How to Create a News Website Part 2: All Eyes on Drupal

Now, when more users and more revenues get collected in the online sphere, a logical, effective and well-functioning news website becomes an important business asset. We have already compared three top CMS in order to provide a list of their principal pros and cons.

Among the enlisted platforms Drupal looks like a perfect solution for high traffic, large amounts of content and multiple user roles, which can make your presence on the news market a bright and profitable  one.

  

Stages of Making a News Website on Drupal

Drupal is an open-source content management framework written in PHP and distributed under the GNU General Public License. It means that there is no acquisition fee for installing the platform. Contributed modules are also available in many versions and most are free to download and use.

What you are paying for is for making it work. Yes, you’ve heard it right: building and development of your website, if you go for Drupal, requires a lot of work for the configuration of Drupal Core and modules once they are downloaded. Drupal’s potential for making an effective news website is incredible, and should be treated with due professionalism by competent Drupal web developers.

There are 4 key stages in Drupal-based website development: Website Building, Main Development, Front End Development and Content Management Tools Building.

1.   Website Building. This stage involves building a skeleton of your online resource.

-     Drupal Core. Drupal’s out-of-the-box framework meets most basic website functionality. Its installation comes at no fee, as the framework is open-source, and provides an area for future development.

By itself, it is not sufficient for the functioning of an effective website.

-     Must-have modules. Certain modules, crucial for the website functioning, can be installed at this stage already: Views module; Menu Block; Multilanguage module, etc.

Also, usually at this stage developers add modules required by the client, which form the basis of the future website feature set. In case of a news website, they can include media library modules or stats analysis modules.

-     Theme creation. A Drupal theme means a combination of visual elements and the way they are placed on the website pages, i.e. what a customer sees once he opens the website. It helps separate the processing logic of the website from its design elements, so for a Drupal website it means much more than just its visual part. The theme structure includes such elements as regions (i.e. sections on the page of the theme) and blocks (i.e. subsections for placing content, which are united into regions), different layouts on different pages, and the selection of colors, fonts, and graphics. Specialists, working on these issues, are called ‘themers’ in the Drupal universe.

The structure of the theme, with the required regions and blocks, is distinguished at this stage. A directory, together with the files for keeping the data, is created.

There are two main ways to get a Drupal theme:

1)    Using a theme template. There are many to download from Drupal.org. But unlike WordPress, Drupal web developers rarely download and install a free-to-use theme without changing and adapting it. That’s why, even if a theme is freely distributed over the Internet, its customization means a lot of work.

2)    Coding a custom Drupal theme from scratch. As a result, a client gets a totally personal theme, which fully reflects the ideas and goals of his news portal and can be altered in accordance with his needs. This stays the most frequent practice among Drupal developers.

As a result, we have a structure, the elements of which act in accordance with the predefined logic.

Taken into account whether the theme is developed from scratch or customized, and to which extent this customization is made, the work cycle takes 260-500 hours.

2.    Main Development. At this stage developers work at enhancing the functional logic of the website. You have the basis, created at the Website Building stage, which can function already – but thanks to the website further development, you can get the maximum out of it.

-     Theme development. The ultimate goal of developing a custom Drupal theme is to be able to place any piece of content anywhere you want on your website page, to add sideboards and widgets with no restrictions.

Once the theme is created at the previous stage, chances are that your developers will spend a certain amount of time on its tweaking – to make it finally work and look the way you need.

Drupal news websites are extremely diverse: for this you can simply check the websites of Entertainment Weekly and Le Figaro, The Economist and Seattle Times. This is made possible by the theme development phase, which permits to adopt and customize any section and part of the website and lets you realize all your needs, from adding a background design for the title on the front page to changing the navigation the way you need.

-     Contributed and custom modules installation. Apart from must-have modules, there are those which help businesses solve particular tasks. With Drupal modules, you have two options: choose the existing one or go for a custom module developed strictly in accordance with your requirements.

What is great about Drupal is that many tasks have already been solved, revisited and updated, with numerous modules developed by professionals and distributed for free. That’s why, once you decide to enforce one of the features of the website, check it out first: maybe, this challenge has already been faced and there is no need to spend developer hours on creating a module when the same task can be solved with an already existing one.

