Drupal, one of the most popular open source content management systems (CMS) in the market, powers all kinds of wesbites, from personal blogs to message boards to corporate portals that cater to thousands of users. The default Drupal install is rather bare, but thousands of available add-on modules can help you turn the vanilla Drupal installation into a data-serving masterpiece. From making your site more friendly to visitors to improving your search engine standings, there's a Drupal module for just about everything. Here are six of the most useful modules for businesses.
You should ideally have a test installation in place where you can test Drupal features before you push them to production. Even so, it's best to make a complete backup of your Drupal website, database and all, on a regular basis, but especially before you make significant changes.
There are a number of ways you can back up Drupal, and the project's documentation provides detailed instructions for each. The best solution, however, is to use one of the many modules on offer. If you're running the current Drupal 7.x branch on your site, the best bet is to go with the Backup and Migrate module, since other backup modules are either no longer supported or only work with 6.x or older Drupal versions.
The Backup and Migrate module can schedule automatic backups, and supports compression and AES encryption. In addition to backup, the module can assist you in migrating from one Drupal installation to another. While this module will only back up your databases, the Backup and Migrate Files module, which is a plugin to the Backup and Migrate module, lets you also back up your data files and directories.
The default Drupal installation provides you with a functional website. If the only data on your site is a plain collection of text, then you're ready to roll. It will however require skillful tweaking if you wish to present more and different kinds of information to the users. If you want to present to your visitors site data such as a fancy monthly posts block, recent forum threads, or blog entries no older than three weeks, the Views module is a must. With the Views module you can create custom queries that control how certain data is presented to the users on the site.
Put more simply, Views is a query builder. It lets you retrieve content from the database and present it to users in any way you want to show it – as lists, galleries, reports, or any of several other ways.
Be warned that Views is a complex module with a steep learning curve. Although it provides a graphical interface that makes creating custom queries a breeze, the sheer number of options and the confusing names for each of the available settings may give you pause. But fret not, because you can install yet another module to help.
Advanced Help is a Drupal module that allows module developers to store help files for their modules in simple HTML files, outside the module system. This is different from the model adopted by most other modules, where the documentation is included as a part of the module itself. Advanced Help integrates neatly into the Drupal installation, is thoroughly indexed, and supports keyword lookups. Once installed, Advanced Help can tide you over any bumps you encounter when working with Views or any other module that relies on Advanced Help to provide documentation.
To get used to the idea of custom queries, spend a little time with the built-in Views templates. If a built-in template gives you what you need, or if you only need to modify it slightly for your purpose, you can clone the template and then modify it to create your custom view.
So you have your Drupal site up and running and serving content and attracting visitors and everything's hunky-dory. Or is it? You don't know how many visitors you get every month. You don't know how long an average visitor stays on a page or on the site. You don't know which pages are generating the most views. That data is almost as important as keeping the information on the site up to date, especially if you're running a business or a professional website.
To get all this information and more, you can turn to any of several open and proprietary solutions. Probably the most popular of these is Google Analytics, and wouldn't you know it, there's a Drupal module for Google Analytics that makes installation and configuration a non-issue.
With the Google Analytics module you can anonymize visitors' IP addresses, monitor what files visitors downloaded, ignore certain users (such as admin) so they don't show up in the analytics reports, track particular pages, and more. The anonymize option is particularly helpful if you're concerned about information tracking by Big Brother.
The module ties up neatly with the Google Analytics Reports module, which generates graphical reports on the data you're tracking. The Analytics module also supports Google AdSense, so you can install the AdSense Drupal module and collate reports from it under the Analytics module.
Lack of content, or even stale content, may not drive people away from your site, but a single spam post can have that effect. For any site or page that allows visitors to post messages or comments, proper anti-spam measures are an absolute must. This is where the Mollom module comes in.
Mollom is a content moderation service that monitors all manners of content, be it blog posts, contact-form messages, forum posts, or comments. When a comment is posted on the site, it is sent to Mollom for approval, where it is tagged as spam or ham and either tossed in the bit bucket or published immediately. If Mollom is unsure, it prompts the user with a CAPTCHA message, which is designed to prevent false-positive identification, in which a genuine message is falsely identified as spam.
Mollom by default supports forms that are part of the Drupal core, such as user registration and comments, as well as any forms that are part of any other Drupal module.
Search engine optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a page or a website on search engine results. You can find a great many resources on how to go about achieving higher page ranks in search results on the Web, in YouTube videos, and in various books. If you have the time and resources, you can manually implement the most basic of these steps, such as using Title and Meta tags to help identify the content on a page, and employing descriptive URLs. But computers are good at automation, so why not let a Drupal module do the heavy lifting for you?
You can find many SEO modules for Drupal. One popular option is Pathauto, which aims to improve the visibility of pages by renaming them. By default, Drupal doesn't offer descriptive page names for your site, so you end up with pages named /node/455 when you'd rather see /content/this-is-a-page.html or something similar. The Pathauto module creates aliases for pages automatically, depending on a pattern you specify.
A safe starting point, in case you're new to SEO, is the SEO Checklist module. In addition to telling you what modules you should install, this module also informs you of SEO best practices and helps you implement them. Once installed, the module give details on every SEO step you've taken.
Another popular alternative is the SEO Tools module, which relies on various other modules to enhance your SEO efforts.
In this day and age, you are just as likely to get visitors from mobile devices as you are from laptops and desktops. With the growing number of smartphones and tablets, it's wise to prepare sites for visitors who use such mobile platforms.
Once configured, the Mobile Tools module works by detecting a browser's user agent. If it appears the user is on a mobile device, he will be automatically redirected to a mobile version of the site. For this to work, you must code the mobile version separately, as the module will not create a mobile version of your existing website. The module also supports automatic theme switching based on device type, so users may view your site differently when they're using Android, BlackBerry, or iPhone browsers.
In addition to all this, the module makes it easy to specify just what content you wish to be displayed on the mobile site home page, as opposed to your regular home page, adds a permission system to the mobile site so you can define what a mobile user can and can't do on your site, and much more.
To make this module work best, you should create a different subdomain for your mobile site. While the module doesn't provide mobile themes, you should consider creating a mobile theme for your site for best results. You can create different themes for different devices, if that's what you want.
We've covered only half a dozen essential Drupal modules, but there are thousands more for you to choose from. With the added functionality of these modules, split across more than a dozen categories, such as Search, Content Display, and Commerce/Advertising, your Drupal-powered business site can serve all kinds of content to all kinds of users.
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