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I am not real happy with their look. I need to upgrade them and build some new sites with more functionality...social networking etc.
After exhaustive research I'm coming to the conclusion that Drupal might offer the best long-term solution. Flexible, SEO friendly, Granular control, good plug-ins etc.
But a near vertical learning curve according to most.
I hate programming and I'm not great at it.
So here's my question. If I get someone else to build the sites, is there still a big learning curve to manage and add content on Drupal?
Or is the giant learning curve that everyone refers to all about development?
What I really want is a fast / easy / professional way to publish these online magazines. I want to focus on the content and marketing and would avoid coding all together if I could. But I don't want that all at the expense of horrible SERPS due to unfriendly urls, tags, code, etc.
You guys are smart. What do you think?
Customizing drupal can be another issue, but that's not your concern.
The one thing is that you will need to do security updates and that can be a little frightening if you're not used to it, but you can do it all via FTP. Unfortunately, unlike Wordpress, drupal does not yet have the ability to upgrade via the admin interface.
One thing I really like about drupal is that it has been designed at least since version 4.x and maybe forever to run multiple sites off one code base. It is dead easy to do so and reduces maintenance. You still have to visit example.com/update.php for every site after ugrading the code, but you can create a folder in Firefox and open all in tabs and be done in a couple of minutes even for dozens of sites.
As for the "giant learning curve" I would say the big obstacle is actually nomeclature. Just what is a node and a taxonomy and a vocabulary (ask here if that trips you up). It's nothing really complex, just unfamiliar. Once you sort of "get" drupal, much development is quite simple as there are so many modules you can add, so for a content or community site and, increasingly even for an e-commerce site, so much functionality is off the shelf.
Theming drupal is not too bad. I like to start with the Zen theme which is designed to look like nothing out of the box and then you add styles to theme it. This approach leads to some bloat, but it's a great way to prototype and then you can streamline from there.
Just keep in mind that it's a framework of code that you build on top of via modules for functionality and templates for design.
These directories often let you craft your own site description and therefore let you control your inbound links and such.
Also, they can give you some straight up traffic regardless of SE boost.
Finally, you might get some useful feedback ("You should check out moduleX").
I built a drupal site for a friend who previously had just a couple of pages of static HTML. They did not show up in the top 100 for any search that I could think of for a service-oriented business in a major metropolitan area. The only way I could find the site was with a site:
I built a drupal site on a mostly default template, providing good H1s and page titles and some nice text (I'm not an SEO, so just amateur-level stuff). It was not a pretty site, but it was a drupal site so I just listed it in the two directories of drupal sites that I knew. I didn't do any other link building or anything.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later, he was something like #2, 7 and 9 for "[service] [city]", his site at #2, and the others being the two directory listings. Also, he was the only individual business in the top 10 - the rest were Super Pages, ServiceMaster and the like. Sure, it's not forex or real estate, but still. He held onto those rankins for a while, until...
Unfortunately, the business partner didn't like my ugly site (I told him to hire a designer if he wanted a nice look and I was just going to give him an off-the-shelf template of his choosing; but he was too lazy to choose so he got the one my friend and I picked). Anyway he got someone to design him a beautiful site - 100% Flash. Once again, you can only find them using site:
[ps this and other incidents prompted my friend to drop his share and now he's in design (not graphic design) school of all things]
More like a series of learning curves; depending on what you want to do/ what you try.
Yes, nomenclature's odd; some of how-to guides can be hard to figure: get coders who aren't hot at describing what their software does [this is hardly unique to Drupal, eh!]
So, you start; wonder what this taxonomy malarky's about; and progress to some understanding.
Then, want to add modules: these vary in complexity.
Views and Panels could be v useful to you for magazines; I don't find them well documented, but (once you have something working in Drupal) can give them a try, play around to get custom "blocks" [like sub menus, perhaps], as well as pages n so on.
I'd reckon that among more basic modules to check out are those for page titles, meta tags, search engine (and human) friendly URLs
Drupal now has module to help with updates to modules; as yet I don't have it working (as ergophobe, I use FTP)
Learning takes time; so too site set up. Occasionally, might mess up so whole site stops (usually turns out to be a line of wrong code or somesuch [if trying some cutting edge software contribution by someone]; once fixed, all returns).
But, once running, also save time; some things that might take ages in Dreamweaver become simple. Can hit button to add block with photos, say, to each page on site; just as quickly opt to move it elsewhere on page, remove it if seems poor idea. Auto generated content a boon - not articles, but things like menus, lists of content, keyword tag clouds...
Plus social networking.
Maybe grab Drupal, ensure your webhost is suitable (you have MySQL, say), and give it a try.
I think this would be nice. I've tried to manage drupal via CVS rather than FTP, but the CVS server was always timing out and I never managed to get it to work. Not sure why. I manage a Gallery install that way (though with Subversion rather than CVS) and upgrading is as simple as typing "update" and then running the database upgrades.
So I use FTP for lack of better options with drupal.