Earlier this year we ran a series of interview on developers of very high-profile Joomla websites. Now in a new series we're talking with developers of normal business websites and interesting aspects of their work.
Why did you pick Joomla as a platform for this site?
The client is a Chamber of Commerce with an annual budget set each year, so open source was a appropriate choice to squeeze in a web project without having to go back to the board of directors. It also allowed Hathway Tech to deploy the site in a fraction of the time it took to custom develop the site.
How did you persuade the Chamber of Commerce to use Joomla?
The chamber approached all of the local web development companies (there are at least 20 in our town) and asked for bids to build the chamber's new news website. The two requirements were that the website be built on a CMS and that the web developer use Open Source software that did not require excessive "hard" costs and recurring license fees. The Chamber employee in charge of the project was familiar with Drupal and as such initially suggested that as an option. We sold them on Joomla for a few reasons, namely cost, extensibility, features, quick time to deploy, and our own proficiency with the CMS.
Why did you pick a Rockettheme template instead of custom designing a template?
We embrace open source technology whenever possible. Design is certainly no exception. If an existing pro theme is close enough to your final goal, it can save time and money to modify it for your needs. It just so happened that Media Mogul Essentials was extremely close to the client's requirements.
What is your process of selecting extensions for a Joomla project?
This is one of the most critical phases in Joomla development. We always try to consult with the client to determine his or her needs and then find solutions that meet as big of a portion of them as possible. When actually selecting extensions, we first look to see if the core Joomla extensions will suffice, and then head on over to the JED or our own compilation of the best Joomla extensions. In this case, we were able to leverage com_content, com_weblinks, and com_contact for much of the site.
What extensions did you end up using?
We chose the extensions we used based on our normal protocol and the client's requirements. Since cost was an issue, free GPL extensions were considered first. We also took into account the experience level of the client and the ease of managing those extensions. We chose Acajoom for the newsletter extension because it is free and very easy to use. The chamber needed to be able to import and keep the newsletter lists in sync with other databases, so Acajoom's CSV import tool helped a lot. GK news show is really cool because it allows them to publish latest news with intros and thumbnails separated by category, all on their homepage.
Were there any major technical challenges?
After we finished the site and deployed it to the client's site, the client ended up accidentally deleting the database. Luckily we still had a local copy on our dev server and were able to Joomlapack it and deploy it in under an hour. I highly recommend keeping a local copy of every site for at least a few months after you deploy it. It also can help your portfolio if the client ends up making major changes to the site or breaking it.
How is the Chamber of Commerce liking the site?
The absolutely love it. The webmaster, Whitney Diaz, has been able to keep the site content updated without much need for ongoing support. She barely even knows HTML, so it is a testimonial for Joomla's ease of use.
Since last year, slo-business.com has seen a 138.67% increase in traffic, a 32.99% increase in returning visitors and our Search Engine Optimization has improved with a 52.11% increase in traffic from search engines.
What is the most active part of the site?
That goes without saying: content, content, content! The Chamber adds new items to the main news section and Tech Talk blog regularly. The site is steadily growing and getting more traffic, which is great for the client, great for my company's credibility in our community, and great for Joomla.
What is next for the Chamber of Commerce in San Luis Obispo?
Well, they have two other website, Slochamber.org and visitslo.com, neither of which are built on a robust CMS. We've been pushing them to convert those sites over to Joomla, but you know how it is with public entities. I just joined the Chamber's Technology Advocacy Committee, and one of its goals is monetizing the Chamber's websites. We will be working with the Chamber to figure out some strategies for banner advertisement, sponsored articles, and other ways of earning money.
Does the Chamber aim to monetize the websites?
Well, the chamber has a committee called the "Technology Advocacy Committee" that is responsible for guiding the chamber's policies in regards to technology. One of the subcommittees is the "Webenue" committee that is responsible for monetizing the chamber's web presence. I recently joined both committees, long after we finished the website. The chamber has three websites, all on different systems. Slo-business.com is the newest, the Joomla website we built. Slochamber.org is the chamber's primary website but is not on a CMS and as such doesn't get updated very often. Visitslo.com is probably to most popular of the three but it also not built on a CMS. They also have a third-party database of all businesses in the chamber that is linked to from all three sites.
Monetizing these three sites is a difficult task for a few technical and non-technical reasons. First, they cater to different audiences. Slochamber.org caters only to Chamber members and locals looking for businesses in a given category. Slo-business.com caters to local business people that want to keep up on business news and issues affecting business. Visitslo.com caters entirely to tourists researching vacations. Each of these different audiences needs its own method of advertising both from the advertisers and from the site visitors. For example, a hotel would advertise on Visitslo but not on Slo-business, and a web development company like us would advertise on Slo-business but not Visitslo. From a technical perspective, the non-cms based sites are difficult to keep updated and don't have access to advertising scripts like the Joomla-based Slo-business.com does. Advertising on Slo-business.com will be easy to manage through the core Banners component (publication, tracking, keyword association, etc), Google Adsense plugins, and plugins that dynamically insert banners and Google ads into content. This is just way more difficult on a static website. Add to this the fact that SEO is driven by content, and you can easily see that a CMS is a stong platform for revenue growth through traffic increases.
As such, we have been leaning on them to transition the other websites to Joomla so they can be integrated with each other and easily monetized. With any public organization, this is not a simple task, so we are working with what we can. Slo-business.com is a great foot in the door that we are trying to utilize to build a better system for the client.
What is your favorite part of Joomla development?
More often then you think, clients come to us at their wit's end saying something like: "I hate Joomla. It is so inflexible and doesn't do anything I want it to do. If you can't help me, I'm going to throw in the towel and move to another system." You might think I am exaggerating, but this has actually happened a few times. The first time the company had hired a low-cost freelancer to design the site template, and the developer neglected to include any module positions in the template. Not a single one! The menu's were output directly in the template, and the only jdoc statements were for the component and the head. They had single articles with hardcoded links to other articles instead of using category pages. With one quick look at the site, I was able to promise the client a 180 degree turnaround on their expectations and opinion about Joomla. We delivered big time, and the client is now boasting about the site and telling the world about Joomla (that site is www.dolanlumber.com). I very much enjoy spreading the word about this great CMS and setting the record straight when people haven't been properly trained or given a working website.
Tell us a bit about We Are Hathaway
We actually got introduced to Joomla a while back before we decided to do web development full time. Since then we have worked on over 100 Joomla sites and are proud to represent Joomla to the world and help it grow, especially in the USA. We are looking forward to bigger projects and proving that Joomla and open source are viable options for even large companies and public organizations.