Previously in this series, Jeff Reed, Senior Solutions Manager, explained how Acquia Professional Services is leading the redesign of Acquia.com. Catch up and read Jeff's blog, here.
Over the past 17 years, Drupal has evolved from a tool used to build hobbyist sites to a content management system that powers large and sophisticated use cases. Today Drupal is defined as the best CMS for powering ambitious digital experiences. Dries Buytaert recently shared that “Drupal is no longer for simple sites. Instead, Drupal's sweetspot is sites or digital experiences that require a certain level of customization or flexibility.”
For users only interested in building “simple sites,” services like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace have prioritized pleasant drag-and-drop building experiences over ambition. These software-as-a-service providers make it easy for non-technical people, ranging from hobbyists to Karlie Kloss, to publish a blog or personal site. Wix makes it fun and cheap to build a simple site. However, these online publishing platforms can’t deliver the more complicated use cases that Drupal thrives on. The ability for a Drupal user like NBC Sports to stream over 3.3 billion total minutes of Rio Games or the City of Boston to migrate more than 20,000 web pages and 1 million words to a new Boston.gov would not be possible when using services like Wix or Squarespace.
These ambitious experiences require specific front-end expertise in order to be successful. This means relying on developers to modify CSS templates, implement modules, write HTML, and build templates. In some respects, this can make Drupal more difficult for marketers to take advantage of. The tradeoff between simplified content authoring and technical proficiency is something every organization with serious digital needs has to consider.
What organizations do have control over is how work is balanced between the front-end teams that build sites, and the marketing teams that give them color. Lack of visibility between front-end developers and marketing teams can amplify the challenge of building a site. Even when marketing and front-end teams share a universal goal for a site, the strategy to get there can differ drastically. Front-end teams want to build a reliable experience that scales well, and marketers want to control site content without the fear of drowning in HTML.
For three months, Acquia’s internal teams have had to face this challenge when tackling the website redesign for Acquia.com. Our team is using the redesign process as an opportunity to share how content authoring responsibilities are divided between technical and creative team members. A primary example of this will be transition from Drupal blocks to the paragraphs module. This transition will not only strike a better balance between front-end marketing teams, but will dictate our content authoring strategy on the new Acquia.com.
What Does a Digital Marketing Team Look Like?
Acquia’s digital marketing team is responsible for developing a strategic roadmap, maintaining performance effectiveness, and managing all ongoing content programs for Acquia’s public-facing sites. Under our vice president of digital marketing, our team includes content authors and editors, a web producer, a web analytics manager, and front-end developers.
As a team, we are responsible for:
- All content, messaging and information that is featured across the site
- Page development
- Site building
- Managing third-party integrations
- Building custom sub-themes
The list goes on, but you get the picture. For our team to be successful, we require the right mix of left and right brain to build engaging sites that work. This means being able to translate the creative ideas that fuel marketing efforts into site wireframes and code. Some tools support this mission better than others.
Our Problem with Blocks
On our current site, a majority of the pages are built with Drupal blocks. Blocks are created in the Drupal admin page, and allow pieces of content to be reused across multiple pages. This can be extremely useful tool because front-end developers don’t have to recreate content types that already exist. At Acquia, site administrators can also choose to turn blocks “on or off” across product, resource or industry pages.
The last time Acquia tackled a website redesign was in 2012, which means that the block strategy has been in place for over six years. Blocks can be placed on pages in a variety of ways, including through the context module, template files, basic block configuration, and the insert block module itself. Ultimately this strategy has resulted in a high level of technical debt, as every block that is created gets listed on the Drupal admin page. An extensive list of blocks can become endless and difficult to manage. At one point, the Acquia development team had created so many blocks, it could no longer load the blocks page.
Blocks also require a user to have a higher baseline of technical knowledge to properly build pages. Instead of allowing content authors to alter pages directly in the UI, front-end developers have to make adjustments in the block admin page. This strategy would require content authors to use the foreboding div tag.
Ultimately, the block strategy introduces challenges for both front-end developers and marketers:
- Front-end developers have to allocate time that could be used to build a reliable, scalable and engaging site towards assisting marketers make content edits.
- Marketers don't have the ability to edit content and build pages without extensive involvement from technical teams or writing loads of HTML.
These various challenges not only make content authoring a laborious task, but hamper innovation as content creation is too interdependent.
Give a Rouse for Paragraphs
After vetting a couple methods for content creation, the digital marketing team has decided to use the paragraphs module for content creation on the new Acquia.com. With the paragraphs module, content authors can take advantage of flexible, responsive and modular page construction to build landing and product pages. All content can be edited directly in the node without having to navigate to a block admin screen.
Previous versions of Drupal may have projected an air of developer exclusivity, but the release of Drupal 8 has debunked the myth that working directly with Drupal is only for the technically savvy. An easier authoring experience for content authors is now a default in Drupal 8 core. This means that content can be created and published without having to navigate Drupals’ administrative interface. Content authors can take advantage of in-place authoring, WYSIWYG editing, and content workflows. With due diligence, any marketer has the capacity to build a page in Drupal.
Removing the Friction from Content Authoring
By moving to paragraphs, the digital marketing team has found a solution that meets the needs of both marketing and front end development. The arduous process of creating content with blocks, has also influence how our marketing team partners with our front-end developers. For example, the front-end team has created documentation that will make marketers more self-sufficient. By following this landing page documentation, any marketer can easily build an entire landing page:
Giving content authors and web producers more agency is an advantageous for two reasons:
- It removes the friction from content creation by reducing the number of steps (and people) that are required to spin up a page or edit content.
- It liberates front-end developers from aiding in rudimentary content tasks, allowing them to tackle cooler projects, such as improving site UI or capitalizing on personalization.
Throughout the each version of Acquia.com, the purpose of the site has evolved. As Lynne Capozzi noted, a decade ago, the purpose of Acquia.com was to “convert leads and to move them through the funnel.” Although demand generation will still be an essential component of the new site, the next iteration of the site will deliver an engaging showcase of our products and services. Throughout our company’s tenure, the purpose of our site will continue to change. However, no matter the end goal of the site, making peace between front-end and marketing teams is a prerequisite for success.