Better Local Search SEO with Rich Snippets Structured Data

Rich snippets are doing very well at converting searches to clicks. It’s a great way to get your listing to stand out from the crowd. If you are not familiar with rich snippets, just do a Google search and you will probably see a few. Sites using structured data and verified authorship display unique additional bits of data in their results.

Here is an example of a search result with verified authorship:

Rich Snippet

The verification adds the authors Google+ profile image, as well as a byline and additional links.

For local businesses there are some more great features you can enter to ensure Google understands the details of your business.

Schema.org publishes micro data formats that describe multiple items such as reviews, music, events and local business data. I am going to focus on the Local Business data since that is primarily who this article is for.  You can see the entire schema here.  But there are a few critical items that will help most local businesses, they are as follows:

Name, Address, Location, Description, Geo, Logo, Photo, Map, URL, and MakesOffer.

You probably know what most of those mean already, Geo is for the longitude and latitude coordinates, Map is just a link to a map. MakesOffer is simply a description of services or products offered by the business, so valid values for MakesOffer would be “Pizza” or “Accounting”. Address is a sub-schema that breaks out city, state, zip, etc. and Location is a more of a summary address, or it can be a neighborhood or area that is not included in the physical address (for example, “Financial District” or “SoHo”, or just “City, State”).

Since structured data has been introduced it has primarily been utilized by developers since the code is a bit arcane if you are not familiar with markup language like HTML or hand coding. If you are familiar with coding it is fairly straight forward to implement by simply adding in some specific attributes into your HTML code. You can then test the code with the Google testing tool to make sure you have it all formatted properly.

Good news though, even if you don’t know an HREF from a BOCKQUOTE you can still utilize structured data in your website and get all the benfits of rich snippets in your search results, just follow the instructions below!

Three Easy Steps.

1) Make sure you have created a Google+ profile, and that you have uploaded profile image, this should just be a headshot of your smiling face in most cases.

2) Add your local business website URL to your contributors list in your Google+ profile. You can also do this by verifying your email, if it uses the same domain name as your website, but I think it’s easier to just add it to the contributes to section.

3) Now that you have linked your profile with your website, you need to add some code into your site. You could just add the link to your Google+ profile, but since you are adding data, we might as well add as much as we can and include several items listed in the LocalBusiness Schema. The easiest way to do this is to use the WDD Rich Snippet Structured Data Generator.

This tool allows you to just enter the information into a form, and it creates the structured data for you which you can then copy and paste into your website. If you are using WordPress or another Blog platform, just add a Text/HTML widget and paste the code into that.

Using the Rich Snippet generator, enter the form data in, then click the test button and it will show you a preview of how your search results will appear using the new data. But remember, this is just a preview,  and you have to add the code into your website for it to work.

Data shows that listings using rich-snippets increase click-through rates by as much as 30% so if you have not added structured data to your site yet, now is the time to do it!

Magneto Review

E-commerce Shopping Cart Reviews | Home

Platform: PHP / MySQL
Price: Basic Edition is Free Opensource
Download Link: http://www.magentocommerce.com/
Hire a programmer to install Magneto.

Unfortunately, Magento is not a turnkey solution. Out of the box, Magento is a demo. Your site and emails are, by default, splattered with references to “demo store”, which is sure to uninspire confidence with your customers.

This article is a rough attempt at documenting everything that is required to remove the “Demo” references, and get a store production ready. If you find any mistakes, feel free to correct them in the wiki.

Magento has come a long way in this regard since the original posting of this article. Magento 1.4 fixes the worst of the original issues. As a result, only Magento 1.4 (and above) are covered by this article now. Read more on the magneto wiki.

Also check out the Zen Cart Review and E-commerce guide.

A Review of Magento

What is Magento?

Magento is an open source ecommerce platform, produced by a team of developers who go by the name Verian. Unlike most other open source ecommerce solutions, Magento was designed from the ground up to be secure, robust, scalable and search engine friendly. In fact, Magento is possibly the only open source shopping cart, which was designed from scratch, as opposed to evolving as a development fork from another software product. Magento was a long time in development, and much was expected of this package upon release, so how do things shape up now that Magento has been available for some time? Is it really as good as it was supposed to be, or was it mostly hype? Read on and find out.

