Archive for January, 2007

Placing Ads Next to Adsence Ads on your Blog

Google adsenseMore and more blogs are trying to draw attention to their ads by placing graphics next to them, as shown in this sample from Google. The idea is to avoid misleading readers into thinking that the images are associated with the ads.

While Google makes it very clear that any images near an ad should not be associated with the ad by subject, they are not clear about random associations between ads and images, as created by plugins such as Adsense Beautifier. In fact, it is generally hard, if not impossible to know exactly what ads will appear on your site, and in which order, so how could you directly show a connection between your images and a particular ad?

Actually, I have noticed that a number of websites have stopped using Adsense Beautifier, and I think that is a shame. I find plain text ads boring and kind of ugly (but I have them on my site anyway!), and I think that if used tastefully and without the intent to mislead, images near ads can be a good thing, for readers and advertisers.

Google needs to provide more clear guidelines, specifically, what is acceptable. I know this is hard, but I think it is necessary. The alternative is that some people will find alternative methods for monetizing their websites, and others will give up on website revenue all together.

What is your opinion?

Clean URLs in Drupal: Getting Them to Work

Although everything is fully explained on the Drupal site, getting clean URLs to work can be tricky. Actually, it is more a matter of confusion. If you are not confused, you will have no trouble. If you are confused, you may be missing something.

The first thing to understand is the Run the clean URL test. When you click this link, Drupal attempts to go to [your domain]/admin/settings/clean-urls, for example www.allergy-details.com/admin/settings/clean-urls. If you get a 404, then your system has failed the test, and you have to configure it to work. If you end up at the Clean URLs configuration page, then all is well, and you can enable clean URLs.

There is no actual path to …/admin/settings/clean-urls, so if the test generates a 404, don’t go looking for this missing file!

Note: The following applies only to Apache servers.

What you need to do is fix .htaccess. This is part of the Drupal installation, but it can sometimes go missing. In my case, I used FileZilla to move the extracted Drupal files down a directory to where they belong, the .htaccess file got left behind (because it starts with a dot, FileZilla can’t see it).

There are two ways to fix this problem. One is to use your server’s control panel to move the .htaccess file to where it belongs (in the root directory of your Drupal installation). The other option is to edit the existing .htaccess file, remove all contents, and replace it with the correct contents. If you unzip the .htaccess file from the Drupal .zip on your PC, you can copy the contents from there. Or you can copy them from this post (if you are viewing this post from the front page of my website, or from an archive, you will have to click the “read more” link to see the .htaccess file contents from this post).

Continue reading

Enable Comments or Not on your Blog

This article is inspired by a post on John TP’s blog about comments. He suggests that new bloggers turn off comments. The theory is that if you have comments turned on, and no one comments, then visitors will assume that your blog is unpopular and won’t come back.

I think this is all based in fear - fear of rejection by even techno-geeks!

 

I would not dream of turning comments off. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Even when I started out, I got a few comments. I even had a few conservations with other website operators by leaving comments on each other’s blog. It was fun, and hey, I got comments!
  2. If I see a blog with comments turned off, I don’t tend to spend much time with it unless it contains vital information. I don’t want to turn away readers from my blog, so I leave comments on. If no one has anything to say, let the comments area stay blank. If they do, it will fill up.
  3. A blog that has been around for a while with comments turned off will look really bad when suddenly comments are turned on again, and there are no comments! Better to grow organically.
  4. I write in an attempt to interest and inform my readers, depending on the post. If they (you for example) get something out of an article, great. I’ve done my job. Comments are just a bonus.

To me, the best strategy around comments on your blog is to leave them on, and work really hard at writing good content to attract readers, and encourage people to post comments (by the way, if you have something to say, feel free to leave a comment here, but don’t feel you have to).

 

I look at my server logs very often, to keep my finger on the pulse of my website. What interests me is the number of visitors I have, and how many go beyond the landing page to look at more of my material. That interests me as much as the comments I get.

Happy Blogging!

Setting up Path for Drupal Quickfile

If you have tried the Quickfile e-commerce module for Drupal, you may have had frustrations trying to get the paths right to reach your digital download files.

