Why you should be using Drupal

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January 17, 2014
Why you should be using Drupal.

ThumbnailIt’s often described as the CMS from hell; ugly and a total memory hog, to the novice the learning curve is often far too steep and the documentation sometimes scarce. Why is this behemoth of a CMS even used anymore?

Its name is Drupal, and it’s very powerful when tamed. From the glorified Views module to the great SEO features to the loyal and enthusiastic community, Drupal certainly begs attention. It can be used to make some very beautiful and user-friendly websites.

Drupal started out as a PHP-based message-board project, made by Dries Buytaert, and first gained popularity in 2003. Since then, it has quickly grown a community of devoted developers whose Drupal-based sites now account for 2.1% of all websites worldwide.

Traditionally, Drupal has been adopted because of its fantastic organization and powerful customization tools, making it a great content management system for anything from blogs to collaborative corporate websites.

Some features that come straight out of the box are polls, comments, blogs, OpenID support, RSS feeds, user profiles, user roles, advanced search, and caching for faster speed. It’s easy to see why Drupal has been used for community-based websites.

Is Drupal designer-oriented?

One of the most common criticisms I hear about the Drupal CMS is that it’s just plain ugly.

The truth of the matter is that Drupal is marketed to more technical developers. Sure, it lacks WordPress’ pretty interface and easy media management, but with the proper dose of CSS, Drupal can be made to compete with the best of the best. Think I’m bluffing? Have a look at some Drupal-based sites.

To make styling your site easier, Drupal features themes, which can be downloaded and applied to your site. Drupal 7 alone has around 450 downloadable themes that range from responsive themes to e-commerce themes and everything in between! You’re sure to find a good theme to make your site look chic (or whatever you’re looking for). Most are free, too!

Speaking of free, there are now over 20,000 free add-ons (called “modules,” not widgets), which can be used to customize Drupal in any way you like.

Is Drupal SEO-friendly?

Certainly! Drupal has many features that make it stand out from the crowd.

A built-in taxonomy system

The taxonomy allows you to tag content with relevant and keyword-rich tags, an invaluable tool for anyone who’s SEO-oriented. You can even have multilevel, hierarchical category organization and content-type-specific “vocabularies” (for example, your products could have a different vocabulary than your blog). Way cool!

Custom content types

Define your own content types: articles, products, podcasts and more. The best part? No programming knowledge required.

Page titles

Let Drupal set automatic page titles using its smart page-titling features, or take the reins and take SEO to a whole new level. Either way, it’s completely user-friendly, coding-free and painless.

SEO checklist module

This module is a total must-have! While it doesn’t really do anything, it will help you make your site score higher in search engine results.

SEO-optimized URLS

Unlike WordPress, Drupal gives you complete control over URLS right from the get-go. Additionally, you can install the Pathauto module, which generates custom URL structures for each content type.

Who uses Drupal anyway?

Not only does Drupal account for over 2% of websites worldwide, but Drupal developers boast some very high-profile clients. Here’s a peek at some of the better-known clients who Drupal developers do business with.

Scientists

NASA, MIT, Popular Science, Harvard Science and Engineering, Stanford Humanities Center.

Technology companies

AOL, Yahoo Research, Ubuntu, Eclipse, Java Technologies Collaborative.

Organizations

Amnesty International, Greenpeace UK, multiple UN sites, the White House, Data.gov.uk, Investor.gov, sba.gov, The World Economic Forum, the US House of Representatives.

Celebrities

Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, Eric Clapton, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock; personally, not minions. (OK, probably minions.)

Others

The Louvre, the Grammys, Zynga, IKEA, ING, Tesla Motors, Fast Company, The Onion.

I thought Drupal sucked?

The growing number of converts speaks for itself. Between 2007 and 2008, downloads of Drupal core increased by 125%, and the growth trend is still going strong.

Isn’t Drupal slow?

While it certainly wasn’t born a race horse, Drupal is by no means slow when configured properly. Drupal’s caching mechanism stores data from multiple levels of a page, and it can increase site speed by as much as 500%. With improvements in every update, Drupal is headed down a good path.

Isn’t Drupal confusing?

If we were still in the era of Drupal 5, I would have to agree. But we’re not. That was six years ago (which is, like, 30 tech years). Contrary to the hype, Drupal is surprisingly easy to master, and while you might not get your hands dirty with PHP on the first day, you’ll find yourself being pretty darn good at Drupal after a couple of months.

Updating Drupal is a pain

This is probably one of the only legitimate criticisms of Drupal. Updates suck. Backwards compatibility is not really there. It’s a package deal, though, and for many, Drupal is still worth the update headaches.

My clients won’t be able to use it

Actually, Drupal offers a pretty simple administrative overlay for making basic changes to a site. Managing articles, blog posts, custom content types and products has never been easier. “Views” is also a great and (fairly) user-friendly way to edit content. Spending 30 minutes tutoring your client on how to use Drupal for basic tasks will not only save them trouble, but will make you look more knowledgeable about your product!

Is Drupal worth the learning curve?

Getting past your fears and learning Drupal is generally considered a good career move. Many big corporations use Drupal, and if you know your stuff, they will pay top dollar for their sites. While becoming completely comfortable with Drupal’s insides could take up to a year, there is a lot of demand, and with demand comes money.

Cool! How do I learn Drupal?

First, download the latest release of Drupal core and play around with it. Get used to the interface. Don’t worry, it won’t bite. Poke around the technical documentation as well. But I recommend watching some Drupal how-to videos, reading some articles and, most importantly, getting your hands dirty. The Drupal forums are also a good place to ask questions, but the Drupal community on Google+ tends to be a bit faster in responding to questions. Being involved in the community is very important to Drupalers because it could lead to job offers, extra work and Drupal know-how. As you advance, contribute back by sharing any modules you have developed. Good luck, and welcome to the club!

Drupal rocks!

Whether you’ve been scared off by old Drupal’s intimidating appearance or bad reputation, it might be time to give it a new look. Perhaps you’ll find this behemoth version 7 to be as tame as a bunny rabbit, yet powerful as ever.

With a clear advantage over similar CMS’, Drupal is the way of the future. If you are looking for a CMS that can do just about anything and look good in the process, then seriously consider Drupal.

Have you tried Drupal? What benefits do you feel it brings to the table? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, rock image via Shutterstock.

Mohammad Shakeri

Mohammad Shakeri is a Canada-based Web Designer who loves gizmos, gadgets, and all things technology. Connect with him on Google Plus.

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