Drupal 7 benefits for site visitors and frontend

We recently had a potential client asking for us to build a site in Drupal 7 for them. Currently Drupal 7, although unreleased, is actually more stable than Drupal 6 was when it was released. It's quite reasonable to build a production site in Drupal 7 but that depends on whether the modules you need are available. There have been quite a few third party modules that are now in core Drupal so for basic sites modules shouldn't be much of a problem.

All I ultimately care about is the results a site actually achieves most notably the experience for site visitors and SEO. At first glance, because you can customise the HTML Drupal, or any other CMS system produces, the version of that system seems to not matter in the above two goals and therefore due to Drupal 6s maturity and availability of modules is the obvious choice.

However, newcomers to Drupal often complain of its verbose use of HTML and classes. I agree, that there should be as little HTML served as possible, but there is definitely a balance. A lot of sites now use many images in their design so trying to make a website faster by cutting down on HTML is a bit of a waste of time, sure your browser will need to do a bit more work, but again, because of the performance of modern computers that's not really an issue. What newcomers don't realise is that a lot of thought has been put into the HTML and classes Drupal produces... a hell of a lot. It solves the most common problems and it's ridiculous to be solving them yourself.

So should we be using Drupal 7? My answer is if you can then yes. There have been many improvements to the theme layer that make it potentially a lot quicker to build a site in. One potentially very overlooked feature is RDF. For those of you that don't know what RDF is, it's a way of marking up data in your site so machines understand it better. Take a search for 'Hilton Hotel in Paris'. As a human you know exactly what that means, however a computer doesn't. RDF lets you say something like this: Hilton (which is a company), Hotel (which is a type of business) and Paris (which is a location). This then means, if you now do a search you could specify that Paris is a location and immediately you filter out unwanted results. A little birdie told me that a certain search engine now biases rankings towards pages that have RDF data in them. So immediately Drupal 7 sites are going to shoot up the rankings (depending on how you use them).

Secondly, Drupal 7 although in some respects being slower than Drupal 6, is more scalable. Being more scalable actually means as long as Drupal 7 is configured correctly it will be faster than Drupal 6 in most cases. Again, site speed is now being factored into search engine rankings and of course the faster a site creates a better experience for visitors.

These are both two subtle benefits but something I believe is going massively improve the effectiveness of any Drupal 7 site.

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Oliver Polden