Under the Hood

Magento uses the usual PHP and MySQL setup, making it suitable for use on even the most budget of hosting solutions. However, if you need secure (HTTPS) commerce, then make sure your host can provide such services. If Magento uses such a tried and tested (and some would say old) technology platform, why is it considered so cutting edge? Quite simply, Magento goes above and beyond every other free shopping cart out there. Offering an entirely modular system, which can be used for vending anything. The backend is rather daunting at first, Magento comes with a full range of ecommerce features, this really is not a shopping cart for the feint hearted. However steep the learning curve is, it is entirely worthwhile, as choosing Magento as your shopping cart will mean you will never have to change your software down the line, as you find your current solution lacking.

Magento does it all, it does it well, but it is not simple for the newcomer to ecommerce. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in getting your catalogue onto your home page. Out of the box, Magento does not do this. Other ecommerce packages will automatically produce a storefront, based upon your product catalogue. Magento does not do this; instead, it aims to be a catalogue management system, with complete flexibility. Setting up and Magento page will require the user to have some knowledge of HTML.

Magento leaves it up to the user to make things look pretty, do not expect setup wizards and automatically generated code here. The trade off is that Magento is really the most powerful open source ecommerce platform out there. Nevertheless, nothing is for free; you will need to spend time and effort to get your store online. In fact, it is highly likely that it would be more cost effective to contract a third party expert to take care of the store setup for you.

Magento in Action

Once you have setup a Magento store (which is not an easy thing to do without professional help), your ecommerce site will outperform just about any other ecommerce platform. Speed wise, Magento has been optimised in the extreme, page loads are fast, database queries are made at lightning speed. All of this is rendered in HTML very quickly, using standards compliant code. Let us take a step back here for a moment. Magento was never marketed as an out-of-the-box solution that could be set up in hours.

It was marketed as a state of the art open source ecommerce platform, which would become a serious contender in the market. It outperforms every other open source solution in every way, and most of the paid solutions. As a shopping experience, when set up properly, it is supreme, but do not come here looking for an eight hour ecommerce site setup. Magento has never proposed to do this. Comparing Magento with the likes of osCommerce and other open source shopping carts is a futile exercise. Magento takes over where these old, imperfect solutions leave off. However, with a cost, and that cost is the effort required to set it up.

Magento in Summary

If you are a business looking for a serious ecomme4rce solution, which will not cost thousands of dollars to implement, then Magento is for you. If you are a dabbler, sitting at home looking to set up an ecommerce site to sell a limited range of goods that may or may not turn a profit, then look elsewhere. Magento is for professional corporate use, and requires an amount of investment in resources to implement successfully. However, if you want the very best in open source, and have a few hundred dollars to invest, Magento is the best solution available. Magento outperforms every other open source shopping platform in every way, and by a huge measure. Magento is open source meets corporate software. Used correctly, and with due diligence, it is an ecommerce platform that can service your business for a very long time to come.

Written by Raine from Rubik Integration. The article reflects the opinion of the author, and not necessarily of Shopping Cart Reviews.

Article courtesy of Shopping Cart Reviews.

Comparing Bids and Proposals

If you are planning a web design project, you can post your project on DesignQuote and get up to eight free bids from developers in your local area, the entire US or worldwide! DesignQuote is the worlds largest creative marketplace and has over 44,000 designers registered globally. They have helped more than 4000 people find the right designer. Just post the details of your RFP (Request for Propsal) and then choose the designers you want to receive bids from.

Planning on getting a web site designed? Then you should read how much should a website cost?

Zen Cart E-Commerce Software

E-commerce Shopping Cart Reviews

Platform: PHP / MySQL
Price: Free Opensource Software (You will need an experienced programmer to install)
Download Link: http://www.zen-cart.com/
Hire a programmer to install Zen Cart.

