Advantages of Joomla Designer Websites

We have had an “on-again” “off-again” relationship with Joomla! for the past 10 years. We tried it back when it was Mambo. Then after Joomla emerged we tried its content management system. It was slow, buggy and easily hacked. We decided to wait until it was ready for prime time. Being a Joomla designer requires clients who have identified a unique aspect to using Joomla!, such as Moodle, and are willing to pay for the extra hours involved in using it.
joomla designer

Interestingly, it was always the requests of clients that got us to look at it again. Once I told a client that building sites in Joomla! is like playing the piano while wearing leather gloves. It’s harder to get a good feel for what’s underneath.

That’s a PHP programmer’s bias because most programmers like to isolate problem causing code and that’s harder to do in Joomla! Joomla! uses a modified MVC architecture that is as sophisticated as any out there. And the fact that it is written in PHP makes it accessible, once one is past the learning curve for how it likes to assimilate and access the different components, plug-ins and modules that make a site work.

Now that it has matured, Joomla is one of the major architectures that we use.  There are over 7,000 components, plug-ins and modules available for Joomla.  The better ones make possible a level of functionality that would cost over $100,000 to develop privately.  Often we are able to use them for an annual fee that is less than hosting a website.

Joomla! is a great fit for:

  • People who publish large amounts of information that needs to be categorized for ease of retrieval.
  • Websites requiring frequent content or display changes. That’s what content management systems are all about.
  • Websites that depend on resources not held at the current web host, such as RSS feeds or video displays.
  • Businesses where the responsibility for editing the website flows through different departments.
  • e-Commerce systems needing SKU tracking of inventory, real time shipping quotes and catalog sorting.

For example, if you are building a website for articles on better nutrition or baseball players then Joomla can save you many hours and dollars through its ability to easily retrieve and present the information.

Joomla! is NOT a good fit for beginners. Just setting up a simple menu link will seem alien to those with experience in static HTML pages.

The nomenclature can also be misleading. For example, the “Front Page” may or may not be what people see when they come to your site. It’s up to you.

Joomla! is so flexible that sometimes that overly complicates getting comfortable with it.

Joomla! boasts “Search Engine Friendly” links. They can be. They can also be a source of perpetual misery, depending upon how deeply nested your categories are.

How to Properly Use a Joomla! Website

If you are committed to having a Joomla! site we recommend the following:

1). Budget at least $200.00/month for general site maintenance. Joomla updates, table repairs new module installations, not to mention site backups. Maintenance can easily consume 3 to 5 hours. You will generally find it cheaper to hire a Joomla pro than to train an employee to keep things up.

2). Hire someone to custom write components and modules for you when the “off the shelf” stuff doesn’t work as you want it to. Joomla! has matured to the point that you can probably find relatively inexpensive extensions that will do most of what you want, but you should not settle for something cheaper if the work it needs to do is critical to your success. You already saved a bundle on the FREE Joomla! code. Spend some savings on making sure things work properly.

One word of caution: TEST ALL NEW SOFTWARE LOCALLY before you deploy it on your live site. Even then, the subtle differences you may encounter in a shared hosting environment can mean that the component that worked on your testing server will not work without adjustment on a shared hosting setup.

3). Invest some time and money in Joomla training.  It does not make sense to turn an employee loose on a Joomla website without the proper training. Common errors include lost menu choices, article corruption and even whole categories vanishing because the user misunderstood how to navigate the system. Don’t despair in those moments because a Joomla pro can probably recover your lost information.  Contact us.

Joomla! Programming Strengths

Joomla! has many strengths that translate into benefits for your website. The MVC (model-view-controller) structure that it uses is fast and well designed. It’s not pure object oriented programming, but it’s a good start. Joomla!

The modularity of Joomla! means that you can try new pieces and if they don’t work out you can DISABLE them with the click of a button.

You won’t have to re-build your site because something didn’t work out. Usually. Be careful of poorly written code that deletes tables or throws off un-trapped errors. You can usually read reviews of extensions before you try them. But beware of the publishers getting their friends to write glowing reviews. Most real developers will point out where the components can improve.

