It's only taken two years since the release of Drupal 8 for us to get our own site updated... Cobbler's children and all. But finally, we are proud to unveil our shiny new site!

But wait, don't you tell your clients you don't need a new site?

Take a look around... all our old content is here, most of it in the same place it has always been. In fact, we fixed some things that were missing from our last site -- several pages that had broken videos are now fixed. All in all, our site has right around a thousand pages -- and somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2 of our clients use it to pay their invoices, so Commerce is a critical piece. It turns out our site has a lot more going on than many of our clients, with some content going back over 18 years.

We see our content and the website as our biggest asset. Much of our new business comes through our website -- less now than in the past, but it still plays a vital role in helping new visitors get to know us, learn our strengths, and ultimately develop enough trust to become a client.

In the past couple years, we have added WordPress to our maintenance arsenal, provide regular maintenance, updates, enhancements and improvements. Working with WordPress is easy -- it's like working with a toy, it really does not do much for you. This frees up a web designer to do whatever they want with the look and feel, and the system does not get in the way.

But we're not web designers -- we are developers, system administrators, business consultants, information architects, and we think Drupal 8 is the best system out there. We love working with it -- it's great for marketing people, it's great for developers, it's great for managing data and information, it's great for integrating with other systems, and it's great for the future. So that's what we chose for our site.

A simple example: most WordPress sites we've been seeing have somewhere between a dozen and 50 database tables. This site has over 800 tables (ok yeah, maybe we experiment a bit much) and most of our Drupal sites have somewhere between 100 and 500 database tables. That's just one indication of how much more Drupal is doing for you. Overkill? Maybe, if you just want a blog. But if you're doing e-commerce, customer management, membership management, complex layouts, scheduling, event registration, publishing workflows, you end up with a lot more sophistication under the hood.

Migration

The initial migration was easy. We sucked over all our content very quickly, right from the start. But... that's just getting content into the site. There ends up being tons of issues to resolve going forward. Things like:

  • Converting embedded media to the new Drupal media format
  • Finding the current location of videos that were no longer where they used to be
  • Consolidating tags into our current set we want to make a bit cleaner
  • Customer payment profiles, to continue charging our clients who auto-pay their bills as seamlessly as possible
  • Supporting images/media that were previously migrated into Drupal 7

Part of the complexity of this for us was that our site has gone through many versions. First it was entirely custom PHP. Then it was Joomla. Then it was Drupal 6 -- and we folded in a separate MediaWiki site. Then it was Drupal 7, and we folded in a WordPress site. And without a person dedicated to going through the old content and bringing it up to date, we've just accumulated that content and brought it forward, fixing the issues so it continues to look ok (actually better than it ever has before!)

The more we looked around nearing launch, the more stuff we found that needed fixing, so it was a huge push on the week before we pulled the trigger to get that all squared away.

Commerce

We're really impressed with Drupal Commerce 2, in Drupal 8. It seems very robust, and so much of it "just works" out of the box with very little configuration. We had to create two plugins -- one to support our payment gateway, and one for Washington State tax collection -- and we had to do some tweaks to get migrations from our old Ubercart 7 store for customers, products, and orders -- but otherwise we spent very little time on the Commerce. And we had a new customer successfully make a payment the very next day after we turned it all on!

We did write another custom module to support our payment links. Way back in Ubercart 6, we became early adopters of "cart links", which allows us to send a link to a customer that populates their cart with what they are buying. This sets up our automatic payments for hosting with tax properly calculated, and our monthly maintenance plans. Our bookkeeping system also sends out a payment link that allows people to pay invoices through our site.

We created a custom Product Variation for our invoice payment now that makes this process easier, and so while we were at it, we simplified our cart links to make them easier to figure out on the fly (just sku and qty, and for invoices, invoice # and amount) and also made them "idempotent" (a computer science term meaning you can click the link over and over again and you get the same result -- it won't keep adding more items to the cart).

Front End

Yes, it's Bootstrap. (Caution: that link is not exactly... kind... or appropriate for work) Bootstrap seems to be what everybody wants these days, it's a decent looking theme that we use on almost everything (contributing to that problem!)

The thing is, it looks nice, it works great in mobile, and it lets us focus more on what we want to get across -- our content -- and not spend much time with design. And frankly, that's what we advise for our clients, too -- start with your content, what you're trying to get across, what makes you special. If design is your thing, great! Go out and get a really top notch, custom design. But if it's not... well, just use Bootstrap. And try to use some unique photography, the difference between a great bootstrap site and one that's Meh is just photography.

It's not that we don't think design is important. The key point here is that design should be directed to support some goal you have for the website -- and if your goal is a company brochure or any of a number of different purposes, well, Bootstrap has solved a lot of those basic design problems. Spend your time on your content.

Once you have a really clear idea of what you want your users to do on your site, then bring in a designer to optimize for those goals.

With all that said, we're really excited to have our site current so we can start experimenting with entirely new web UIs. We've particularly been delving into Vue.js, React, and GraphQL, and have some demos we've built and integrated into a couple sites we can't wait to roll out here!

Here's to 2018!

We did launch the site early. There are still layout glitches here we're quickly fixing, in between client work (If you're on Safari, sorry!). But we feel a huge sense of relief to be fully up-to-date on a new site, which gives us so many opportunities to try out new things for ourselves, and then can share what works with our clients.

Need a web partner to bring you up to date? Let us know how we can help!

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Comments (2)

martin garix

thanks

23 Oct, 2018

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