How to run a business, have a family and write a book at the same time.

Don’t let me fool you, the title of this post makes it sound like it is all possible.

Well, maybe it is. But there are a few reasons  it has taken me so long to post an update on my blog, and the heading says it all. It has been a long, active year.

Financial year end has come and gone. We are doing some final numbers, but last year was a good one for our online business.

To sum up, we:

  • Completed the sales of our fishing business www.tacklemania.com.au
  • Grew our Magento Development business, taking on some larger projects
  • Became Magento Partners in Australia
  • Grew sales in our retail business where it mattered
  • Grew our shipping label system www.readytoship.com.au over 260%
  • Added some retail services, providing a managed service for the eBay channel
  • Greatly improved our overall business position
  • Made some great new business contacts (and friends)
And on a personal note my wife and I added another girl to the family, so there has been lots of activity on that front. This has certainly kept us busy. Two girls can be a challenge sometimes!
Then there is the book. I was mentioned as a possible author for a book, and accepted the task. I knew I didn’t have much time but it is one of those things that I have on one of those secret lists tucked away on the back of your mind and I really wanted to tick it off the list. So this has meant inventing some more work hours, usually between 10pm and 1am. It is taking it’s toll.
Just writing this makes me feel a little bit guilty, as I should be finishing up a few more edits now for a deadline, and completing a presentation I will be doing at the internet conference in the Gold Coast later this week (check it out here: www.internetconference.com.au)!
It just doesn’t stop at the moment! But January will be a landmark month for me I think. Ushering in 2012 with a fresh outlook on business opportunity that has begun this July, a book in the wild, co-authored by me (yikes, I am nervous already, it should be on shelves in Dec), and finger crossed no more kids! :)

Melbourne Magento User Group catch up

The Melbourne Magento user group (organised by our friends at Fontis) is meeting again, on September 14th, 2010.

This time it is an information event, designed for developers/agencies, clients and those people interested in the platform to catch up and chat.

As Magento Developers and consultants it is always nice to meet people interested in the product that we work with every day, so I look forward to seeing a few people there!

Click here for details!

eCommerce Cowboys, the ‘Yes’ Men.

We don’t profess to be the world’s best eCommerce company. Probably far from it.

But we have a lot of experience in online  retail and development (10 years+) and we use that experience to help our clients in the best way possible.

Recently we have been getting a few Magento & other eCommerce clients coming to us for assistance, for reasons that fall into one of the categories below:

  • Previous developer is unreliable
  • Spent too long trying to get something up and running, need it finished
  • Have tried number of devs, need someone to help
  • Don’t have many sales or much traffic, help!

Our most recent client came to us with a Magento site that had been built by a 3rd party. They wanted someone reliable to help them with development and some consulting. They wanted to know why after spending all this money and 3+ months of development and effort they hadn’t received a single sale.

What frustrates me isn’t the clients that want to get something done economically. It is the ‘I.T. Consultants’ out there that say ‘Yes’. These cowboys might be ok at I.T, and might have a little experience but please be honest when dealing with customers. If someone comes to you and says “can you build me a solid site that functions well and will get some traffic and generate sales’, don’t say Yes when you know it will be a learning curve.

Don’t waste their time.

Don’t waste their money.

Don’t ruin your reputation.

Reputation in the online world (and development in particular) is key. You simply can’t afford a bad reputation or you can lose business.

So why did this nice looking site not have any sales yet?

The answer turns out to be the contents of Robots.txt on the server

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

*sigh*

Simple fix that makes us look good. But it’s a pretty basic thing to overlook!

Participate in our Search Engine Optimisation Conversation Cafe, SHARE AND LEARN!

Learn about the latest trends in Search Engine Optimisation at our Search Marketing conversation cafe session in Melbourne (8 June 2010)

We’re keeping it small and personal!  Book now $49 (only limited seats left!)

You are  invited to attend our first  Conversation Cafe  discussion on the state of search, latest trends and how it can be used to boost traffic to your site.

The event will offer a unique chance to participate in a discussion and learn lessons from participants Teresa Sperti, Adam Griffiths and myself.

The event is designed to provide people with the opportunity to participate in a robust discussion about factors affecting the search industry, to share best practice and to discuss the latest trends.

The format of the session will largely be discussion based, aimed at allowing online retailers/multi channel retailers to share knowledge in the area of organic search engine optimization.

