I've been reviewing and subsequently fixing a small business website and realised that the things done wrong on this Joomla website could happen to anyone. But how would a lay person even notice these things are wrong. And even if they've noticed, how could they make their case?

First of all lets look at the issues found in this website

1 Overwriting one of the default templates instead of creating a copy

Joomla comes with 2 default templates, which can be used to build simple looking websites. Usually a business owner will however be presented with a design that matches their business branding and this will then be implemented by the Joomla developer. Implementation could be done by modifying one of the default templates, however the developer should always create a copy under a different name:

If the template remains with the same name, it will be overwritten the next time a security or feature update is provided for the default template, ie. any time any update is made to Joomla. The benefit of recently introduced one click updates and upgrades between major versions is therefore completely taken away.

By the way, it takes less than 5 minutes to make a copy if you know you way around Joomla.

2 Not applying security updates

Like any piece of software, security updates need to be applied to Joomla as well. In this specific case it is clear why this wasn't done (see 1), but nonetheless it is careless service that could easily lead to websiet being hacked and be used for spyware distribution and all sorts of other issues that would damage the customers brand.

Also, customers cannot assess the importance of security updates being applied, how often and at what cost, so web developers need to incorporate this into an ongoing service price, for example hosting, a retainer or ongoing maintenance contracts

3 Not using the default behaviour for "Read More"

Nearly all websites have pages that show introduction content with a "Read More"/ "View more" etc button or link to get to the detail of the content. Joomla has (always had) a standard way of storing content in this way, which is easy to understand by anyone working with Joomla at the most basic level.

In this website's case, this behaviour was not used, instead a HTML module was created containing all introductory items. At a later stage, a company was hired to do search engine optimisation (SEO) and quickly pointed out that they can't change the introductory part and make it independent from the main part. Of course this was possible, but only after auditing the site, something the SEO wasn't capable of (and shouldn't be)

4 Using a third party website for forms

Most websites have at least an inquiry or contact form and the submitted information should be emailed to the sales team as well as kept in a database for record keeping purposes. But there are also a number of systems world-wide that allow you to create forms in a central place and rent them for use for a monthly fee. 

In this website's case, such a system was used and the forms were pasted into the website. This creates a number of problems:

- Even though you may have chosen Joomla because you like the ownership approach and security of open source software, your forms are now in proprietary hands for a monthly fee. Even if this fee is paid by your web designer, what if they go out of business. Isn't a statutory manager immediately going to ask you for money for the forms rent?

- What if the web designer simply forgets to pay the monthly fee? All your records may be lost, bar typing them up again into a database from your emails.

- It creates another technical dependency, for example if the form provider has a website outage and you don't your forms won't work.

There are plenty of form extensions available for Joomla that tightly integrate with the website. One of these should be used.

5 Using tons of modules, creating them all in unnamed module positions

Nothing wrong with using tons of modules, Joomla is an extensible system. For example you may want a number of image galleries on your website in various pages. However if you use the default module position names, such as position-1, position-2, position-3 etc and then have lots of galleries placed each on a single page only, it gets confusing very quickly. 

One gallery image wrong on a single page? Its an hour long job for a third party developer finding out how the module positions are structured and which module is the right one to change.

Joomla has introduced the use of custom named module positions without any code a while ago and this would have easily solved the problem.

What to do about it?

The issues above seem quite innocent in itself, but they can cause a web developer untold grief. Untold grief means you as the business owner pay more than you have to, if you want to switch web developers.

So what can you do about such issues?

Non functional specification

You need a non functional specification. In business we often say: "get it done whatever it takes" - this sounds nice and heroic, but is not applicable to everything and at every stage of a business.

You wouldn't have your car break down and go to a garage: "get it working for $200, whatever it takes". You would expect some basic safety measures taken into account, that no other parts of the car are worn out as a result of the repair and that your car retains its lifetime.

The same applies to your website - a tool you will use for years to come every single day.

A non functional specification includes such items that are not directly required to achieve a given result, but that are required, so that you can change web developers, that maintenance costs are not unnecessary high or security is compromised.

