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January 17, 2020

There’s still life in your Drupal 7 site

Anticipation is building for Drupal 9. While module support for Drupal 8 is finally catching up with the Drupal 7 landscape, many organizations are not yet ready for a big change. Drupal 7 (D7) will be end-of-life in November 2021, which means we have time! Time to think. Time to plan. But also time in which we need to support our D7 sites while we strategize around a D8, D9, or WordPress migration. The coming year is a perfect opportunity to look at what has been working well for you in D7, what could be better, and identify possible next steps your organization can take. 

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. You have options. So let’s explore them to get the most out of a Drupal 7 site!

How we got here: the strengths of Drupal 7

Drupal 7 was released in 2011 and has become a known, reliable, and scalable framework for the web. Thanks to a dedicated community of developers, maintainers, and administrators worldwide who work collectively on this open-source project, there are a wealth of tools for — and benefits to — Drupal 7.

Module Support

With nearly 9 years of time to port and develop modules, if you need the functionality, it’s probably already been done. And maybe more than once! Many of the digital tools that you use to run your business probably already have solutions built for Drupal 7.

Training & Support  

Drupal has a tagline: Come for the code, stay for the Community. Due to the incredible community of users and creators in Drupal, there  are vast amounts of documentation and resources for both developers and administrative users freely available online. These tools enable training and support to all users levels, and streamline onboarding new team members without the need to invest valuable resources into writing redundant documentation.

Developer Familiarity

The Drupal community’s developers have been actively working in D7 for the better part of a decade. They know what to expect when looking at your D7 site. With Drupal 8, the technical tools and methodologies that underlie the platform significantly changed. So for Drupal developers who have been working with “the Drupal way” for a long time, D7 offers familiarity. It makes your internal teams faster in the moment, today, at addressing  challenging concerns and pressing priorities without having to take on new skills. 

Still Highly Secure

The Drupal Security Team offers resources to help the community keep each D7 site locked down. These efforts are still actively being worked on between now and D7’s end-of-life date.

Where we are: supporting and optimizing your Drupal 7 site

Small Changes Worth Making Now

Even with all these things going for it, change is on the horizon. D7 is still nearing end-of-life, after all. A migration to an updated or different platform is healthy and necessary, but it means now is probably not the time to invest in large scale changes to your current site. But even though big items on your wish list may not be worth the investment of time and budget, there are a number of incremental changes that can have immediate impact on your site while setting you up well for migration.

Navigation Strategy 

The way you organize and structure your content is key to your users finding what they came for. Any work you do on your content strategy will be transferable to your new platform, so there’s no need to wait. Invest in understanding your users and their user journeys today. Once you have this data in hand, you can improve your navigation in the future to help encourage your users down the path to conversion. 

Curate Your Content

Content is the key to a website’s ultimate success. It tells your end-users who you are, why they should pay attention to your message, and helps them get their questions answered. Perform a content audit to determine if the content on your site is accurately representing your organization’s culture, mission, and offerings. If it’s dated or irrelevant, start removing it from your site now and putting a redirect strategy in place. That way when you do arrive at your future migration, you can be confident you’re working with only your highest value assets.  

Accessibility

Accessibility is more multifaceted than you might initially realize. And at its core, it’s about maximizing your potential audience — something every site wants. An accessible approach to your site is about more than just assistive technology — it’s everything from the approachability and quality of your content to the predictability of your site’s navigation to the underlying functionality that supports getting around with nothing more than your keyboard. Social and legal pressure for websites to become more accessible to all users has been rising over the past few years, and the penalties for noncompliance can be heavy. Doing an accessibility assessment on your site will help find and remove the barriers that users of assistive technologies — and search engines — face when visiting your site. 

SEO

According to an article by Omnicore, “Search engines drive 93% of all website traffic.” Of that 93%, Neil Patel points out that 75% of those searches start on Google, and of those searches, the first five results on Google garner 67% of the clicks. That’s a lot of numbers, but they add up to one thing: SEO isn’t something that it’s wise to ignore. Optimizing your content and the “behind the scenes” structure of that content will have an immediate impact on your traffic and continue to build an audience you can carry forward onto your next website CMS. 