The path to a digital download file comes in two parts. Part one is supplied by the Directory for quickfiles parameter under the Quickfile module Main settings tab. Part two of the file path is supplied by a specific quickfile node in the file path parameter.

When you configure Quickfile, the Directory for quickfiles is relative to the root directory of your Drupal installation. If you create a directory called “digital_downloads”, then the Directory for quickfiles parameter should contain “digital_downloads” without any slashes (either before or after the path name).

Assuming you have no sub directories in your digital_downloads file, the File path parameter for a particular quickfile node is just the name of the file to be downloaded when purchased. Do not include a slash in front of the file name.

Visit the quickfile module setup thread for more information and ideas.

How to Back Up and Restore a Drupal Installation

It could have been a disaster. It very nearly was. Had I not done a full backup of my original Drupal installation of my allergy information website before attempting an upgrade to Drupal 5.0, it really would have been a disaster.

Assumptions

  • Your website consists of a Drupal installation only, and has no subdomains. If your situation is different, use this procedure as a guide, but watch out for how you might effect the rest of the website, and act accordingly.
  • Your Drupal installation uses the MySQL database.
  • You have access to the back end of your website, and access to phpMyAdmin to administer your database.

Website Backup

Here is how I did the backup of the Drupal installation:

  1. Put your Drupal website in maintenance mode. This will prevent changes to the content by users or visitors (e.g. adding comments) while you are doing the backup.
  2. Using FileZilla (any other FTP client will do), copy all files under the home directory (usually public_html) to your personal computer. This ensures that you can revert to the original code and basic configuration (e.g. name and password of database etc.)
  3. Back up the database. Good database backup instructions can be found on the Drupal site.
    In addition to the instructions on the Drupal site, I suggest you select the “Add DROP TABLE” option under Structure so that if you need to restore your database, you do not manually have to drop tables.

That’s it! You now have a full backup. I recommend you follow step 3 regularly so that you can always restore the content of your website should disaster strike. You should also copy the directory where you keep files (such as photos used in your posts) onto your personal computer.

Website Restore

Half way through my attempt at upgrading my Drupal-based website, I found that it was a failure, and that not only did I need to revert to the original code-base, I also had to restore the database.

I followed these steps:

  1. Delete all files under public_html.
    Note: If your website consists of more than just a Drupal installation (for example, subdomains), you must be careful what you delete! Step 2 above should get you back where you started, but at this stage you really only want to delete the Drupal part of your website.
  2. Upload the backup copy of your home directory to the server.
  3. Using phpMyAdmin, drop all tables in the Drupal database. (This should not be necessary if you selected the “Add DROP TABLE” option when you did the database backup).
  4. Select the Import tab in phpMyAdmin.
  5. Import the database backup file.

Your Drupal website should now be in exactly the same state as it was when you did the backup.

You will be well advised to practice this procedure on a test server (e.g. on your personal computer) so that you know exactly what works and what doesn’t for your installation. One little mistake during the backup could make it impossible to restore your site!

How to Log In to Drupal (when no login option available on front page)

DrupallogoYou may not want a log on option to appear on the front page of your Drupal-powered sight for some reason. For example, if the website is your business brochure, and you don’t want clients or prospects logging in, you may prefer to remove the login option from your front page. This is easy to do by editing the navigation menu.

So how do you, the site administrator, log in?

This is easy when you know how:[siteURL]/?q=user. For example www.yoursite.com/?q=user. Type “?q=user” literally, do not replace “user” with a user name. This will take you to the login page.

For more information, visit the Drupal site. The information above is from an explanation on how to login once you have turned your site off-line for maintenance.

eCommerce experiment: Zen Cart

I want to learn about ecommerce, and have decided to bring you on my journey.

To make the fist step as easy as possible, I will use PayPal only, and make some digital downloads available for sale. This simplifies the mechanics of my ecommerce system, so I can work on the ins and outs, before implementing a much more sophisticated e-commerce operation.

You might think the first step is to have something to sell. That is a good first step, but actually, I don’t - not yet anyhow. I have some ebooks I plan to write, but for me, I will be more motivated to write them if I know I have a way to sell them. For others, the motivation to work out how to sell something may only come with something to sell. In that case, I hope you find this series of articles useful.

