New Website - Open Source Solution or Template generated?

getcompanygetcompany Posts: 1subscriber
My website, www.theGETcompany.com, was built in 2003/2004 by me using the templates that bizhosting.com provides along w/ some html modifications that I did.  The ecommerce has been turned off by them due to some disputes in regards to bad customer service. I am now looking to re-host and rebuild the website.  I have read through a lot of the posts and learned about different options or maybe I`m more confused.  I see the 3 options as follows:
1. Create an ecommerce website using the hosting site`s tools w/ slight modifications, similar to what I did w/ bizhosting.com. Some other options seem to be 1and1, Yahoo Small business, Google, etc.
2. Use an open source solution like zencart, magneto, osCommerce, drupal, wordpress, joomla, etc.
3. Have someone build the site from scratch - completely custom.
I plan to do it myself, so I`m looking to do something that is economical and SEO friendly.  Due to costs I think #1 and #2 seem to be the best options for me. Option #1 seems to be the fastest/easiest solution, but my concern is that the code generated is not SEO friendly and if I need to move the site to a different host it`s not so easy to migrate the code/hmtl. Are my assumptions correct?
However, I have some programming experience, but it has been a while since I`ve done any.  My technology skills are from 2000!!!: HMTL (beg/intermediate), ASP, VB Script,
Visual Basic, DHTL, some CSS. It has been 8 years since I have used these on the
job.
In any case, this leads to option 2, which sounds fun and like a more robust solution.  I guess this is where some of my confusion comes in. All the solutions (zencart, drupal, etc.) seem interesting.  I guess it`s difficult for me to figure out which one I would use if I went this route...Any suggestions for something that can get an ecommerce site up and running fairly quickly without a ton of technical knowledge or complex coding up front...but allows for more programming if necessary or customization to be done after the initial site is up?Some other questions I have:
1. If I choose zen cart, os commerce, etc. is it easy to move the website to new host in the future?
2. Which of the open source solutions are SEO friendly?  It seems Magneto is, but also the most complicated to use.
3. how much programming or technical knowledge is really needed to get some of the open source solutions working?
4. I only have a laptop w/ XP.  Can I easily create the website locally on the laptop before deciding on the host. How easy is it to get a local server running in order to do this?  or is it recommended to work on the site once I decide on the company to host the site?
5. Is option 2 even an option for me if I`ve never coded in PHP? How easy is it to learn?
Well, any input, questions, advice, etc. you have in helping me choose how I might go about creating a new website is very much appreciated!  Sorry if I put too much information in this post. It`s my 1st one!  Thanks, -Fred

Comments

  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    Hi Fred,
     
    Using an open source ZenCart or osCommerce would seem to work for you... to reproduce an on line store similar to what you have now. One advantage of open source, you do not have to pay $xx per month for the ecommerce program.
     
    You do not need to know php to use those open source programs. Adding product, maintaining , pricing, manage sales transaction and even sending a customer newsletter is all done through an administration panel.
     
    The only time you  might use PHP is if you need to change the layout or add things not available with the program or from add-in modules. You can even start with a template created for ZenCart to get a design you want.
     
    As far as SEO, both ZenCart and osCommerce are more search engine friendly than your existing site. For example, with ZenCart or osCommerce when a person views a specific product, that product name appears in the web page title (which is important). Your existing site does not do that.
     
    The critical step (as Nikole suggests) is to first determine what your want you site to do. What ecommerce features? Anything else - a blog, other static pages, etc? You can add static pages with ZenCart too.
     
    You can move an open source site from one host to another... that`s the beauty of open source.
     
    One other thing - you may be able to upload your existing inventory into and open source program... saving you time to enter each product manually to set up your new open source store.
     
