Mapping the Evolution of Content Management Software With Drupal 7, 8 and 9

By Elizabeth Clor

Content management software (CMS) plays a crucial role in today’s digital business world. A CMS makes it easy for companies to manage and update their websites and create a strong online presence. They are especially helpful for enterprises without an in-house web development team: Today’s CMS options are built so that individuals and businesses can maintain their existing website pages in a single interface without needing specialized technical knowledge. 

But changing user needs are driving a shift in the function and requirements of today’s CMS platforms. Users are now looking for more than just assistance with their website’s operations; they want help creating a digital experience that is both aesthetically pleasing and intuitive. Gartner has even started referring to CMSs as digital experience management platforms (DXP) to reflect this shift. This altered nomenclature represents the evolution of content management systems from online publishing platforms into complete marketing suites that can help companies and their brands create coherent experiences across many digital touchpoints.

These changes have been seeping into the CMS landscape for some time and Drupal, a leader in content management software, has witnessed them over the last 20 years. In its last three sets of upgrades—Drupal 7, 8 and 9—the software has pivoted its offerings to meet the developing CMS landscape. Each update was a significant moment in the evolution of CMS technology in general. Therefore, an examination of Drupal’s gradual changes reveals industry’s growth trajectory—and a clearer picture of its future. 

Meeting New Customer Needs With Drupal 7 

When Drupal 7 was launched in 2011, it offered several new features and improvements to meet the needs of its users. Back then, the move towards digital experience management was just beginning. Websites were becoming more interactive, and the need for more frequent content updating and management arose. As a result, content management software began providing new capabilities for web content production, like URL handling, templating and integrations with e-commerce and CRM systems. 

Drupal 7 updated its software to acknowledge these changes, offering custom fields that could be used across many content types, users or entities—and developers could store the data for these fields in SQL, NoSQL or use remote storage. These capabilities allowed customers to upgrade their external and internal websites with additional digital solutions, including intranets, chatbots as well as e-commerce and social media platforms. Perhaps most importantly, Drupal 7 also offered installation profiles that helped companies distribute their website, connecting it to APIs and other exportable configurations that were available via Drupal’s open source community. 

Adding Personalization With Drupal 8 

Drupal 8 was released in 2015, bringing with it over 200 new built-in features, including new page editing and mobile optimization options. This was an especially important addition at the time: Businesses needed a CMS that could comfortably exist on mobile apps and IoT devices. Unlike version 7, Drupal 8 offered breakpoint media queries that ensured a website’s content could appropriately respond to whatever kind of device it was being accessed from. 

In addition to the ability to share content on multiple devices, businesses were looking to personalize their customers' online experience. User personalization is still important today. In fact, 45% of online users are more likely to shop on a website that shows personalized suggestions. Drupal 8 contained new taxonomy modules that derive insights into what certain customers are interested in seeing on any given website. These modules ensure that a website’s visitors are receiving intelligent content recommendations based on their historical behavior on the site. 

Preparing For the Future of CMS With Drupal 9 

Drupal’s most recent release, version 9, is representative of the current, significant shifts that are occurring in the crowded CMS landscape. These days, it’s more important for companies to offer aesthetically pleasing and unique digital experiences that are targeted towards specific consumer demographics. Here, Drupal 9 can help: Using its modernized modules, tools and expanded open source network, a company can integrate platforms into their website that will automatically collect visitor demographics and then use that information to convert potential leads into returning customers. 

For instance, companies can add real-time sales alerts or advanced email reporting for specific audiences. They can even track site traffic to see how many conversions or sign-ups have been achieved in real-time or for a particular day, week, month or year. With these offerings, companies can get better at attracting and engaging with their customers by proactively delivering personalized and helpful content or services to them. 

Drupal 9 also makes it easier than ever before to create a website, add functionalities to it and make corrections when necessary. For instance, the Upgrade Reactor module offers automated code fix suggestions to make your modules compatible with Drupal 9. This feature makes it easier for teams to develop or adjust new code. In Drupal 9, the coding around modules and APIs has been modernized and contains built-in performance features that help websites load quickly, even during extreme traffic bursts. 

Enterprises today have renewed and heightened expectations for their CMS platforms, and Drupal has always stepped up to meet those changing needs. In the same spirit as versions 7 and 8, Drupal 9 was built with today’s users in mind, acting as both a CMS and DXP tool that helps prepare companies and their websites for future innovation—and Drupal versions.