Note that I will not be writing these articles on a schedule, but on an ad-hock basis, as I discover things that I think are worth sharing. Feel free to share too - feel free to add your comments (at the bottom of the article).

Digital Downloads

According to Wikipedia, a digital download applies to music (and software as well). The article needs more work - a digital download could be a whole lot more than that, including an audio book, an electronic book, a video, Flash, photographs, clip-art, you name it - if it can be turned into a digital file, it can become a digital download. If it has value, you can charge for it. If you market it well, and get enough visitors, you will surely sell some.

Payment

If you can collect money over the internet, then you can sell stuff on the internet, so this seems like a good place to start. Of course you could accept cheques through the mail, but this slow, awkward, and un-internet-like.

The easiest way to accept payments that I know of is PayPal. It is easy to apply for, easy to set up, well know (and therefore trusted), and allows shoppers to pay with a credit card.

Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly.

Other payment systems exist, but I am talking about the easiest and quickest way to get started.

Taking Orders

You can use PayPal to take orders too. This makes it very easy to get started, but there is a catch - PayPal does not offer a mechanism for selling digital downloads. If you want to get started with physical products, items that you will mail to your customers, PayPal is a great way to get started, to test the market without building complicated systems. You can either use their system to set up a “shopping cart” (allowing your website visitors to select several times, then pay for them all at once), or individual “buy now” buttons that allow visitors to order a single item at the click of a button. Either way, PayPal will send you an email with the order details (what they ordered, their name, address etc.), which you can then use to mail them the items they purchased from your store.

You could use this for digital products, but internet shoppers expect to be download a digital product immediately upon paying. If they have to wait for you to receive the order email, then email them the file (or a link to the file), they will be disappointed.

Digital Download Mechanism

Digital downloads are a great way to get started with an on-line store. ebooks, music, or digital photographs are examples of great digital products. If someone wants to download your MP3 song, they will expect immediate results, so PayPal on its own isn’t going to cut it.

Since this blog (and others, including my travel information website) run on WordPress, the natural choice is to find a plug in for WordPress that can handle ecommerce.

WordPress Shopping Cart

The only one I was able to find, wp-shopping-cart, looks good, and operates in a fairly nice way. It suffers from a fatal flaw - it doesn’t work! Well, I shouldn’t be quite so categorical about it - it didn’t work on my test system, when I discovered an article by Chris Garrett saying that wp-shopping-card didn’t work for him either, I decided not to waste my time trying to fix it. Eventually, I want to get big. Really big. So while I want to start with the smallest and easiest steps just to get going quickly, I am not prepared to fiddle with a system that is neither easy to get started with nor a long-term solution.

If you envision your full ecommerce solution consisting of WordPress and an integrated shopping cart, you should look into wp-shopping-cart some more, it does look like it is worth the trouble to make it work if you want to stick to WordPress.

Drupal Shopping Cart

I investigated ecommerce with Drupal enough to discover at least two solutions for integrating ecommerce into this very capable content management system.

The full-featured system is E-Commerce. I have not played with it yet (when I do, I will write about it), but I do know that buyers must have an account on your Drupal system to shop. This may or may not work for you.

Another system, perfect for digital products, is Quickfile. Again, I have not yet tried this out, but it allows for purchase of digital products without needing an account on your Drupal installation.

Zen Cart

Zen Cart is a stand alone ecommerce system, with good reviews from a number of sources. I am just trying a test installation of it now. I will have more to say about it after I’ve tried it out for a bit.

Do you have recommendations or suggestions on how to implement ecommerce? Feel free to share, leave a comment!

Sign up for PayPal and start accepting credit card payments instantly.

Typo3 vs Drupal

logo-typo3DrupallogoThere are so many content management systems to choose from, which one is best? I am a firm believer in open source, so I have limited my choice to open source systems. This still leaves a huge long list of CMS (content management systems) to choose from.

A while back I spent a lot of time checking out the options, and after some time, narrowed it down to WordPress or Drupal.

This article provides a little insight about each system, and provides my recommendation about how to choose between the two.

About Typo3

Along the way, I discovered Typo3 - a very powerful and interesting content management system. Typo3 looks like it can do just about anything, and looks extremely flexible. I spent quite a bit of time with it.

