How to Approach Your Drupal Website Build

June 23, 2021
Senior Director, Acquia Development

Enterprise organizations are increasingly looking at Drupal as a reliable, open source option for developing their online presence—contributing and benefiting from the active community base and potentially taking advantage of cutting-edge, decoupled capabilities.

With over 10 years of Drupal experience and implementations ranging from small to complex, we are often asked to recommend the best approach for building a Drupal site. The answer, as with many questions is, it depends. For some clients, the best choice is to build a traditional, coupled Drupal website. For other clients, it makes sense to build a completely decoupled solution using Drupal as the backend. And for others, the best solution is somewhere in between. Many factors determine which is the best approach for a particular client and their situation.

One important factor in deciding what approach to take is to understand the needs and skills of the people that will use and maintain the system. The two main users to consider are the content creators and others that will work in the system daily and the developers that will build and maintain the system.

View Webinar Recording: Building Enterprise Websites with Drupal: Unleash Your Full Potential
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June 23, 2021

Considering the Content Manager

For the content creators and content managers that work directly in the content management system (CMS), having an easy-to-use content admin system is key. Drupal has increasingly focused on this experience and has provided many features with this in mind. With traditional Drupal, content editors can quickly create pages leveraging the drag-and-drop capabilities of Layout Builder. Inline editing allows content editors to make quick changes to the content without diving deep into the content admin UI. And, content preview is available to review before publishing the content to the website.

All of this is also possible in a decoupled solution, but the developers must build and maintain this functionality or cobble a solution together from existing technologies. If the project requirements already require changes to Drupal's out-of-the-box functionality, building from scratch may be easier.

Considering the Development Team

The development team's skills are also an important consideration. If you have a team that has deep technical knowledge of a technology (or a desire to develop that knowledge), that can have an impact on the recommended approach. For instance, if your team has never themed a Drupal site before, but has experience with React, using a decoupled approach would fit nicely with the team's skills.

Like any framework, it takes time to learn how to theme Drupal sites. If you have a small team that is spread thin or maybe you don't have a team, a coupled approach using Layout Builder or Acquia's Site Studio could give your content editing team the flexibility it needs without requiring much help from a development team.

Considering the Digital Strategy

The overall digital strategy is an important factor to consider as well. Will the platform support a single site or is this a key piece to a multisite, multi-brand digital platform? Is Drupal the only platform involved, or is Drupal a part of a broader digital experience platform (DXP) that includes CRMs, Commerce platforms, a CDP, and other platforms? Whether working with Acquia, the open digital experience platform built on top of Drupal, or connecting into other tools—Drupal is designed to make these connections easy.

Drupal is a great platform to integrate with other platforms. Many integrations are easy to implement by installing a community module. Drupal provides a robust migration system that makes pulling data into Drupal easy to do. Drupal also makes it easy to pull data out of Drupal using REST APIs or GraphQL.

If you are only building one website with the platform and it is primarily for marketing your organization, a traditional Drupal build probably makes sense. The more systems you are integrating and the more channels you want to use the content in, the more sense it makes to build using a decoupled approach.

Considering the Requirements

The requirements are another important factor to consider. Requirements help us define the solution. Just as important as the requirements are how flexible the requirements are. Drupal provides lots of functionality out of the box. When you add the availability of more than 40,000 free community-contributed modules, Drupal can meet many requirements with very little effort.

As you define the requirements, you should compare them to what Drupal can do. And where there is a module that meets most, but not all, of the requirements, decide whether it is possible to change the requirements. The more Drupal satisfies the requirements that you would need to build yourself in a decoupled approach, the better the coupled Drupal approach makes sense. If you find that your requirements will require a lot of customization to Drupal, a progressively decoupled or even fully decoupled approach may make sense.

Considering the Budget and Timeline

Every project has budget and timeline constraints. If you are on a tight timeline (and budget), building a coupled Drupal platform is often a solid choice. Drupal provides so many out-of-the-box features that, with flexible requirements, you can build a website in a very short period of time. For instance, we were able to build a small Drupal site using Site Studio in just a few days. The more expansive your budget and timeline, the more options you have in approach.

The Versatility of Drupal

After you've done the analysis and come up with the best approach, understand that circumstances may change. And, regardless of the approach, because Drupal can handle any of the approaches in the spectrum, you can evolve your approach over time. Because Drupal has been built with an API-first approach, it allows you to change your approach from a coupled Drupal approach to a fully decoupled approach over time. 

Here at Bounteous, our website was originally built with a coupled approach. However, we recently decided to refresh the site. Drupal has allowed us to decouple parts of the site that make sense to decouple but keep the other parts coupled. As needs dictate, we can continue to decouple only the parts that we need to.  

Drupal is a versatile system that can be the centerpiece of your DXP. How you use it will depend on the factors above and others that you find important. Regardless of the approach you take, Drupal is versatile enough to change as your needs change in the future.