    If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
     
    ~Roland
     
    vwebworld6/5/2009 7:24 AM
  • ArcherTCArcherTC Posts: 1subscriber
    I agree with Roland that open source products would be the route to choose if portability, the learning curve and keeping costs low are priorities. 
    I would recommend that you take a close look at the developer communities behind the software on your shortlist to determine if you think there is enough activity there on theme, module and plugins to suit your needs.  Consider the user forums too.  If you feel comfortable with the level of discussion happening in its official forums, you will feel comfortable turning to them with any newbie questions or seeking out a professional.
    Beware: not all hosts are as good at supporting every piece of open source software out there.  You may want to take a look at the developer forums to see which hosts have a good track record or are exclusively hosting the eCommerce package of your choice.
    Good luck!  Do update this thread when you`ve remade your site!
    Tammi
    P.S. I heartily recommend Wordpress.  For an example of an eCommerce plugin for that platform, see the "WP e-Commerce plugin" on the http://Instinct.co.nz home page, samples on the lower right.
  • NuevolutionNuevolution Posts: 30subscriber Bronze Level Member
    Hello Fred,
    All of the E-commerce applications you just mentioned can get you where you want to go. BUT! just because a web hosting company offers third party installations doesn`t mean that they will offer support. Roland is correct. You can move your open source project from one server to another, but it will require that you know basic PHP and MYSQL  this is called migration or migrating your web site from one server to another. With Zen Card, Oscommerce and Magento, you will need to know very basic, such as knowing how to edit the config.php files. I would advise you to use Joomla for your project but at this point there is a code error in Virtue mart, which would most-likely be the E-commerce application that you would be using. So before you decide to get your hand dirty, I would suggest reading more about the products and choose the one that best fits your needs. If you want to go the inexpensive way, you can even go to Template Moster and purchase a Zen Cart, Oscommerce of Magento Template... If you want a custom template, I would suggest you talk to Roland or NHGNicole, they may be able to help you... BTW... Welcome back Nicole.... You were missing in action 
  • profitizerprofitizer Posts: 16subscriber
    Hey Fred.
    To throw a little more fly into the ointment, consider the following in addition to what has already been offered:
    When using open source software, you need to learn PHP or at least be able to navigate your way through it on an as-needed basis.  There`s almost no way of getting around it.  Likewise for web account security issues, you need to know what to look for in order to secure your website.  Just because the software instructions say to do X, Y, or Z, it may not be the best for your situation or server setup or it may stop short of telling you the permissions to change AFTER you`ve installed the software.  Part of knowing what to look for comes with time.
    Also, if you use the web host software installation like Fantastico that comes with cPanel, it has been known to have only the previous version of some packages, not necessarily the latest version that may have security or feature bug fixes.  Therefore, you need to be able to install software patches and it could be somewhat often depending on the software.  When upgrades or patches are needed, it may require you to re-do nearly all of your customizations especially if those customizations are outside of the layout template.
    Open source is free and that`s nearly all that I use, but it can be quite time-consuming.  Personally, I prefer it over hiring a webmaster b/c I maintain control over my website including documenting all of the changes made since installation.
    Software construction has changed quite a bit since 2000 in many ways especially in how some developers are using OOP, Ajax, CSS, XHTML, and even PHP itself, etc.  Since you`ve already had programming experience, it should [easy] enough to pick up even without having had PHP experience.
    The documentation of many software solutions have come a long way since 2000, which should help you greatly. I would suggest though, that you install the latest version of any software and after installation, have your web host change directory and file ownership from e.g. `nobody` to your account.  It will greatly enhance your web security.
    Consider captcha e.g. built-in feature or reCaptcha especially if not built-in (some folks don`t like captcha and may complain) or some other methodology to prevent bots from submitting your forms with tons of bogus data that you have to clean out of your database. Even with that, more needs to be done to close the gaps. 
    You`ll be able to find out about spam issues with a given software by going to their forums and searching for `spamming,` etc.  You may be amazed at what you find out about some of the more popular software.
    Just a thought.
  • getcompanygetcompany Posts: 1subscriber
    Thanks everyone for the great comments and questions.  I had some additional comments and questions for each of you too, but all feel free to read/comment.Nicole - right now the site is mostly a retail site (although not a very good one).  I`d like to add a wholesale login for store buyers to show different prices and possibly different products (ie, new designs). Another feature I might want is the ability to be able to see different product photos for each product. Right now there is just one photo, but I might want a different photo for each color or even to show different views of the same product.  Another possible feature is to capture the order history for each retail user and even wholesale user.  This is a "nice to have", so I can offer specials to those who might order a lot.   Overall, the website will be a mixture of ecommerce pages and static pages too. 
    For wholesale I have current store customers that normally order through a printed catalog.  Hopefully, through email lists, facebook, AdWords, web searches (hopefully by having good SEO) new stores and people (retail) can find the site.
    In any case, I`d love to hear some of you "evils of ecommerce packages" info!Roland - in regards to SEO, what does SEO-friendly out of the box mean?  I have seen this term written elsewhere.  And how is it different than those sitebuilders some hosts provide (besides the sample you gave me)?  I know I need to look at keywords, well written content, title tags, site maps, submission to search engines, link building strategies,
    ]]>but what are OS platforms providing in regards to SEO...
    Based on all the posts I`ve read in this forum I seem to be leaning toward Zencart, but Magneto intrigues me too.  Any thoughts?Edgar - with the code error in Joomla, does that mean it`s not currently working for anyone using this as their ecommerce platform?
    How does a template from template monstor affect SEO?  Most likely if I found one I liked, I`d still make some modifications to give it my own look and feel.  And how is this different from creating a page using what the open source solution (for example Joomla) provides for web page creation?Profitizer
    i guess i just assumed the open source solution took care of security for credit cards, etc. via https.  Are you talking about when someone enters their credit card info or for log in to the admin panel, etc.?
    Overall, I hope the admin part isn`t too time consuming such as patches, etc. and I`d hate to re-do a lot of work!  I`m going to have to research XHTML nd AJAX as those are definitely new to me.  Great advice about the bots and spamming - I never would have thought of that or think I have to worry about them.
    Thanks again everyone. I guess I need to look at the detailed features these open sources solutions provide and also what the hosts supports, provides in regards to tech support, etc. Fun stuff!
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber

    Roland - in regards to SEO, what does SEO-friendly out of the box mean?  I have seen this term written elsewhere.  And how is it different than those sitebuilders some hosts provide (besides the sample you gave me)?  I know I need to look at keywords, well written content, title tags, site maps, submission to search engines, link building strategies,

    ]]>
    but what are OS platforms providing in regards to SEO...

    Based on all the posts I`ve read in this forum I seem to be leaning toward Zencart, but Magneto intrigues me too.  Any thoughts?

     
    Typically, hosted site builders are proprietary - so you can not easily more your site content / database, etc to a new host should you want. Also typically, sitebuilders have some design and SEO limitations.
     
    With the ecommerce options I suggest (ZenCart), some basic and critical SEO is built-in - part of the program. The web page title changes with the content / product viewed. There is not special coding or meta-whatever you need to do to accomplish this.Also, there are "cookie crumbs" which help search engine and (importantly) make the site more user friendly.
     
    With ZenCart you can specify meta tag information if you want. The ecommerce site is search engine friendly as menu items (products or categories) can be seen by search bots.
     
    I have not used Magneto

    ~Roland
     
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    Profitizer
    i guess i just assumed the open source solution took care of security for credit cards, etc. via https.  Are you talking about when someone enters their credit card info or for log in to the admin panel, etc.?
    Overall, I hope the admin part isn`t too time consuming such as patches, etc. and I`d hate to re-do a lot of work!  I`m going to have to research XHTML nd AJAX as those are definitely new to me.  Great advice about the bots and spamming - I never would have thought of that or think I have to worry about them.

     
    I do not agree totally with Profitizer. To admin a ZenCart site you do not need to know PHP.  Just ask Janie - http://houseofjerky.net (a ZenCart site).
     
    As far as https: - SSL for your site. That is separate from the ecommerce program. You can run an ecommerce program with or without an SSL (although without an SSL you may lose customers). Once an SSL is installed, you would configure your ecommerce program to accommodate it. This is a simple matter to accomplish.
     
    I think much of what Profitizer notes are vaild issues, but these would be addressed by an experienced web host and/or web designer. I have installed many ecommerce sites using fantastico. At times the program version available through fantastico may lack behind the current version, but ZenCart and other ecommerce programs do not change a lot - that is, there is not a new version every month or even every year.
     
    ~Roland
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    Nicole - right now the site is mostly a retail site (although not a very good one).  I`d like to add a wholesale login for store buyers to show different prices and possibly different products (ie, new designs). Another feature I might want is the ability to be able to see different product photos for each product. Right now there is just one photo, but I might want a different photo for each color or even to show different views of the same product.  Another possible feature is to capture the order history for each retail user and even wholesale user.  This is a "nice to have", so I can offer specials to those who might order a lot.   Overall, the website will be a mixture of ecommerce pages and static pages too. 
    For wholesale I have current store customers that normally order through a printed catalog.  Hopefully, through email lists, facebook, AdWords, web searches (hopefully by having good SEO) new stores and people (retail) can find the site.

     
    All of of those "nice to haves" can be done with ZenCart.
     
    ~roland
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    Edgar - with the code error in Joomla, does that mean it`s not currently working for anyone using this as their ecommerce platform?
    How does a template from template monstor affect SEO?  Most likely if I found one I liked, I`d still make some modifications to give it my own look and feel.  And how is this different from creating a page using what the open source solution (for example Joomla) provides for web page creation?
     
    Typically, templates do not affect SEO... but are more about design.
     