This round table is a collaboration between Teresa Sperti (Head of Marketing & Technology of realestateVIEW.com.au, and owner of blog digitalmarketinglab.com.au), Adam Griffiths (Get Started) and Mark Freidin and yours truly of InternetRetailing.com.au

Discussion Topics

1.    What role is social media playing within your search strategy
2.    How is real time changing the search landscape and how is this changing your search tactics?
3.    Measurement of search in a world of personalisation
4.    How are organisations optimising for mobile search
5.    How have organisations adapted their search strategy to Bing

Interested in attending?

LIMITED SEATS AVAILABLE, click here for more info!

Want an easy way to boost Shopping.com ROI?

For some time now, the shopping.com comparison shopping site just hasn’t converted well for my own retail sites, or those of many of our clients and friends.

Shopping.com can provide great traffic to your site, no doubt. But quality has been lacking (I am talking about Australia’s shopping.com portal, but this may apply internationally as well?).

We use and recommend Getprice.com.au, myshopping.com.au and a few other sites depending on the vertical.

Now the reason for the Shopping.com traffic quality and poor conversion rate turned out to be the relationship they have with eBay. Basically, eBay display a lot of Shopping.com product ads across their site and this drives a lot of the Shopping.com traffic (in Australia at least) that you will receive.

And you guessed it, it converts terribly!

After a chat with they guys from The Nile last week I discovered that simply on request, Shopping.com can disable the eBay visibility component of your product listings!

So, if you have poor conversion from Shopping.com traffic, and you know your ads appear in eBay, contact a rep at shopping.com and get them turned off to try it out. You just might find Shopping.com starts to convert a whole let better…

Web Performance Optimisation (WPO)

One of my business partners sent me a great link yesterday and I was thinking about it a little tonight.

The post is located here : http://www.stevesouders.com/blog/2010/05/07/wpo-web-performance-optimization/

Steve names a new type of business and this is Web Performance Optimisation (with a nice TLA of WPO!). I wonder if we will see WPO offered as a specific service by people soon? I know we have performance some (more specific) Magento performance optimisation for customers as we have seen demand for that.

Google recently announced that it takes page load times into account now, in delivering search results to customers. Although it expects this new action may inly impact about 1% of all websites, it still highlights a growing need for performance.

And some of the references in the Steve Souder’s article highlight somet interesting statistics. Let me quote :

The major search engines measured how much web site slowdowns hurt their business metrics:

On the faster side, companies from a variety of vertical markets had praise for the benefits gained from improving performance:

I find that pretty interesting, and it means a lot for your websites.

So, how do you start evaluating our own website performance, and how can you improve it?

We typically look at a number of areas of performance, and the utilise some tools/services to try and improve in each area. But I do admit, in our own business we haven’t done enough of this recently.

but here are a few good places to start :

Page weight

There are some great tools out there that analyse your page components, and test how long they take to load. Web server performance can have an impact on this, but often it is large image files, and lots of CSS/javascript that are the culprits.

How do you fix it? Use some great little plugins in the Firefox browser to analyse your pages and make suggestions.

MUST HAVE Firefox plugins for developers and website owners are

Yslow will provide a rating of lots of page elements, and give you links to help pages that explain what the grading means (if you have an ‘F’, you fail!), and what to fix.

Server Load

There are lots of tweaks you can do to a web server, but checking the server load can give you some ideas on how hard it is working.

The simple ‘top’ command on a unix command prompt can give you a lot of information (Google for help), and you can also set up monitoring tools (like Zabbix for instance) that can monitor and alert you on all sorts of performance and system elements.

Some things you can look at when analysing server performance:

  • Server location
    • Is your host slow? Google for reviews!
    • Is it hosted in another country? Distance = delay
    • Is it a shared host, with lots of websites on the same machine?
  • Server specification
    • Does it have low memory?
    • Slow internet connection?
    • Does it have any caching enabled?
    • Does it have fast disk access?
  • Software
    • Do you have recent versions of software? (it’s usually best to have new stable versions)
    • Use a faster webserver if you can (lighttpd, nginx etc)
    • Are you running web server and database server on the same machine?

Server configuration can be a complex area of performance, and you can do any number of things to boost performance including getting right down to recompiling software like the operating system kernel itself to boost throughput.

Start simple, do some research online, and ask people for help!

Caching

There are many ways to enable caching on servers and websites, but the most common are :

Gzip for webservers

Most hosts will allow you to edit the .htaccess file on your webserver to enable compression of html/javascript/css etc. What this effectively does is compresses data, sends it to the customer’s browser which then decompresses it on the fly.

This can result in a BIG decrease in page load times.

PHP Caching

Caching for website code can be great for performance, and give many websites run on PHP code these days, there are a few caching mechanisms around that might help.

