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March 24, 2020

Scary Times, Hard Truths, and Drupal 7

Staying on Drupal 7 is a good choice for the moment.

It seems like we have entered, rather quickly, into a new world. Without warning, many find themselves in a current state of uncertainty, and suddenly we now are experiencing an overdue recession. We’ll get through this, but to do so effectively it’s time for us to pivot and be nimble. 

For Kanopi, this means that most of all, now more than ever, we must be mindful of your budget. 

I have been working in Drupal since 2006 and was actively working with clients through the past recession. I learned a lot of hard truths that helped prepare me for this difficult time. If you were to ask me for the single most important piece of advice I could offer, it would be this: to all of the organizations and teams that are working on a Drupal 7 site; don’t worry about migration or be thinking about your new site right now. It’s best you stop for a moment to consider how to most skillfully invest your web dollars. 

You’ve likely spent the first quarter thinking through needs, budgets and future goals. But our world shifted. This is your opportunity to rethink the budget you’ve allocated for your new website project and determine if you should be using that money for something else. 

I’m not saying abandon your new website dreams. And if you are currently underway on a migration to D8, or are determined to move forward on D9, that’s fine . . . just stay lean with your features and get live as soon as possible. What I am saying in this post is that Drupal 7 still has life in it yet, and we have time to weather this economic storm. 

What does staying on Drupal 7 look like?

Let’s start by dialing this back: why were you considering a Drupal rebuild in the first place? For many, it was likely this very scary and finite statement: “end-of-life.” Everyone is freaked out by the words “end-of-life,” but you don’t need to be worried. Here’s why. 

There will be long-term support for Drupal 7

Long-term support providers for older versions of Drupal (6 & 7) require at least one person in that organization to be on the core security team for Drupal. Drupal may be unable to support Drupal 7 or 6 after it’s “end of life” date, but these specific people and companies are super secure, trusted, and legitimate sources you can turn to. (And yes, I said Drupal 6! You can still get support for your Drupal 6 site if you have one. We have a two Drupal 6 clients at Kanopi and they are still chugging along.) 

Additionally, our three hosting partners have also committed to Drupal 7 long-term support. This means that as long as you are hosted on one of these providers, and work with an agency that specializes in support, you will be totally fine. So if you need to stay the course right now, you can. You have time.

The State of the Union

Economy shifts are scary for everyone, including agencies. Many agencies will be hungry for work. But just because they are hungry, it doesn’t mean you should feed them right now; especially if they start suggesting a really expensive project. 

Because Drupal 9 is close to being a viable platform, many agencies will recommend that you move to Drupal 9 when it’s available, and get off of Drupal 7. And while that’s a viable option you can choose, we don’t think it’s appropriate right now. In the past recession, I saw agencies taking on expensive work with too many unknowns, and the end result was very unhappy clients with hodgepodge sites. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Beware the Monolithic Build

I also want to point out something that I have thought has been very risky for a long time, and now more than ever: the monolithic build. 

These builds usually involve a full reworking of a site and moving to a new, large platform. For both client and agency alike, they are risky, expensive, take a long time and don’t always hit the mark. By the time a large undertaking of this type has been completed, your needs, goals, and expectations will have likely already evolved, making your brand-new site behind the times before it even launches. Additionally, these projects range anywhere from $100,000-$500,000 depending on where your organisation is starting from. Can you afford to spend that on something that doesn’t meet your needs?

Even before the recent news and environment, Kanopi was shifting away from doing larger builds. We highly recommend stopping a project of this kind even before it starts. Monolithic builds are just too risky! 

Instead we recommend making smaller, strategic moves on your site so you can incrementally improve your site bit by bit. I’ll get to that a bit more later.  

What severity of “Drupal burn” do you have?

At Kanopi, we have a bustling support department and, unfortunately, we inherit too much crappy code. We work with our clients to create powerful website presences that convert, but that’s not how they often come to us. Clients come to us with “Drupal burn” where they’ve been burned on a large build — it’s a real thing! Then sometimes they hate Drupal and think that it’s too expensive or complex, when usually that’s not why the project went sideways. 

Here is a recent example that I want to highlight what happens when a monolithic build goes wrong.

Case study for a university 

Recently, a notable university went into a monolithic build with the key performance indicator of application submissions. The department needed to improve these metrics and spent 200k to rebuild their existing Drupal 7 site in Drupal 8. 

When it was completed, that site: 

  • did not have an “apply now” button on the homepage,
  • was not to the university brand standards,
  • was not AA compliant, and
  • was not SEO optimized. 

After nine months of the department team’s internal investment of time and resources, and a 200k spend, their site was not built to foster success towards their KPI in any way. It was a total dumpster fire.

After this experience, the University’s team came to Kanopi with no money, hair on fire, people pushing for solutions, and high stress levels. The site’s dismal failure to meet the needs had not changed the KPIs or the practical requirements of the department, so the pressure was more intense than ever. The Kanopi team took care of everything, improving the site and the department’s needed metrics through smaller, strategic changes. 

While this is one story of a nightmare, this happens more often than you think.

A Better Strategy = Security

Your end users do not care if you are on Drupal 7 or 8, and frankly, they would not even care if you were on Drupal 6. What they care about is an easy to use website. That’s it. And it’s more important than ever. 

In recent weeks, I have been encouraging all of my clients that were keen on putting money into Drupal 8 to completely pivot. If you have $100,000 or more allocated to that big build, put that in a vault. Then, take a small percentage of that and work with us to complete what we call a Website Growth Plan to really create the most immediate and visual impact. 

A Website Growth Plan will allow you to stop, look and strategize on both how you define success and what is of value to your end users. Then, we will roadmap incrementally how to get from where you are to where you need to be. So rather than a big overhaul, we’ll make strategic moves that make immediate impact for your goals. This allows you to have immediate success for less money.  

You need to be focusing on the most important things for your business right now. And frankly the end user’s experience on your site is more critical than the CMS on which it was built. Conversions are what matter.

I’m saying what’s right, not what’s popular

A lot of people are going to be angry that I’m writing this blog because some will argue for you to spend the money and get into Drupal 8 or 9. And to be clear, that upgrade will be a good thing! It will set you up for scalability and success in the long run. I’m not arguing about the validity of the upgrade itself, but rather the timing that will provide you with the greatest value. Simply put, now is not the time.

At Kanopi, we support more than 150+ Drupal 7 domains, and each and everyone of them needs to eventually upgrade. What we’re doing is making a commitment to the long term health of our clients by keeping their current site healthy. Right now, all over the world it’s less about business and more about being human. We want the humans, our customers, to be set up for the greatest long term success, period. That’s why this post is so important to me.

At Kanopi, we take care of the whole lifecycle of the website and we feel it would be a disservice to our clients to push them anywhere. I encourage each of you to stay exactly where you are, hunker down, and get the most value out of your current investment. 

More proof for staying on Drupal 7?

This is so different from what you must be hearing right now, and it’s not what I typically recommend either. It’s a new time for us all. That said, we’ve been working with clients to optimize their Drupal 7 site for years. We have several case studies that showcase how we reimagined current Drupal 7 sites and then improved the bottom line for clients. 

Breathe! And Be Well

At Kanopi, it is our goal to give all of our Drupal 7 sites a three to five-year breathing window starting today. I want to do what’s best for our clients and being a business owner, the simple truth is that now is not the time to spend a bunch of money. If you’re interested in talking to us about what we do for other Drupal 7 sites, improvements we can do now and how we can make strategic improvements to your site, please reach out. We’d love to support and help you over the long term.

Be healthy. Be mindful. We’ll be here for you now and after this storm has passed.