Day Two – the Filling in the Drupalcon Sandwich

by Jamie Eastabrook

Brightlemon Admin on 22 Apr, 2010

It’s the second day of Drupalcon and the first day of rain, but who cares when you have a ticket to join the throngs of geeks enthusiasts toting the latest Apple hardware at the Moscone centre.  I’m going to jump straight into the notes this time, but before I do I just want to say bananas, $1.75, it’s just wrong.  Oh, and I’m still missing the free coffee in the afternoons.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) for Drupal

Ben Finklea from Volacci and Stephanie Pakrul from TopNotchThemes discussed how they approach SEO and CRO, the content wasn’t really Drupal specific but provided a good grounding in the fundamentals. The highlight of this talk was the live playing of the 5-second game.  This is an LPO (landing page optimisation) exercise where you test the effectiveness of a landing page by showing it to a potential user for 5 seconds and then asking them whether they remember the key messages, such as the brand, the offer and the call to action.  Ben mentioned that in order to optimise they will typically start by giving users 7 seconds, then progressively reduce the time to 4 seconds; if a user gets the key messages in 4 seconds it’s a pretty well-optimised landing page I think!  In case you hadn’t guessed, Apple won out!

Key takeaways were to look at your analytics, build trust and test! Regarding analytics, one technique which was mentioned was to take the top 8 entry pages and treat them as landing pages, even though they may not be what you traditionally think of as a landing page.  We’ve certainly found value in this approach in the past where one of the most popular entry points was a blog post, it was easy to reduce the high bounce rate simply by providing links to related content and including a prominent call to action at the top and bottom of the page.
Trust can be built by maintaining consistency between a call to action and the landing page it links to, this can be as simple as keeping the brand logo prominent and using the same main image on both.  Showing a phone number and including credibility images (e.g. verisign, BBB logo) can also help build trust.
It’s worth mentioning that there is a module for Google Website Optimiser, making it easy to perform A/B testing on Drupal sites.

Theming with Skinr

Every time someone mentions Skinr, I can’t help but think of Superintendent Chalmers from the Simpsons shouting “SKIII NER”.  Despite this curious affliction, I think it’s a fantastic little module, so simple yet it can save masses of theming time by forcing you to create re-usable styles, allowing you to continue adding functionality to a site without the need to keep re-theming.

When reviewing CSS code that Drupal themers have written, I often recognise the common problems that Jacine points out:  the selectors are too specific, not styling the default elements, and not structuring markup in a way that is flexible.  I think the advantages of using Skinr are most apparent when there is ongoing development on a site,  or when the client has a need to swap the styles of elements –  this could be something a simple as the background colour of a feature box has a couple of skin styles (black/white) to allow for better matching with the image that’s currently promoted there.

Social Analytics for 120 Warner Bros. Records Artist sites

Warner Brothers have over 140 artist sites running on a mix of Drupal 5 and 6, with a process that allows them to launch a new one in about the space of a week.  They presented their Digital Detail tool which aggregates analytics from all their sites, telling them where people came from, what they are doing and where they are going.  The tool itself is built on Drupal and is very impressive, every action on the sites is logged, allowing them to run complex reports to gain insight into user behaviour.   They are now running into the limits of what is possible with Drupal, or more specifically with MySQL, and are currently looking to MongoDB to scale.

Page render drill down in Drupal 7

Moshe Weitzman presented some of the awesomeness that has finally come to the Drupal’s theming layer.  Moving more towards a rule-based approach that was eloquently set out by Young Hahn in his 2009 article

 Limitations of the theming layer.  The implications of all this are that it allows us more freedom when designing for Drupal.  It’s always been possible to do these things, it’s just that it’s been time-consuming and often unmaintainable, so design compromises are often made to compensate.
Most of the awesomeness stems from the fact that now all the page elements are placed in one $page array, and hook_page_alter allows us to dig into the $page array and move page elements around before they get passed to the theme functions.  The drupal_render() cache, successor to the block cache, can use any arbitrary expiry logic which allows you much more flexibility than the D6 caching mechanism.   Oh, and block.module is no longer required, nice.

Build a Powerful Site Search with the User-Friendly, Easy-to-Install Search Lucene API Module Suite

We’ve used Solr on a few sites before but it was good to find out more about Lucene, which seems to be a good intermediate solution between the core search module and the more advanced Solr.  I was surprised to hear that Lucene doesn’t use the database but actually holds it’s index in the filesystem, loading it into memory on each search page load!  This sounds kinda crazy, but perhaps that’s why it’s only good for sites with up to 5000 nodes.  Here are some of the key benefits of core search though:

  • ported to PHP from Java, so easy to install, just enable the module!
  • allows you to use OR operator, core only does AND
  • can exclude content types
  • allows for much more customisation of the search than core search
  • does a simple faceted search, content type, taxonomy, author etc.
  • can make recommendations and do “more like this’ functionality
  • can do did you mean functionality – dictionary taken from the index of your site
  • there are a bunch of

    modules which extend the core Lucene module.

All in all, it sounds like it would only be worth looking at for small sites which have outgrown the core search and can’t afford the leap to Solr.  Be aware that there is no upgrade path though, if you want to use Solr in future it’s a totally different ball game, though Acquia’s hosted solution could ease the pain.

Tags: Drupalcon