Drupal is very good at building complex websites that can vault a nonprofit past brochureware or a blog and into the position of being #1 on your subject matter. I’m sure Joomla can do the same but there are certain Drupal practices and modules that can fundamentally alter the balance of power between your nonprofit and the competition. If your nonprofit is interested in being the biggest and baddest Website on the block and in winning your vertical, I’m pretty convinced that Drupal is the technology that can take you there. Don’t get me wrong, I still love WordPress for smaller nonprofits but once your nonprofit has started to do multi-user blogging or if your nonprofit is very aggressive in the online space, you can’t really take WordPress in that direction. However, there are caveats. You WILL need dedicated staff or retain consultants to maintain the Drupal beast. It’s not cheap.
It’s important to note here that I support the use of Acquia Drupal instead of the regular Drupal distribution that you normally find. Acquia is the company that is dedicated full-time to Drupal development in much the same way Automattic supports WordPress development. They have created a customized distribution of Drupal called Acquia Drupal that bolsters Drupal’s ability to become a community website.
Here is a quick comparison of the feature sets between WordPress and Drupal that you should be aware of.
|Upgrade without techie||Yes||Hell No|
|Automated image formatting||No||Yes|
|Complex data manipulation
|Custom content types||No||Yes|
|High amount of training for
|Can be easily designed with
|Unassisted embedding of video
Ok, here’s some typical information architecture nomenclature that you’ll need to learn in order to discuss these strategies with a Web designer. Note: if your consultancy’s designer doesn’t know what you’re talking about, ask to see an information architect. If they don’t have one, they’re probably not right for your nonprofit redesign.
The river is that stream of posts that you normally see in blogs. You can see this in effect on this blog with the blog entries listed by date from newest to oldest.
The (endless) queue
This is derived from a Drupal module called “nodequeue”. It basically allows you to order articles at will in whatever order your editors so desire. You won’t need a user to go in and manually hack out some HTML to make headlines for all the other blog entries on your site. In other words, it’s a human-powered headline builder for your website.
This is the first few lines of the article used by Drupal and by WordPress to entice users to click on a link to that article.
The teaser thumbnail
This is the picture that accompanies the teaser. I also use teaser thumbnail videos but that’s a much more advanced tactic that I’ll discuss in another article.
Nonprofit strategies mentioned in Part I that fall underneath the purview of a Drupal installation include (listed in the order that it would be encountered by the average reader):
- Magazine-style layouts
- News aggregation
- Editorial filtering function
- Blogging community
Key modules we will be discussing will be blog, imagecache, nodequeue, Content Construction Kit (CCK) and Views. These modules constitute the core of any good Drupal community site as together they allow for a nearly infinite level of layout customization. CCK and Views are a profoundly powerful aspect of Drupal but they require a high level of technical knowledge to use properly. CCK allows you to create customized blog entries in which certain fields are used to specifically fill in portions of a magazine layout like the teaser thumbnail Views are a way in Drupal to customize the ordering and layout of specific pieces of content on your Web site. Those of you who have used report builders in Raiser’s Edge or Crystal Reports will be surprised that there is now the same capability in a CMS. Learn more about Views here. For those of you in Joomla world, CCK and Views don’t have any equivalents although there is something in beta that is rolling out.
Magazine-style layouts in Drupal are basically concerned with the layout of content comprised of a teaser, a teaser thumbnail, meta information like the name of the author and date, and the article itself. Let’s take a quick look at a typical “design pattern” for the headlines section of a web newsite.
It’s almost impossible to build this into a WordPress design consistently because WordPress has no built-in facility to automatically resize and crop images to fit into a specific size. WordPress is wonderful at one-blog-entry-at-a-time posting. However, a magazine style layout will require the ability to reformat and resize content into an existing template. WordPress doesn’t have that capability. By using CCK, Drupal allows developers to customize blog entries that a user fills out which can then be reformatted to fit an existing template. In essence, you can make a magazine lay-out composed of blog entries. In fact, the APAP web site is a perfect example of this, you’ll notice that an image is repurposed as a teaser thumbnail and as the lead image on many of the articles there. That’s only possible because of the imagecache module which allows for the dynamic resizing of your pictures depending on its position in a page. When you combine this all with Views, you have the groundwork for an automated news magazine website built entirely by your user community.