    ~Roland
  • profitizerprofitizer Posts: 16subscriber

    Profitizer
    i guess i just assumed the open source solution took care of security for credit cards, etc. via https.  Are you talking about when someone enters their credit card info or for log in to the admin panel, etc.?
    Overall, I hope the admin part isn`t too time consuming such as patches, etc. and I`d hate to re-do a lot of work!  I`m going to have to research XHTML nd AJAX as those are definitely new to me.  Great advice about the bots and spamming - I never would have thought of that or think I have to worry about them.
     I do not agree totally with Profitizer. To admin a ZenCart site you do not need to know PHP.  Just ask Janie - http://houseofjerky.net (a ZenCart site). As far as https: - SSL for your site. That is separate from the ecommerce program. You can run an ecommerce program with or without an SSL (although without an SSL you may lose customers). Once an SSL is installed, you would configure your ecommerce program to accommodate it. This is a simple matter to accomplish. I think much of what Profitizer notes are vaild issues, but these would be addressed by an experienced web host and/or web designer. I have installed many ecommerce sites using fantastico. At times the program version available through fantastico may lack behind the current version, but ZenCart and other ecommerce programs do not change a lot - that is, there is not a new version every month or even every year. ~Roland

    Roland and Fred,
    My main objective was to address what to consider in going the open source route.
    I`ve installed many software open source packages both free and fee-based and in some of the more popular packages of all types, you`ll find community users complain that they have to apply a patch or upgrade for whatever reason (normally bug fixes and security) on a semi-regular basis.  No software package is really immune.  For Zen Cart, Roland seems to have answered at least that question for you. 
    You always want to enter into something with your eyes open versus finding out when it`s difficult, embarrassing and/or time-consuming to resolve.  I`ve seen or read about that situation too many times over the years.  And by the way, there are some very experienced webmasters and web hosts who don`t necessarily recommend installing older software versions just for that very reason (security and bug fixes) and I personally agree for my own purposes, but that doesn`t mean it shouldn`t be done. As Roland mentioned, it works fine for him.
    As far as my mentioning PHP as an ability to have, typically, once the software is installed, most times, you don`t need to know PHP especially for those mature packages. It`s just that once you get into learning a software package, you are bound to find something you want to customize to better fit your business as one size doesn`t always fit all.  Especially since you have a programming background, you`ll tend to look at things from a different perspective than those without that background.
    Although I hear folks say quite often, "it`s so-and-so`s responsibility..." like a programmer, designer, employee, etc., the final responsibility rests with the business owner regardless.  Therefore, if you go into having a website built and installed whether open source, template, or other, it is still up to you to make sure that patches get installed when there are some, especially for security and performance fixes. You`ll have much more to worry about if you experience an exploit by someone who has entirely too much time on their hands (which is usually how the developer finds out about security holes) or if your customer uses that software and a feature doesn`t behave properly and it had already been fixed in that later version that was available but not installed.  You`ll find out much more by spending some time reading the software`s community forum threads to see many of the common issues and whether those issues are important to you.
    That`s all I was trying to say.  Just be aware of what you are embarking upon.  Sometimes software looks quite easy and logical and seems right for an application, but as you peel away the onion skin, you`re eyes sometimes do water and you may find yourself really crying.  If that happens, it`s preferred that it be early on so you don`t have to shut down your site or disable a software application whether temporarily or permanently to deal with that which should have been known up-front.
    Good luck in your endeavor.
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    Profitizer,
     
    All good and valid points  which as you say, a person should have in mind when deciding what to do for setting up an ecommerce site.
     
    Since I am familiar the ZenCart and other open source ecommerce solutions, I may think it is easier than it really is... plus, my approach is to do everything with the ecommerce set-up so the site owner only needs to deal with the day to day operation of his/her site.
     
    ~Roland
     
    vwebworld6/11/2009 3:11 PM
  • vwebworldvwebworld Posts: 40subscriber
    I`d agree that what you want done can probably be done with ZenCart, but I disagree that design doesn`t effect SEO. I think the design of a site can have an impact on everything - sales, SEO, success. Unfortunately, no major cart software that I have come across has solved the design issue in the way that I would like ... but I do keep hoping. Until then, there are packages that are "good enough" lol.

     
    I agree a poorly designed site will affect its` success. Let me clarify my statement about using a template for an ecommerce site (like ZenCart).
     
    The SEO features are part of the ZenCart program, not part of the template. The basic difference between using the default ZenCart layout and a template is the information/content is displayed differently on the web page (and the graphics are different).
     
    So, the SEO feature of having the product name in the "title" of each web page does not change because you use a template. Neither does the meta tag information.
     
    The presentation of product information can vary, some templates may or may not include a "model #" area.... however, many of those fields can be turned on or off through the admin panel.
     
    The presentation of what appears on the home page, may also vary... but hear again the admin panel controls if "featured" items, or "Specials, or "banners" appear on the home page (not the template).
     
    ZenCart`s admin panel and  its CSS design has evolved to a place where most items impacting SEO are controlled through the admin panel and not by the template.  OR if the template does not use those SEO items, you can still turn them on through the admin panel.
     
    ~Roland
    vwebworld6/11/2009 7:08 PM
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