The problem with Typo3 is that it is very difficult to set up. The main problem are the templates - very powerful, but they are not based on any standard such as HTML or PHP etc. The developers have invented their own system, and you have to learn it from scratch. This is no trivial proposition, even for people who are good at this sort of thing and very tech-savvy.

Does Typo3 have place in the online world? It certainly does - it allows you do to do just about anything you could possibly imagine with a content management system. If there is a CMS out there with a feature, Typo3 probably has it too.

But this comes at a cost. As they say on the Typo3 website:

“… the flexibility and richness come with a price: complexity. If you’re not ready to spend a month learning the system and are in a hurry to satisfy a customer, you should probably look into getting somebody to help you or look for something else.”

Typo3 is well documented - probably better than any other open source content management system out there. They have a large pdf download library of Typo3 documentation which explains the system very well. The only problem is that you need to read almost all of it to understand the system.

About Drupal

Speaking of something else, Drupal is an excellent candidate. It is very capable, but only as complicated as you make it. The basic install is, well, pretty basic. Although you can do a pretty good website with it, you will almost certainly want to add modules to get it to do everything you want. They beauty of the Drupal system is that you only install what you need, so if you don’t need much, you end up with fairly simple system. Not really simple - if you want really simple and just a blog, WordPress is probably your best choice.

Drupal does take a while to set up, but as long as you are reasonably savvy with the basics of setting up web applications on a server, its not too bad. If you know any HTML and PHP, that will help you if you need to customize templates, but in many cases this will not be necessary. And if you decided to customize your templates and therefore need to learn (or learn more about) HTML and PHP, you will find this knowledge useful for other web projects.

Drupal is easy to get up and running, but takes some time to set up just the way you want. Chances are though, you will be able to get what you want using Drupal, without a huge time investment. And you can get started with something right away, then add modules and build features as you need them.

Drupal or Typo3

Unless you need a very specialized installation for a large organization, you are probably better with Drupal. Between the two, I recommend Typo3 only if Drupal does not meet your must-have requirements, or if you really like fiddling with esoteric systems. If you choose Typo3, you will certainly have a great site, as long as you put in the long hours and hard work to learn it properly.

Information About Content Management Systems

A good place to research content management systems is the CMS Matrix. It consists of a very long list of content management systems, popular and obscure, free and paid. It lists the features of each, and allows you to do a feature-by-feature comparison between several systems that you select.

Related Article - WordPress vs. Drupal

All of my fully operational websites use WordPress, and I am in the process of setting up some websites using Drupal.

Update! I now have two fully operational Drupal sites: an allergy information website, and my own SEO Service and Technical Writing Service website. The content is not complete, and the allergy site will have more modules added. Both sites work very well.

You can read my comparison of Drupal and WordPress.

Another WordPress Template Adjustment

The template I have been using for this and some of my other blogs had some serious flaws. The biggest was that you could not see hyper links! This has been corrected, by making some changes to the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) file.

While I was at it, I addressed another big problem: confusion over how to make comments. A number of people were telling me that they could see if comments had been made or not, but did not understand how to read the comments or leave their own. This lead me to suspect that the “Read more” link at the end of posts on the main page was not being used. When I look at my server logs, I can see that few people navigate beyond whatever page they land on.

As I made changes to the style sheet, I also felt the need to make adjustments to the layout, to make navigation more obvious. The template started to look messy, so I have moved a few things around.

I hope you will agree that this results in a website that is easier to read and easier to navigate.

I have also made the ads easer to see. As long as people take advantage of them, there will be a revenue stream from this website (and my other websites) which makes it all worth while. So I have changed the colour scheme of the ads so that they show up more. I hope they catch your eye, without distracting you too much or annoying you. I see some websites with bright red titles in the ads - this is ugly, and screams “click me, click me!” which makes me want to do the opposite. I hope I have come up with a tasteful and attractive alternative.

What do you think of the changes? Feel free to leave your comments .

For comparison, you can visit my travel information website. I have not yet changed that template, partly due to time constraints, and partly to see how the changes go over on this website. I might make further adjustments, based on your feedback.

I invite you to tell me just what you think about the layout, colour scheme and navigation of this website, so do please comment !