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Online store migration

I’ve recently been asked to help someone move their online store from a professional web development company to their own hosting. The existing store has been built using Joomla as the content management system with VirtueMart as as the shopping cart software with a VirtueMart theme for style.

Online store in Joomla or WordPress

First of the site itself is really lacking any content, yet they have gone for Joomla CMS. The shopping experience is limited to less than half a dozen items with a few sub options per item. The Theme while ok is far too dark and even uses a dark text making some of the content unreadable.

With limited products Joomla is overkill.

It’s overkill because the site owner isn’t tech savvy and while Joomla is powerful it can be a little complicated. The store owner is just using paypal to collect payments so a simple link to PayPal from WordPress would do just aswell.

That complexity brings cost.

Don’t blow your budget on a whizzy site that no one can find or has no content. Building back-links and attracting visitors is hugely important. To me the lack of content is a real problem. Part of the problem is accessibility to maintain and update. There are no social links such as facebook, twitter etc for example, limited new photos etc.

What to look out for when buying an online store or website

Having someone build you a webite or online store can come with huge costs not just financially but in time.

Here I’ve listed a couple of questions to ponder when considering who to use to build your online store.

How up to date is the software used on my website ?

Much of what has been used on this site makes use of legacy Joomla software and an old version of VirtueMart and even the backup modules thats been used is end of life.

Make sure your service provided gives you a clear statement on the lifespan and state of the components used to build your site.

If you accept old outdated components you could struggle to gain support (from the underlying component providers) should you need to (when you try to change provider for example). They have likely adopted a suite of software that works for them but old software will not only restrict what you can do but it’s also backward looking, but like buying a brand new 3 year old car that’s sat in the show room for the same price as the latest model.

It will also leave you open to security defects that have since been fixed. Once fixed even more people will know about the exploits and your site could become vulnerable to hackers seeking our those vulnerabilities.

Ask for a design

You may not be technically proficient but a site design and details of the components it uses will save you time in the long run should you wish to talk to someone else about the site and how it works (or doesn’t).

Ask them to list the components and their source I.e. freeware, shareware, built in house, licensed form a third part or nicked.

Make sure you understand how each is licensed to YOU.

What extras aren’t included ?

With every site that makes use of Joomla or WordPress do the site builders give you access to the hosting or just to the CMS product ? You may think it keeps thing simple to not have hosting access but when you can’t control backups, check access logs etc you will be missing out on a level of control that you should retain and certainly not pay for.

How is the theme licensed ?

More often than not you’ll want to make use of a Theme for either Joomla (or VirtueMart) make sure your licensed to take the theme with you should you choose to change provider. Themes can make up the majority of the actual outlay, not owning usage right to your theme will be a problem in the future.

Their theme or someone else’s ?

Themes should also be maintained and developed. If they have built a bespoke theme what happens if they discontinue it or you want to switch provider ? Would you be better making use of a commercial theme that’s being actively improved and has a suitable support network and community in place.

Measuring success

Ask yourself – how will I judge if the site is a success ? It’s not purely sales, are you getting Facebook or google +1′s ? are you getting organic search hits ? What hits do you receive ? Not having access to logs or metrics isn’t an option.

Backlink from the builders

Will the site builders link to your site ? It’s an interesting question to ask, particularly if they won’t, why not ?

Website Accessibility and usability

In this case the VirtueMart shopping cart is setup such that even to view a products you have to register (this is controlled via the module security settings). Not only is that horriby off putting to users but googles crawler that’s hunting out content cannot access product pages that the site is trying to market.

Remember accessibility is not just for human readers but also for the numerous search engines like google, bing and yahoo. Poor accessibility is a killer for any online presence.

Migrating Joomla site between hosts

A good component that the existing site makes use of is Akeeba backup this is a Joomla component (and hence Joomla aware) that both backups and restores Joomla sites. Although the installed version is now out of support (see my comments above) it worked without issue.

The software gives you lots of options and will in the simplest terms create a complete archive of your Joomla installation.

This archive is in .jpa format.

To restore the site you use Akeeba Kickstart which is a clever php script that will uncompressed your archive, restore your database and literally get you back on the road in a couple of minutes. It’s quite impressive.

All I had to go was upload the Kickstart .php script run it, it then finds the archive file that you have already uploaded to the site. It then decompress the archive, sorts of the database and your site is live.

One gotcha with kick start is that when updating the database connection information that is requested you may have to reload the page (by going back a step) and continuing for it to update.

Akeeba on the iPad

Another gotcha with Akeeba is AJAX. On the iPad and the version of Akeeba that’s installed is it throws an error straight away when trying to do a backup, you see a brief AJAX error then in the Akeeba log you will see “Finished step number 1 Akeeba break flag detected”. The status of the backup may will be pending, this shouldn’t happen.

Use Firefox and its fine, just delete the old failed backups.

Moving virtuemart between domain names

One thing I had to change in the virtuemart config is update the domain name. If you don’t do that you’ll find that when you select the virtuemart component in Joomla and try and go into admin it will redirect you to the old domain name. It’s a simple case of updating the file administrator/components/com_virtuemart/virtuemart.cfg.php in that you will find two entries with the existing domain name just update those and away you go.

Php mail function in Joomla

The new host (eukhost which I think is great value and offers good service) doesn’t support the php mail (phpmail) function which Joomla makes use of by default.This host has turned it off due to the problems of SPAM. It’s a simply a case of rather than using phpmail to send the mail you configure Joomla to use an SMTP server via sendmail.

In this case gmail will allow you to use its smpt mail server. You will need a gmail account.

Settings for gmail SMTP Server are:

Mail from: youraccount@gmail.com
From name: whatever you like
Send mail path: /usr/sbin/sendmail
SMTP Authentciation: yes
SMTP Security: SSL
SMTP port: 465
SMTP username: youraccount@gmail.com
SMTP password: your gmail password
SMTP host: smtp.gmal.com