The most popular are Xcache, eAccelerator etc. See link for more info here.

MySQL caching

Like PHP, MySQL is the webserver of choice for so many websites, that it deserves its own section!

Improving MySQL cache settings can make a huge difference to your site, especially for database intensive websites like Magento.

See this search for some ideas on what to tweak.

Cool stuff

I also wanted to mention some other neat little apps for testing page load times.

They are

  • Chartbeat
    • This is a neat little tool. Install some simple little javascript tags on your pages and chartbeat shows you in real time how long your customers are waiting for page loads, what page they are on, and whay they are doing on your website.
  • Loadimpact.com
    • This tool can test your webserver performance with an increasing number of customers, so you can measure the improvements that you make.
  • ab
    • No, not a typo. ‘ab’ is an apache benchmark application. It is often installed on a unix server, and can test server response times. For example, the command ‘ab -c 10 -t 60 http://yourdomain.com/yourpage.html’ would test the server response and page load times on your web page with 10 concurrent users for 60 seconds continously. Use this in between changes to help identofy improvements.

‘WPO’ covers a huge range of things. Everything from hardware configuration, to server software and config through to application performance tuning.

I have only hit the tip of the iceberg in this post, but I hope it gives you a few starting points when trying to make your website run that little bit faster.

And, if you want some professional advice you can always contact us here.

Increase your eBay prices by 500% ??

Anthill magazine posted a link to a great video by some of the  guys the other day. I just got around to watching it (I kinda store ‘Favourites’ from twitter posts during the week, and check them out later).

I have blogged before about various strategies and methods to boost the prices you get on eBay, and one of the most important is an engaging ad for your product. This could be brighter pics, funny description, personal description, wierd title, or all of the above. It’s all about your market and customer.

And I think this little video is a great example of the result you can get by applying a bit of creativity!

Check it out :

A Magento to eBay Extension

So, Magento to eBay extension. Now it’s a reality… I bet Magento users will be interested in this!

eBay has been a great platform for us, and so is Magento. Bringing them closer together is an interesting strategy, and for some of our websites, a Magento to eBay Extension would be great.

Being long time users of ChannelAdvisor software to manage our listings for mulitple accounts and countries, I think we have been able to make good use of our inventory and the few channels available to us in Australia.

Magento became our online store of choice about a year ago, and we have since become quite adept at Magento development.

And as times change, you naturally look at longer term solutions to problems, and we have started investigating a Magento to eBay connector that has recently been released. (more…)

DealsDirect.com.au signs sponsorship deal with Netball Australia

I noticed this little bit of news this evening :

Netball Australia has signed a sponsorship deal with online department store, DealDirect.com.au. The new, two-year sponsorship makes DealsDirect.com.au one of three Gold Sponsors of Netball Australia, along with Holden and San Remo. DealsDirect.com.au will support Netball Australia’s online membership portal, MyNetball, the Holden Netball Test Series and will take up naming rights of the National Netball Championships.

Naming rights is a great way to get exposure to a demographic that must obviously be strong with them – females.

I can’t remember hearing of another online pureplay ecommerce business securing naming rights sponsorship to any series like this before? Maybe I am wrong? (If so, please let me know!)

It really is an interesting move, and like any foray into ‘offline’ advertising I am guessing it will be a bit of a test (although they would have to be fairly confident of results, the sponsorship deal wouldn’t be cheap). Other pureplays like Carsales.com.au have been using TV ads, and radio, perhaps with reasonable success as they continue to use those mediums. DealsDirect also tried a little TV, but Paul Greenberg, co-founder, wasn’t jumping for joy about the results the last time I asked him. ‘Too hard to measure effectively’ was the summary of his response.

Lets hope Netball is a little more targeted, and a good ROI for them.

Can’t access admin area after upgrading to Magento 1.4?

Me neither. Well, I can now after a manual fix.

The upgrade via MagentoConnect seemed to run successfully, but I immediately got a server 500 error when trying to access front and backend. *Sigh*. I reset all file permissions, and cleared cache folders (/var/cache and /var/session). The front end worked then, but no back end.

I was a little surprised by a problem like this, given that Varien had bowed to much open source public pressure to tighten up its release process to ensure that ‘stable’ releases were in fact stable. It was evident that nearly every man and his dog would immediately run an upgrade on their production website every time a .1.1 release was put out without testing first.  I felt for them!

I had expected therefore that the 1.3.2.4 dev site that I had installed on a shared host we use for ourselves and clients would upgrade to Magento 1.4 CE via MagentoConnect smoothly…

(more…)