Why Drupal is the future of content strategy

Drupal is already a robust content management system and digital experience platform. It's also playing a critical role in content strategy.
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As a long-time advocate for open source and a contributor to Drupal, I spend a lot of time thinking about how organizations can leverage the platform. I've been thinking about Drupal's position in the larger digital ecosystem and how it compares to the other options on the market. And how Drupal can lean more on its strengths when planning out the strategy for a new project.

How Drupal fits into the digital landscape

In 2022, putting a site online can be as fast as the time it takes to make a coffee. This is made possible because websites have many similar features and there's usually no need to build one from scratch. When I started my career, frameworks like Ruby on Rails were appealing because of their flexibility. But I quickly learned that the lack of standard solutions for common things like multilingual content, media management, and workflows, meant that each project required a huge investment in custom development.

On the other hand, web builders that have emerged over the last ten years, like Wix and Squarespace offer the dream of "drag-and-drop" website construction and customizable templates. But in reality, their flexibility is very surface-level. They don't offer enough flexibility to build a solid content model, create an experience, or provide the level of content compliance that large organizations need.

This is where Drupal stands out, providing both powerful functionality out-of-the-box, and the tools to build out custom functionality on top of that content.

Drupal, the content management system

When I started using Drupal 15 years ago, it was described as a content management system. And it is, as it gives content editors the power to log in and manage content, rather than relying on a webmaster or a web developer to do it.

But there was also the promise that site builders could update not just the content, but the content model. Site builders could extend Drupal using configuration instead of writing code. This set it apart from the frameworks that were out at the time. From years of teaching people Drupal, I can tell you that there's a certain amount of joy and empowerment that people get when they realize how much they can do through the Drupal admin UI.

At its core, this is still Drupal's strength. You can control not just the content, but how content is organized. The fact that taxonomy and localization are baked into Drupal's content model, gives a huge advantage over other systems that have a more limited concept of content.

Drupal, the platform

Shortly after adopting Drupal as our agency's technology of choice, I started calling it a platform. As an ambitious 20-something, I was keen to build more than nice-looking content-rich websites. The ambition was to create more powerful tools to organize the flow of information. This includes integrating Drupal with other systems to build functionality and workflows around your content. You can also create content synchronizations between a CRM and Drupal. Finally, you can search interfaces that allow you to search diverse content sources and filter content in new ways.

The fact that Drupal is so adaptable to these architectures distinguishes it immediately from other CMSs. When talking to large organizations, teams of developers or IT leaders see the benefit of using a technology that is so flexible and adaptable to functional needs.

Drupal, the digital experience platform

While these attributes are still very compelling, Drupal is now referred to as a digital experience platform (DXP). Its main difference from the proprietary DXPs of the world is that it's open. It doesn't ship with a stack of integrated technologies but rather lets you decide what your stack will be. Whether it's for marketing integrations or multi-channel experiences, you can decide how content feeds into and out of Drupal. This flexibility is one of Drupal's strengths. But it can be a challenge when pitching Drupal against other DXPs that come with a complete marketing toolset.

Marketing folks often look for a packaged solution. And while an agency can package Drupal with a stack of tools, it's hard for Drupal to market this type of ready-to-go solution.

Drupal's strength as a content strategy platform

So how does Drupal position itself when talking to marketers? Drupal's core strength is still its flexible content architecture. This means that it's an ideal platform for implementing a content strategy and content governance plan. These are two things that plenty of organizations are missing. They are also the two reasons for marketers to adopt a platform like Drupal.

Better content strategy with Drupal

While Drupal can already be adapted to the content strategy of any organization, it doesn't mean that every Drupal website has a strong content strategy. Drupal implementers have to proactively make choices that prioritize the needs of content and content editors. This means doing things like:

  • Organizing content around user needs, not organizational structure

  • Structuring content to be reusable, adaptable, personalized, translatable

  • Integrating content with digital services by making content available via API

  • Setting up tools so that content compliance is checked systematically

Meanwhile, beyond the website, organizations need to use best practices to prioritize their content strategy practice. This means:

  • Empowering communicators and treating content editors as first-class users

  • Sharing best practices for web publishing across the organization

  • Creating a clear, actionable content governance plan

  • Using tools like the digital asset management (DAM) tool that fosters content governance

  • Creating a smooth flow of content and feedback between content experts and users

With new expectations of platforms to handle personalization and faster cycles for re-branding or implementing a completely new marketing strategy, it's more important than ever for your website to be a tool to help your content strategy. If you're looking for ways to orient your practice around a strong content strategy, here are some places to start:

  • Get content editors involved in the process when launching a new web project

  • Build documentation that's driven by content needs, not just technology. Use real content examples in your documentation and talk about the "why" of the content.

  • Prioritize ongoing content governance rather than just relying on big projects to revamp your content every 3-5 years

  • Invest in cleaning up legacy content instead of migrating content as-is when you do invest in a website redesign

  • Invest in the content editor experience, something that Drupal facilitates and continues to invest in, but still takes active effort to do for each project

To sum up, Drupal is already a CMS and a DXP. But this is beside the point. There is a need to leverage Drupal's capabilities towards creating a strong content strategy to really get the most out of the platform.

This article is based on the author's talk at DrupalCon Portland: Future of content management: using Drupal as a content strategy platform.

Suzanne Dergacheva
At Evolving Web, I'm one of the co-founders and lead our Drupal practice. Since 2007, I've helped numerous organizations adopt Drupal including government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations across North America.

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