Fortunately, that’s where Joomla!’s next strength comes in. The community that supports this product is huge. For the most part they are amiable and willing to discuss your struggles. Sign up for the forum at https://www.joomla.org/

Joomla!’s flexibility is also its greatest weakness. People expect to drop in a module or plug-in and have it “auto-magically” work with everything else they are also calling for on a page. At times an extension’s failure to satisfy is being caused by something that has “first-rights” on a piece of page real estate or the development of a URL. Search engine friendly link makers are notorious for causing problems for other extensions that work properly on their own.

The separate CSS styling can be overwritten by a module that insists on doing things a particular way, so you may wind up learning more about CSS and how to change it with a suffix than you meant to.

These same strengths and weaknesses are also part of other CMS programs such as Drupal and WordPress.

Diagnostic adventures are part of what makes these websites fun.

Hire a Joomla Pro. Contact us and we will give you a quote on building your site today.

How to Solve A Joomla Problem

Diagnosing Joomla problems requires that you identify the location of the problem and then the source of the problem.
Of course, that also depends on what you label a problem.

For example, one user asks “The font size is too big on my catalog display.  Where do I fix that?”
What he is really expressing technically is not a Joomla problem.  It is a styling problem on his Joomla site.

It’s important to make that distinction because blaming the wrong source of a problem will lead to either an incomplete fix or a badly done patch that just covers up the real problem.

My favorite tool for isolating the point of origin on Joomla problems is Firebug in Mozilla’s Firefox.  Being able to determine whether what I am seeing is in the document object model (DOM), a JavaScript error or a CSS error helps me correct the issue.

Architectural problems in Joomla are often easier to find because they will wreck the whole page display.  When you launch the web browser and get a white page that is your first clue that you have a syntax error, password error, path problem, etc.  Most of those can be discovered using Joomla’s debug feature.

 Here is a quick list of regular maintenance items that you should expect to address to keep your Joomla! site working well. 

1). Upgrades – Joomla! is currently using version 2.5x and 3.2x. The 1.5 series no longer receives security updates and should not be used. The current systems often receive upgrades. Those upgrades are mostly for security reasons. Some are caused by other upgrades such as Apache servers or PHP issuing new code. Ignoring them is asking for trouble.

2). Component, Plug-in and Module changes. Problems occur in new code. They don’t usually surface until the code has to play well with others. If what you want is a static site that you can set up and forget then build it in PHP directly and expect to pay for a custom site.

3). Clean the cache. Nothing clears up problems like cleaning the cache. You could turn it off, but then your site performance would suffer. Likewise, tables can get corrupted due to day activity by your Internet Service Provider(ISP). Therefore, you also need perform general table maintenance and do daily back-ups of the databases and/or the entire site.

4). Editors and Authors – The content management possibilities in Joomla are very flexible. However, allowing every author to pop in their favorite bit of JavaScript or worse, PHP code, invites the law of unintended consequences to be a part of your site. Little things like hard coding a path to an article, image or menu can cause errors later when something moves and leaves no forwarding address.

5). Social Networking Joomla! has the ability to host a large social networking community. However, those kinds of sites don’t exist for long without constant monitoring of member problems, requests and enhancements. Before you open up a full blown community, try a blog with comments and see how that works out.

Got a Joomla Problem?  We have solved Joomla site problems in as little as two hours.
Contact us and we will give you a quote on fixing your problem today.

Official Joomla! Consultants

There is no such thing as an “Official Joomla Certification.” So be wary of anyone suggesting otherwise. Joomla does not issue credentials. But, if they did, a consultant would probably need to demonstrate a good working knowledge of PHP, JavaScript, HTML, MVC and MySQLi. Not a bad alphabet soup for an Open Source product.

If you are thinking about hiring someone to build or maintain your Joomla! site, here are some critical questions that they should not hesitate to answer.
Joomla Development

1). What are the components, plug-ins and modules that you plan to use to build our site? Specifically, which editor do you recommend and why?