P.S.: Some non functional requirements you can check straight away on your Joomla website

  • "admin" super user has been renamed?
  • All user logins have random password with at least 12 characters?
  • Joomla email from address is in clients name?
  • All introduction content is stored as first part of an article?
  • Sensibly named module positions used (left, right, top, footer-left, footer-middle, above-content etc)
  • A plan and pricing for security updates that is followed
  • Google analytics and web master tools in clients name

Let me know how your checking goes and if you need any help

Case Studies

  • Automated Quote and Import System - Streat Control

    Streat Control - an importer of electrical engineering goods - has a distributed operation in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, serving the local waterworks, refineries, breweries and others with instruments for liquid and gas monitoring and control. With these clients, everything is about accuracy. Their goods are five figures plus per unit and are custom manufactured to order and shipped to New Zealand. As this process is lengthy and costly, mistakes are very expensive.

    streatcontrol-case-study-smallWe provided a custom build and web based importing and tracking system, which also covers some areas of the Customer Relationship Management and the complete process of quoting, ordering and delivery. Through our development process we have replaced 7 MS Word templates, several disparate Outlook address books and thousands of uncoordinated emails between staff.

    The new sales management system leads the sales and support staff through a well defined process, which ensures the necessary information is gathered and stored consistently. The main focus in this project was on minimising the need for double data entry. This is achieved by storing all customer details in a flexible information model that even allows to track the same person with several roles with different companies.

    Quotes and sales documents are produced automatically by the system as PDF documents – this format has been chosen due to its compatibility with a large number of computer systems. The system also keeps track of all past quote information, which is accessible for reports. Reports, which have previously been done by copying information into shared Excel sheets is now available to staff in real time.

    The equipment that Streat Control imports is extremely complex and requires hours to days for the construction of quotes. They further deal with heavy weights such as NZ Steel, Auckland City Council or DB Breweries, who will tender out every job, but sometimes it is known in advance that Streat Control will not get a job. This situation allowed for the system to provide return of investment by reducing the amount and scale of repetitive unnecessary work.

    Once ordered, the equipment is then manufactured overseas and usually ready for shipping within 6 weeks. A mistake in this period will lead to a delay of a further 6 weeks, as manufacturers will “re queue” the order. Once shipped, a mistake can mean that you have a 500kg/ $30000 instrument in New Zealand that is hard to get rid of and unsellable.

    Copy and Paste mistakes were wide spread and frustrated sales staff, causing unnecessary follow up communication and searching of email archives.

  • Mental Health Service Database - Mind and Body Consultants

    Mind and Body provide Mental Health Peer Support - a support service that they have pioneered themselves and that is currently delivered in Central and West Auckland as well as Christchurch. They were looking for an integrated management system for their peer support workers. Initially this was triggered through the government requirements to deliver billing data electronically under the PRIMHD standard. At the same time, Mind and Body wanted to "own and control" the solution, so they are not dependent on a specific vendor.

    mindandbody-casestudy-smallWe provided a custom built database management system that tracks patients/peers through their year long engagement and collects all relevant time sheet and costing information along the way. This was built as a web based secure system, so that it could be easier extended with mobile phone travel expense tracking at a later date.

    We were also involved in training and delivery of the software, which was based on a "train the trainer" model. The choice for this was made to create maximum engagement of staff with the introduction of the software, so as to minimise any resistance that might otherwise to be expected.

    Finally with our help Mind and Body became PRIMHD compliant within 1 month after launch - the accepted minimum time frame typical for this was 6 month, with implementations ranging up to 2 years in terms of turnaround time.

    "Eileen informed me today that we are now officially PRIMHD compliant. That is a huge feat in the time that we have been sending off reports to the ministry. Quite frankly I am astounded (in a very good way) that we have done this in such short order. The expectation out there with other organisations is that it takes at least 6 months. Jochen and Eileen have managed it in about 1 month. Well done to the both of you and thanks."

    Rodger Jack - Mind and Body Consultants

     

     

  • Multi-National Multi-Lingual Website - Philips Selecon

    Philips Selecon - formerly Selecon New Zealand - designs, manufactures and exports theatre and architectural lighting systems to the world. Having been their Content Management System (CMS) provider for the past 9 years, we were charged in 2008 with building a 2nd generation corporate website, which included dealing with over 5000 products, over 1000 detail pages such as news, case studies and support material as well as E-Commerce facilities.