Lucky for you, some of the key news website modules are available for free. These include:

-            News aggregator. If your news website is supposed to feature current or breaking news in a particular niche, you may take advantage of a news aggregator module like Aggregator or Feeds modules to incorporate various RSS feeds from a variety of sources. Once installed on your website, it will publish on your website every new piece of content appearing in the feed.

-             Plugins for engaging the audience and building loyal readership. Generally speaking, Drupal has a built-in function letting you manage comments left on the website, which includes basic review and moderation tools. For enhancing these social functions, Drupal has some great modules that let users comment and share your articles, like ShareThis, Service Links, Social Share, AddThis, AddToAny.

-             Ads placement. Some modules, like SimpleAds, give advertisers an opportunity to tie online ads to specific sections, topics, or geographies — making them both more effective and less intrusive at the same time.

Nonetheless, sometimes you may need to get a custom module developed from scratch, for example, when it has to interact with custom software. The time needed for developing such a module can vary significantly and takes, according to R-StyleLab Senior Drupal Developer Eugene Sokolov, around 100 hours: 80 hours are needed for the back end, the resting 20 hours – for the front end part.

The whole Main Development stage is the most time consuming one and can vary from 340 hours to 700 hours, depending on the level of development, required by the client, and the number of modules needed to make the website function the way the client needs.

3.    Front End Development. This stage starts when the website theme is chosen (at the first stage of Website Building) and usually goes in parallel with the other stages.

Here themers work with the part of the website visible to the client.

-     Theme design. Once the theme has been chosen and developed, now it’s time to style it. As was mentioned before, Drupal markup is very alterable and can take the form needed while preserving the speed and flexibility of the CMS.

The main elements to work on at this stage are:

Layout. Typically developers and themers deal with Triple Layouts, which consist of three elements: Header; Menu; Footer

Body of the Page. Here the typography of the website is set, with its elements like headings, paragraphs, meta data, meta tags, etc.

Introduction of the logo and other custom design elements takes place at this stage.

-     Responsive design. There is also work to be done regarding building a mobile responsive design. The decision whether you go for two separate versions – desktop and mobile – or choose an adaptive design, which will make your website look attractive on the screens of all sizes, is to be taken at the analysis phase, before the development process is launched. If you go for a responsive design, its configuration and application are applied at the Front End Development stage.

The frond end stage takes 280 – 500 hours of work, taken into account the scope of works, the number of design elements implemented and the amount of time taken by the development of the mobile version.

4.    Content management tools. No doubt, users come to a news website to get content. With Drupal, content can be created, edited, or deleted without a developer’s involvement. Once your news website is ready, you are free to fill it with audio, video, and other types of content.

A great advantage of Drupal for news websites is the way its admin panel and access control via roles, which have a predefined scope of access, are organized. For extensive news portals, which work with a bunch of writers, Drupal provides an option to have a separate account for each of them to manage their own content. Similarly, privileges can be set separately for each writer, giving to him access to only a few areas of the website. This customized access control can be used for readers as well, where paid readers can be given access to more exclusive content.

As a consequence, we have very wide time limits for the news website development, which vary from 880 up to 1,700 hours for a standard version, and can get higher, when deeper configuration and more customization are needed. For calculating approximate fees which will be taken for such a website, let’s take into account the difference of dev rates in US/EU and, for example, Eastern Europe. The US/EU bids for dev services can be estimated at $ 90 – 180 thousand at least (or $ 60-150 per man-hour), whereas in Eastern Europe, with its $ 25 to $ 50 per man-hour rates, it will cost $ 35 – 68 thousand to start with.

However high these rates may look, let’s not forget about the revenues. Launching a news website is an ambitious, yet rewarding project. As more and more users consume news digitally, traditional newspapers and their subscriber base have been in decline, whereas traffic generated by the newspaper websites has been growing: in the fourth quarter of 2016, there was an average of roughly 11.7 million monthly unique visitors (across all devices) for the US top 50 newspapers, which made a 21% increase from 2015.[i] This tendency directly affects the sphere of digital advertising, where the share of news websites as ad platforms has been growing: 29% in 2016, which signified an increase in comparison with 25% in 2015.[ii]

Conclusion

Creating a feature-rich Drupal-based news website is a rewarding, but not simple task. Drupal is considered as a technically complex and complicated solution for a reason. At the same time, a web development team with expertise in Drupal projects can help you launch a news website of your dream.

 

[i] http://www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/newspapers/

[ii] http://www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/newspapers/

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