2). Do you plan to host this on a shared server, Virtual Server or private server?

3). Do we need SSL (Secure Socket Layer) for registration and/or our shopping cart?

4). Why kind of back-up system do you plan to use for the site and the databases?

5). Can you recommend an organizational structure of sections and categories based upon the type of data we plan to present?

6). Can we do nested categories using products like K2?

7). If we want to use videos/audio presentations how should we incorporate them into the sight?

8). When would Joomla! NOT be a good fit for us?

9). If we want search-engine-friendly links, what problems have you seen in using them?

10). What books or tutorials can you recommend so that we can become proficient Joomla! users?

We would be happy to discuss these with you.  Contact us now.

What should a Joomla! site cost?

This is a trick question. If your site is so small that you only anticipate 6 pages, a little content management or a blog and an email contact form, then Joomla! is probably overkill for your needs. Generally speaking the $1,500.00 starting price for most Joomla! sites would discourage a casual user. WordPress would be a better fit. Some Joomla sites costs over $50,000.

But, if your needs also include a blog, a shopping cart, advanced and extended editing of articles or the the introduction of video material, expect the price tag to shoot to over $4,000 rather quickly.

Most Joomla! developers charge around $65.00 to $100.00 per hour. That’s for working with components that are already proven.

If you need someone to write a custom component or module, it can easily take 40 hours to write and debug just one.

Joomla! sites can be changed dramatically in appearance just by changing the theme assigned to the site.

The nice thing about managing Joomla costs is that a good developer can tell you how many hours a project should take, assuming that you don’t make changes along the way that involve extensive re-writes.

We frequently have sites that fall in the $3,000 to $5,000 range.

Joomla! comes with several free themes and there are plenty of decent themes to be found for little or no cost.

Theme Sample

That being said, Joomla! theme developers have raised the concept of a Joomla! site to new levels by introducing thematic management tools.

These allow for precision in changing headers, fonts, module placement, colors and functionality.

Some incorporate additional database functionality such as nested categories.

A good example of cutting edge themes can be seen at Rocket Themes. Of course, considerable additions were made to the basic structure.

In determining what a Joomla! site should cost, you should satisfy the question “What is the website’s job?”

If the job is to get someone to consummate the sale of a product, then guiding a buyer along the path that they expect to follow is critical. Too much eye candy or reasons to leave the site to satisfy buying objections will result in lost sales.

If the job is to get the client to call you, then building opportunities for two-way and even four-way communication should be your focus.

Ultimately, the job requirements, aesthetics and functionality required will determine the costs. Rarely, will you find a better value than the integration afforded in a Joomla! site.

Contact us for yours now.

Why Virtuemart Moved Us Away from Joomla!

Virtuemart Shopping CartFor years we have built and supported Jooma! websites that use Virtuemart as their shopping cart.  We integrated specialized templates for the shopping cart so that the client could display complex arrangements of products and services.

We still have clients who use it.  However, the complexity of keeping Virtuemart running and the pace of Joomla! updates requires a constant focus on issues that should be minor. For example, one should be able to click an “update” box, much like our WordPress carts use, to update to the latest version of Virtuemart and have confidence that the site will keep running.  That is rarely the case.

More often than not, Virtuemart updates crash the site.  Therefore, we must first backup the client site to our testing server, do the Virtuemart update on the testing server, chase down the code updates that fix the first update, put the code back on the live server and then hope that it doesn’t fail on a live server.

This process is not cheap for us or the client. When you compound the Virtuemart updates with the number of updates of Joomla itself, you get an exponential increase in problems.

More often than not, Joomla updates turn into migrations.  Tables must be changed, components removed or custom components created just to keep things moving along.

So, this word to the wise is that Virtuemart on Joomla is reaching a tipping point.  We will continue to support it for those of you with deep pockets.  For the rest of you, consider WooCommerce on WordPress.  To discuss this, contact us.