That’s what we are, Navig8 that is, often called a ‘Drupal House’. But what does that mean? Sounds a silly question, with a straightforward answer. But things are more complex than they seem.

A Drupal agency could be a number of things, including:

·      A sole Drupal developer

·      A team of developers specialising in Drupal CMS build, but nothing else

·      A design agency specialising in designing Drupal website, that outsource the build

·      Or a company that provides all of the above, like us

Search ‘Drupal Agency London’ and see the variety of companies that come back in the results. All different shapes and sizes, providing component services.

Often when new clients approach us, they are unaware of what makes up a website and the process of creating one, so with a view to unravelling the mystery I’ve detailed below what a Drupal agency should pull together to bring a site to life.

Let’s deal with bricks and mortar first. These are the ‘building blocks’ of a Drupal website, although many of them are not exclusive to Drupal.

A server where all the files that make the website are stored. The server is usually provided by a hosting company. There are specialist Drupal hosting companies, but you don’t need a specialist company, just a reliable host. But what does that mean?

Nothing is a simple as it sounds. Clients often respond with dismay at the disparity in hosting costs. I hear them say ‘well my personal site is hosted with ABS.net and they only charge me 2 pence a year’. All of the hosting companies we use are based outside on London, it makes no difference where the hosting company is based, not even the country. Indeed, hosting packages vary massively and each website and client has different requirements, some of which are: 

Uptime, how much the host ‘promises’ the site will be live. Nobody can boast a 100% uptime, not really, but to achieve near 100%, the client may need to run a mirror site, so if one server goes down another kicks in.

Back ups, if your data is constantly updating, for instance new subscribers, you may need to back up your data onto another server. Hosting companies will offer this sevice, for our clients, we offer a four hour back up to keep them up to date and nice and safe.

A managed server, this means that some chap (or chapess) at the hosting company will look after you server and keep the software that runs it up to date for you, they are usually called Stuart (yes, even the women).

Control panel (CP) and FTP, these are the tools that enable a developer to set up and control the server and upload the files onto the server.

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, this is the Enigma Machine for data. It scrambles the data making it harder for naughty people to hack. If you are transferring data and you want to keep it safe, you’ll need one of these. And they cost.

Traffic and capacity, the more people visiting you site, the more traffic it has to handle, the more files, pages, videos etc you have, the more space you have to buy.

Database, this is a place where in reality all the content in your Drupal (the same applies for Joomla and Wordpress) website lives. Usually Mysql.

I told you it isn’t as simple as it seems. We haven’t even started with the build.

Installing Drupal
Now your server is set up, we need to install Drupal ‘core’. It does not matter what CMS (or blogging software) you install the first step is to copy it over to the server. You’ll need to decide what version of Drupal you want to use. It is not just a case of selection the most recent (Drupal 8 came out this month, November 2015). The newest version takes time to bed in and for all of the modules to be brought up to date.

Then it’s time to configure Drupal, in our agency we have a team that do this all day long. They set up permissions, views and stitch the whole thing together.

Now you need to select the modules you want to use. Modules are the bolt on bits that add functionality to your website and the CMS that underpins it. These too have to be installed and configured.

At this stage if you take a look at the site, it’s not pretty. Now you need a theme. But hold up, what is the design studio up to? So, at this point, lets take a break from the technical and look at the creative and strategy side.

I’m going to set aside the business case and all the site specifications. That’s a different article.

User journey, architecture and scoping document
If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. It astounds me how many clients skip this stage, because the site is ‘urgent’. Devising clear user journeys, defining site architecture and providing a comprehensive scoping document. Clients in a hurry and with an on going budget prefer to just get on a build. Clients with a fixed budget, who are also in a hurry prefer to skip these stages because they think they cost too much.

Briefly I’ll design what they do.

A user journey is just some straight forward thinking. What do you want you user to do when they get to your website. The answer to this question isn’t ‘buy loads of stuff’, well it might be, but – and I think I have said this before – it’s not as simple as that.

If they arrive on the home page (not always the case) how will they find what they want to buy? Will they perform a search? Go through categories? What will these categories be? Will they have to register first or at what stage will they have to create an account? The list goes on and on. The more exploration done, the clearer your navigation system will be, the easier it will be for Granny to buy her four-year-old grandson the Batman Lego torch key ring.

How do you think she found it? Toy section, torch section, Lego, Batman?

Now on to site architecture. This is a posh term for the site map or structure of the website. There are lots of ways of doing this, but I find the best way is with a pen and paper putting the main sections in boxes and joining them with sub-section, with a line. Simple as that. Well it is until you get down to the nitty-gritty.

Once you have agreed what section goes where and which ones you will need, you can move onto the scoping document. This is another highly unpopular process client’s like to avoid.

It isn’t the most exciting document in the world, but it makes the developer life a lot easier. And in fact they should be involved in its creation. Essentially it is a description of how everything will work. Let’s go back to creating an account for a website. What data will need to be gathered? Once registered will areas of the site be available to them that weren’t before. Will the form require anti-spam?

The end result should be a document that the development team can refer to so that they can understand what they need to do too build the site and make it work.

We work with our clients to help them define what they need and get them to market as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. They often come and sit in our office in the lovely area we are in called Fitzrovia in central London and over a cup of tea we go through it together.

As Drupal agency we offer a service that covers all of the above and much, and this is before we begin the process of design… which will be another article.

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