The ideas in this post were originally presented by Suzanne Dergacheva at Drupal North 2018.
 

If you've opted for Drupal, then you must be dealing with a large amount of content, right? Now, the question that arises is: how do you build out and structure a complex content architecture in Drupal 8?

For you definitely don't run out of options when it comes to organizing your content:
 

  • content types
  • paragraph types
  • (custom) block types
  • custom fields
     

And things get even more complex when you start to consider all the various relationships between these entities. 

Now, let me help you structure this huge “pile” of different options, approaches and best practices for setting up an effectively organized content structure.
 

What Makes Drupal Ideal for Creating a Flexible Content Architecture?

One of Drupal's key selling points is that it ships with tools and workflows designed specifically to support a flexible content architecture.

And I'm talking here about its:
 

  • WYSIWYG editor
  • all the tools that streamline the content creation and publishing process
  • access control system based on user roles and permission levels
  • ecosystem of Drupal 8 content types (blocks, nodes, paragraphs, terms)
     

All these tools combined empower you to:
 

  • create any type of content (survey, landing page, blog entry...) nice and easy
  • control where and how that piece of content should be displayed on your website
  • categorize and structure your large amount of content using different content entity types
     

In short: Drupal 8's built, from the ground up, to support a well-structured, yet highly flexible content architecture.
 

Step 1: Plan Out Your Content Architecture in Drupal 8: Identify the Needed Content Types 

A well-structured content architecture is, above all, a carefully planned out one. 

Start by analyzing your content wireframe to identify your content needs and to... fill in the blanks:
 

  • decide what content you need on your website, how/where it should be displayed and to whom it should be accessible
  • identify the various content entity types for each piece of content
  • set out all the fields that each content entity type requires
  • define your taxonomy term entities
     

 It's also that step where you gradually start to populate each category outlined in your content wireframe with the corresponding types of content.
 

Step 2: Set Out Your Well-Defined Content Types

I'm talking about those traditional, crystal-clear content types like articles or job postings, where the structure is pre-defined and it leaves no room for interpretation.

Those fixed content types that guarantee consistency across your website, that are easy to search and to migrate.

This is the step where you define each one of these content types' elements —  paragraphs, data, long text, images, etc. — and their order. 
 

Step 3: Set Out the Relationships Between Various Types of Content

Since you're dealing with a complex content structure, an intricate network of references between different pieces of content will be inevitable.

Now, it's time to set out all those explicit relationships between your node references and their referenced nodes, between term references and terms...

Note: needless to add that the implicit relationships will form by themselves, you have no control over those.
 

Step 4: Define the Multi-Purpose Content and the Reusable Pieces of Content

While at this phase, where you identify the content types that you'll need, remember to add the multi-purpose and the reusable content types, as well.

Speaking of multi-purpose content, it's that content type (e.g. the landing page) that you don't know yet what content it should include. And what order its content elements should be displayed in. 

Therefore, you need to keep it flexible enough for future additions and modifications. In this respect, the Paragraphs module is the flexible page builder that you can rely on. The “secret” is to build your paragraph types — call to action, webform, view —  along with the fields that they incorporate and to... leave it flexible for future updates.

Now, as for the reusable type of content, the best example is, again, that of a landing page with multiple reusable blocks that you can move around to your liking.

What you can do at this stage is to define your block types: image, view, call to action.
   

Step 5: Create Your Custom Entities and Custom Fields

While structuring a complex content architecture in Drupal 8 you'll inevitably need to create some custom entities and fields, as well.

With a large pile of content to deal with, there will be cases when the options that Drupal provides aren't suitable. For instance, you might need to define some special rules for a specific piece of content.

In this case, creating a custom entity is a must, but make sure you've carefully thought through all its potential use cases and specific workflows. That you've invested enough time in prototyping it.

Also, you might find yourself in a situation where one of the fields needs to be stored or validated in a particular way. For instance, you might need to create a multi-value field. Since these scenarios call for a custom field, again, take your time to prototype it thoroughly.
 

The END!

These are the main steps to properly structure your complex content architecture in Drupal 8. The golden rule should be: always leave some room for flexibility.

Photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash 

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