearance, and improved theming is a goal for the release of Drupal 8, scheduled in 2015. Of course, a Drupal site can be themed in any way desired through custom theming work.

Drupal vs. Wordpress

Wordpress is definitely more simple to use than Drupal with more free theming options. However, the reputation for security of Wordpress is much lower than that of Drupal, and it is not uncommon for Wordpress themes to be penetrated by hackers and damaged. For this reason, Drupal is the safer choice with its security team that is constantly monitoring vulnerabilities and issuing security patches. The functionality of Wordpress is also much more limited than that of Drupal, so for a developer who starts with a blog but plans to expand with other features in the future, starting with Drupal will be easier over the long run.

Drupal vs. Joomla

Joomla ranks between Wordpress and Drupal for both security and functionality. Justin Tucker, a programmer from our area who has developed sites in both Joomla and Drupal, tells us that he is transitioning all of his clients to Drupal because he has found that Joomla does not offer the range of functionality available with Drupal. He has also told us that some of his Joomla sites have fallen prey to hackers while none of his Drupal sites have. This is echoed by another development company we know, Worx, that has never had a security breach to more than 500 Drupal sites it manages. The president of Worx also told us that one of the original reasons he chose to work with Drupal instead of Joomla was the superior online support community through Drupal forums. If desired, read more about the differences between Drupal and Joomla.

Drupal's General Public License

Founder Dries Buytaert will always have our gratitude for making Drupal open source, which means free, through a GNU General Public License. We have the site we wanted, long before we could have afforded to pay for proprietary software. The magnitude of this gift, especially for small start-up companies, is immense.

Drupal Hosting

The best advice that we would pass along to businesses seeking to implement a Drupal-based site is to secure robust hosting from the beginning. Drupal is a work horse and requires attention to server resources. Depending on the functionality used for a business site, hosting needs may be well beyond what a non-Drupal site would require. For starters, check out Drupal Gardens, which offers free hosting of not-for-profit sites and paid hosting for enterprise sites. Or, contact Acquia or the superfast Pantheon for paid hosting of sites that are more complex than are supported by the basic Drupal Gardens platform. We are not connected in any way with Acquia or Pantheon but we can highly recommend them based on the strong reputation of their services.

If you would rather hire Drupal experts to build a site for you rather than doing it yourself, we recommend contacting The Worx Company, based in the USA and serving clients worldwide. The team at Worx are top-level contributors to the Drupal project and do excellent work, providing both site building and hosting. The Fashion Belle site is hosted on Worx servers, though we do our own development. Other Drupal service providers are listed at Drupal.org, but be cautious. Not all hosting services that claim to specialize in Drupal offer adequate support. Obtaining personal recommendations about hosting from seasoned Drupal developers is the best way to avoid confusion about site problems that originate from inadequate hosting resources.

Drupal and HTML5

In the fashion and artistic fields, many companies have in the past utilized Flash-based graphics for website development. Apple's restriction of Flash in favor of HTML5 on iPhones and iPads has made most everyone aware of the security problems with Flash and the rising future of HTML5 for the web. When developing a new site or updating an old one, it is important to make the switch away from Flash to HTML5 standards.

Drupal and Search Engine Optimization

Drupal is designed for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) out of the box, and many additional steps can be taken to enhance Drupal's natural capabilities for SEO. Webmasters should become lifelong students of the constantly changing field of SEO. Several of the most important SEO tips that have helped make the Fashion Belle site successful are as follows:

  • Make the site a hub of fresh information about a topic. Search engines reward well-rounded sites that are an authority on a topic, especially when the topic is a specialty one like modest clothing. Recency of content is also important, so post new material as often as possible.
  • Avoid all affiliate advertising links. Search engines punish sites that rely heavily on affiliate advertising for revenue because this provides little unique content. The Fashion Belle site has received the highest number of search listings at times when all affiliate advertising links were removed. Returning even one affiliate link across the site has caused our search listings to plummet. As a result of this lesson, the sale of our own sewing pattern products will be the source of site revenue, and the free resource links will help increase search traffic. Loss of search traffic is not worth the exchange for the small income that affiliate ads generate.
  • Social media can help build a brand and generate traffic, but be careful that time spent updating social media profiles does not take away from product development and other more important brand activities. As social media resources multiply, traffic is constantly shifting from one popular service to another. If possible, identify and spend the most time with social media platforms where most of your customers are.

Above all, once the SEO basics are covered, do not allocate too much time focusing on SEO, aside from continuing your education as SEO best practices change. Rather, spend the most valuable hours of your time building a brand.

Drupal Resources