Performance Optimization

Website performance isn’t as glamorous an area of improvement for your site, but the results have real impact on your site and your users. It’s a well-known statistic via Google’s annual page load study that 53% of visitors will abandon your website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load… and 75% won’t come back if it’s more than 4 seconds. 

Finally, from the Google AdWords blog, “In retail, we see that for every one-second delay in page load time, conversions can fall by up to 20%.”

Performance affects everything. Your conversions. Your SEO. Your customer satisfaction rating. Visitor perceptions of your brand. Your bottom line. So a site design that balances aesthetics and speed on top of a platform that facilitates performant experiences is critical.

Redirects, page size, caching: these are some of the most popular areas of improvements for website performance. While these may not be changes that carry forward to your website’s next platform, they’re well worth investing in while you’re doing your planning.

Keeping your D7 Site Healthy

Even if your eventual move away from D7 is already in motion, you’re going to need support between now and when it goes live. Keep these three things in mind as you’re looking at your support options:

  1. Get security updates done in a timely fashion. Ideally, that means within 12 hours of release.
  2. Minimize your technical debt with creative problem solving and honestly assessing your needs vs. your wants. 
  3. If you decide you need extra hands, work with an agency that is a real partner dedicated to the continuous improvement of your website — keeping an eye on where it is now and where it is going. A team that you can trust can be a valuable guide, offer expertise, and help you make tough decisions. 

Where we’re going: planning your next steps

Some organizations are ready to jump right into D9, and if that describes you, let’s go! Read Drupal 9 Planning: A Guide to Upgrading, or Extending the Longevity of your Website to get ahead of the game. 

That may not be you, and you are not alone. There are many sites that need modules and functionality will not be immediately available in D9. In those use cases, moving to D8 first, or away from Drupal and into WordPress, are both valid options. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look to this choice:

How complicated is your digital ecosystem? 

Like most other things you are managing, the more complex your current setup is, the more extendable and robust of a solution you’re going to need. Start by defining the key functions of your current website in the context of other systems and tools you use for your business.

  • What kind of tool do you want to use? Do you want to stay with open source platforms, or move to a commercial solution?
  • What are those key functions of your site in the larger context of your business? Does your prospective platform already have this required feature built in? If so, this may be an easy choice.
  • If you need a feature that isn’t already available, how big is the effort needed to create it? Is it worth the investment of money, time, and resources?
  • Is your current staff familiar with the platform already? What will the learning curve be for them? What other internal processes and tools would be affected by the migration to a new platform? Is everyone on board and committed to supporting the change?
  • What is your long-term support plan? How much does the platform cost to support, in fees and in talent? Is it cost-prohibitive? 

Finally, it’s critically important to keep in mind the role your website plays into your larger marketing vision. Maybe a feature isn’t required today but is a part of your 6-month or even your 3-year plan; plan for that feature now to save yourself from stress (and an unexpected hit to your budget) later. 

To break it down into three steps: 

  1. Know your needs. 
  2. Respect your limits. 
  3. Be clear in your vision so that you can define what success looks like. 

Ready, Set, Plan!

The sun is setting for Drupal 7. But with a strategic outlook and a solid plan, it won’t leave you in the dark. 

There are many ways to tackle a migration and make this process easier. Start with your wish list and assess your current digital tools for their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and options. Once you have a partner in place, work together to plan out what needs to be done and what the long term will look like. The transition process will likely take six to eight months overall. But it may be longer depending on the number of incremental improvements you’ll be making along the way. 

If you need help, find a credible partner that will support you now and can guide you through whichever choice you make. Look for communication, transparency and of course, a portfolio of work with references so you can get the most out of a Drupal 7 site. 

And if you’d like Kanopi to be that partner, contact us. We’d love to help.