Ashday's Digital Ecosystem & Development Tips Blog

5 Great Drupal Integrations

In this day and age, it is rare to find a truly "standalone" website. The web as a whole was fundamentally built upon a concept of having different sites connecting together. At first, this was just done with hyperlinks from one page to another, but those simple days are long gone. Almost every website in this day and age has some integration with other websites or web services, and fortunately, Drupal is the perfect tool for creating a well-integrated website.

Analytics

Analytics are among the most basic integrations. Tools such as New Relic and Google Analytics can be leveraged on almost every website, and they are invaluable tools for website owners to learn how people are actually using the site and, therefore, how the site can be improved.

Using an analytics tool is often as simple as adding a tiny bit of code to each page on each site, and doing that is as simple with a Drupal site as it is with any other site. Where Drupal shines in this regard is in how easy it makes more complicated use of some such tools. For instance, the Google Analytics module not only makes it easy to add Google Analytics to the site, it also provides an immense number of configuration options so that you can tailor your use of Google Analytics specifically for your site. And where there isn't a module, there are other options: Web hosting company Pantheon provides free access to New Relic Pro for every Drupal site built on their platform, and using it is only a few clicks away.

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Searching with Solr

For how common it is, searching can be a surprisingly difficult feature to implement. Many sites have a built-in "site search" feature to help with browsing the site, but building such a thing - especially with the quality of search results that people have come to expect from search engines such as Google - isn't an easy thing to do.

By default, Drupal includes a Search module which can be used for simpler sites, but a more robust solution is often needed for more complex sites. There are many options available, but at Ashday, we tend to use Solr when we need to add search functionality to a website. With a Solr integration, the site stores information that somebody might want to search for on a Solr server, and then when somebody searches the site, it lets Solr do the searching. Since Solr is well-optimized for searching large amounts of content quickly, this can give both faster and more relevant results than an entirely custom search. There are some pre-packaged Drupal solutions for searching with Solr, such as the Search API Solr Search module, but if that doesn't quite suit a site's needs, then a custom Solr integration can be built using Solarium instead. One great advantage Drupal 8 has over Drupal 7 is the ease with which it is possible to make use of code "libraries" such as Solarium.

Data Management

Everyone has different data management needs. Sometimes, Drupal's standard content and user management is all that is needed, and this works quite well for many standalone sites.

However, many websites aren't standalone. They share their data with other things - perhaps, the site is tied together with a custom mobile app, or it is part of a whole suite of related websites. In either case, there are two main options: Either Drupal is at the center of the system, managing the data itself, or it connects to some other site that's fulfilling that role.

Using Drupal at the core of interconnected systems such as this has not always been easy, but Drupal 8 has made it much simpler. Out-of-the-box, Drupal 8 contains a number of features and modules designed to make this use a breeze. This also enables the use of "headless Drupal", where Drupal is used for data management only, with other software connecting to it even on the main website.

Also common, is Drupal being used to display and manipulate data stored elsewhere, and for this there often isn't an out-of-the-box solution, due to the sheer number of different possible things that Drupal might be integrated with. No two integrations are quite alike. Where Drupal shines, here, is in the tools it provides developers with. A mixture of Drupal, custom code, and integration-specific libraries can be leveraged quite effectively by a skilled developer to meet whatever needs a site may have.

eSignatures with HelloSign

While things like analytics, searching, and data management are all common tasks that are used by many sites, sometimes an integration is more specialized. One example of this is integrating with HelloSign or other eSignature services. This sort of integration is rare enough that no ready-to-use Drupal solution typically exists, but it is also important enough to the sites that use it that the integration has to be done right. 

Back when we were using Drupal 7, we created a Drupal module for this particular integration, which can now be used by other Drupal 7 sites which need to receive digital signatures from users. Now that Drupal 8 is out, we're looking forward to working on another project that needs a HelloSign integration so that we can update the module and take advantage of Drupal 8's new features.

Customer Engagement

In our experience, most customer engagement tools work great with Drupal! Often, a company's Drupal website is the main way people interact with the company online. As such, it is the perfect place to do collect potential leads and to keep in touch with people. For companies with separate CRM systems, Drupal provides all of the tools necessary to send data on from Drupal to that system. If somebody update their Drupal user account, or fills out a form, the relevant information can also be sent to wherever it needs to go.

What's more, Drupal can be leveraged to help keep in touch with customers directly. While Drupal itself can send emails, this often isn't the ideal setup. Instead, Drupal can be used to create the emails, using the content and customer data that it has, and then it can send that email off to a separate service to send it. That service - perhaps the mailing features available from Knowledge Marketing - can then actually send that email out and manage things like email lists and subscriptions. Although Drupal could be used for such things, using Drupal alongside a specialized tool designed specifically for email management can create a much more flexible system at a fraction of the cost.

Conclusion

Although Drupal isn't perfectly able to do everything on its own (what system can?), the ease with which it can be integrated with other tools more than makes up for it. At Ashday, we've created countless Drupal integrations - some of them used by many of our sites, some by just a single site - and they are some of our favorite projects to work on.

 

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Updated: Dec 13, 2017 9:00:00 AM