Your nonprofit will have to create personal blogging environments for its staff. This is where social media is remarkably useful and I wholly endorse THIS kind of use. Basically, you open up a Twitter account and start following other Twitterers who are in the same policy area as your nonprofit. You can also set up RSS feeds to do the same thing. Between Google Reader and Tweetdeck (I use Twhirl), you can have a fairly robust set of news items flowing into your desktop in real-time. Your editors can then pluck the necessary items from their feeds and write about it on the site. APAP has gotten a lot of hits using this process and has eventually gotten good search engine results page (SERP) rankings over time. This is crucial to building up your PageRank. When I started working with APAP, it was at three and now it’s at five. It’s moving up in the world. Also, it’s old Website Grader score was in the low 30s. It’s now at 95.5 indicating that we’re pushing up at the top of what’s available in terms of SEO but I still have a few tricks left up my sleeve to push that up higher.
Editorial filtering function
This strategy requires nonprofits to get their head wrapped around using their expert domain knowledge to filter out news items for their users. Once nonprofit management understands this, you need to implement this in Drupal. Here is the design pattern you should follow for this strategy.
What you are doing with an editorial filtering function is two things: your nonprofit is telling your users what it thinks is incredibly important to read with one big headline and your nonprofit is shaping content based on site traffic using your queue. Basically, your editors can see what is getting read by users in real-time and then adjust the queue accordingly. This is how the “Top Five” section gets reordered every day by editors on the Asian Pacific Americans for Progress site. If a post is in the river and starts getting traffic, we push it up to the Top Five to accelerate that process. The three modules you need for this is nodequeue, Views and imagecache. The nodequeue module should be installed so that your editors can reorder the queue to suit their taste but the Views module is how you present the queue to your users. Imagecache is useful to dynamically resize your pics to fit the different layout options you can give yourself.
Can you do this in WordPress? Oddly, before I even heard about what nodequeue and Views could do, I actually had a crude node queue running at asianamericansforobama.com. With the help of another techie volunteer, we wrote a nodequeue-like piece of code that reordered the WordPress loop so that it would highlight the ten headlines with different colors and points sizes. This is why you see the large Huffington Post-style headlines over at that site. It wasn’t an easy kludge either and was prone to a problem wherein users would add too many posts to the queue. I very much prefer nodequeue over our WordPress hack.
Multi-user blogging capabilites are available out of the box with Acquia Drupal and it’s fairly easy to simply turn on the blog module. This blog module is so attuned to a multi-user blog format that it has to be differently configured for single-user blogging. There’s even room to support distinct RSS feeds for every blog generated by every user. While Drupal can be extremely maddening at times, this is one of the things it gets incredibly and totally right.
In the end, your blogging workflow should look something like this:
Basically, information from the outside world gets sliced and diced by your staff, which in turn, gets turned into user-generated content by your community.
Your Mission Should You Choose to Accept It
I don’t think you should go out and set up a Drupal site tomorrow. In fact, if you already have a Joomla site, there’s a good chance you can do this as well. What I do think is that nonprofit managers and techies should work together to iron out these sorts of information architecture issues. Simply by improving the ability of the user to focus on important headlines, APAP generated a 10.73% increase in time on site while simultaneously seeing a 19.62% increase in absolute unique visitors during the month immediately after these changes were rolled out. To grow in site traffic yet improving the length of each reader’s engagement with a web site is pretty hard to do. Generally speaking, any growth in site traffic tends to mean a decrease in average time on site. However, we were able to forestall that from occurring with the new information architecture redesign.