    Philips Selecon's products are market leaders or well presented in many major world wide markets, because of this the website Content Management System (CMS) had to manage multiple translations of the content as well as content that is only available in some markets or is hidden from some markets. We achieved this by

    • providing a language translation platform that can be selectively applied to content with an automatic fall back to British English as the default language. This includes facilities to detect changes to the original, so that translations can be refreshed. Languages in use are British English, US English, German, French, Russian and Spanish.
    • providing a facility to hide a complete US supplier portfolio from markets outside New Zealand, as this would otherwise lead to conflicts in the supplier relationship
    • providing a facility to easily hide key products from markets with 110V power current, as some products are technically not compatible with it. This has proven much more successful that marking these products with additional information. Our approach also allows to mark such products once, even though there may be references at 8+ areas in the website.
    • providing a facility to show country specific welcome messages in some areas of the website.

    To showcase Philips Selecon's work, a large number of case studies were reworked and produced. We extended the CMS to provide a simple keyword manager, so that these case studies can be easily categorised by country, type of use and various other keywords. Furthermore, the products use are linked to the case study.
    Based on this powerful information model, we are able to randomly retrieve select case studies in nearly all areas of the website - by relating the products used and keywords to the content of the core functionality of the page.

    To allow easy shopping for repeat users of the website, it also features a store area, where all key products and accessories are listed in 5 sections. While the core products have various support documentation and feature lists associated with them, we also had the challenge to present 5500 imported colour filters - basically coloured plastic sheets and gobos - metal frames to create different patterns on stage.

    We firstly proceeded to create a screen scraping program as to retrieve the information from the suppliers website, because they were not able and motivated to provide this information in a structured format.

    As a second step we created structured product pages for these products. As a third and final step, we created categorised shopping pages for groups of these products. This was done to present the products in a more concise fashion and also because a user would typically buy a number of colour sheets or related patterns in different sizes for a stage production. For this reason our presentation saves time for the user as well.

    Selecon New Zealand was acquired by Philips corporation on 1 Apr 2009. Since then www.seleconlight.com has continued to be the by far most sophisticated, detailed and extensive website in the stable of Philips lighting technology subsidiaries.

    As a result of this, we have also proceeded to integrate the products, case studies and support material of a US based sister operation of Philips into the website system. The fully integrated manner in how these 2 websites operate allows Philips to position themselves as a full service operator. At the same time, we are able to retain all existing links and domain names, as these remain unchanged.

  • Large Joomla Website - The Parenting Place

    The Parenting Place is a non-profit organisation specialising in parenting education. Having educated 15000+ parents in courses and sold over 20000 books and education resources, all largely through their website they were faced with a number of challenges.

    • The website needed a facelift to keep up with branding changes and an expansion of the services and approach of the organisation to parenting education. At the same time they wanted to use their excellent in-house graphic design resources to maximise brand cohesion and cost effectiveness.

    • It became difficult to extend the existing website and provide security updates. This was because it contained a lot of custom developed modules and complex extensions to existing modules.

    • Email marketing is a major activity for The Parenting Place, but it was hard to assess how many emails reached recipients due to emails being sent directly from the web server and being likely a target of spam filters.

    Facelift

    theparentingplace-case-study-2-smallFor the changes to look and feel, we worked closely with the Parenting Place in-house team to develop a new brand expression for the website. Once this was complete, we took over and developed website code and the associated Joomla templates.

    One of the key drivers was to implement a solution that would work well on many mobile browsers and as a result responsive web design solution techniques were chosen to allow for a cost effective coverage of desktop, IPad, IPhone and other mobile browsers.

    Website Upgrade

    To upgrade this website to a current Joomla version we used a combination of techniques:

    • Complex extensions, such as product and country specific promotional codes in Joomla's Virtuemart E-Commerce module were upgraded to the newest version using best practice software development techniques. This allowed us to re-use previously invested effort and kept specification changes to a minimum

    • Simpler extensions, such as webinar management were simply upgraded and audited for security and concerns for code complexity.

    • Fairly simple modules, based on complex off-the-shelf Joomla components, such as the event calendar were replaced with newly written components based on the popular Symfony framework.

    Email Marketing

    To increase effectiveness of the email marketing, the delivery platform had to be moved away from the web server and onto a dedicated platform.

    We chose Mailchimp for this, due to its ease of use, ability to target emails to different audiences and options to automate integration of email list management.

    As a result, email subscription preferences are still tightly integrated between The Parenting Place website and the email marketing platform and at the same time, we enjoy excellent delivery rates and the features and statistics of a major email marketing platform.

Welcome

jochen-daum-automatem

Welcome to Automatem Ltd.

I'm the owner/ operator, Jochen Daum with over 15 years of experience in Website and Web Application Development. Please contact me if there is anything I can help with.