A list of features of Zen Cart™

  • Allows customers to shop your store 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Easily keep your products/catalog updated – no HTML coding required to add, delete, or modify products.
  • Works on the popular combination of PHP and MySQL technologies.
  • Secure – no one but your administrative personnel can access your customer/catalog data.
  • Easy to install – our helpful installation program guides you easily through the setup process.
  • Nearly every piece of information about your products can be controlled in the Admin area, giving you the ability to fine-tune how your products and services appear to your customers. Features and options can be enabled/disabled quickly and easily.
    • Multiple items can be added to the shopping cart by simply entering quantities and clicking Add.
    • The product type feature allows you to customize information fields and display format for different products differently. Products for sale vs. documents for viewing, vs. music downloads, and the list goes on.
    • Switching from one installed template to another is as simple as a couple of clicks in the Admin.
    • Merchandise Pricing options – single and multiple items can be put on sale. Sale options include percentage-off, fixed amount off, new price, etc. Sales can include or exclude product attributes. You can add or exclude a discount from a special. You can put a whole category or the entire store on sale.
    • Products can be marked as free or Call for Price.
    • Products can be marked as Featured for specific highlighting/attention.
    • Products can be linked and/or copied to multiple categories.
    • Minimum or maximum quantities and units – you can sell one per customer, or require at least four and in multiples of two. You can set requirements on a per-product basis.
    • Quantity discounts can be configured per-product for varying pricing levels or quantity levels.
    • Product attributes can be added, either as radio buttons, checkboxes, drop-down lists, text boxes, file uploads, file downloads, and more. Attribute options can upcharge the price of an item, and an item can have its price completely controlled by attributes. Attributes can be configured as read only so as to provide a features list.
    • HTML-style email supported.
    • Makes e-commerce websites easy.
    • Email can be sent via sendmail, smtp, or smtp-with-authorization.
    • Email archiving supported for audit trail.
    • Low order fees can be configured.
    • Newsletter and product notification systems.
    • Low stock notifications to administrator when inventory is getting low (level can be configured).
    • For the developer – simple customization via stylesheets.
    • Developers toolkit helps quickly locate a setting or text string to be customized.
    • Scalable from small shops to larger shops with hundreds of thousands of products.
    • Track who’s online interactively.
    • Multiple language support.
    • Multiple currency support.
    • See the complete feature list
    • Read the magneto ecommerce review.

Hands on with Zen Cart

Introduction

Zen Cart is a PHP/MySQL open source shopping cart. It is completely free, and comes with source code which you can freely modify. The software is developed by a community effort. The code is based on the popular osCommerce shopping cart. The goal of the Zen Cart project is essentially to make an easier to use version ofosCommerce which can be installed more quickly, modified more easily and have a more usable configuration out of the box. Being a community effort, many of its users are very passionate. I expect a small group of them will disagree with anything negative said about Zen Cart, be it correct or not, so I may incur their wrath at some points in this review.

This review is based on my experiences while creating an online shop for a client using Zen Cart. As every shop has its own unique needs and requirements, your experiences will vary.

Installation

Installation was fairly straight forward. I did get confused once or twice and have to manually tweak one or two files, but I suspect most people will have a smoother experience than I did. As usual, just create your MySQL database first and have the details handy.

Initial Impressions

As with most shopping carts, it comes with an out of the box skin and configuration. This seemed to be serviceable, although the skin wasn’t terribly attractive and it seemed like a lot of options were turned on, making the interface a bit cluttered for my liking. This is a minor problem, as the various modules are easily turned off.

The administration interface is reasonably well laid out and is attractive enough, although the number of options is overwhelming. It was hard to know where to start to set things up as there are so many options, which is a mixed blessing.

Skinning

Zen Cart ships with a few skins, there are more available for free and commercially. My client had very specific design requirements, and so I needed to get deep into the skinning. Frankly, I was disappointed. If you want to make superficial changes – maybe change the color, the font, the logo, the module headings, etc, then it would be a fairly painless experience. If you want to get deeper into the skinning, expect a significant battle and some mid-level PHP skills required. Skinning is such a fundamental concept I don’t think it should be this hard. For example, one requirement was that some modules have a unique appearance. By default, Zen Cart requires all modules in a column look identical. While I managed to work around this, it was time consuming.

Changing text that appeared in the user interface was relatively easy in most cases, although sometimes some hunting was required, it certainly wasn’t nicely centralized. The admin interface even comes with its own search tool to help find files, demonstrating how common this problem is. The folder structure seems confusing and I found it hard to locate the right file. I’m sure there’s a reason for the structure, but I couldn’t work it out and haven’t experienced this problem with other shopping carts or similar products.

Product Management

There is a wide range of product options. Creating a product via the web interface is relatively straight forward, and there is a free add on called “Easy Populate” for those wanting to create their products in bulk. I didn’t bump into any product features that couldn’t be handled in a default install. For instance, product reviews, stock management and automatic thumbnail creation were all handled easily and out of the box. I did struggle to find out where to change some of these options – once again, the administration interface is a little overwhelming and not always clearly labeled. As an example, my client didn’t want stock levels showing for products, and it took some hunting to find this.

Payment, shipping & taxes

There is a wide range of payment gateways available for Zen Cart. Only a few are installed by default, but many more are available for download. Installing new payment modules (or other modules) is a relatively pain free experience, and while it could be simplified further, is definitely better than most. There is no cutting and pasting of code, simply a matter of copying a few files into the right places. There’s a good chance your payment gateway of choice is supported by Zen Cart.

I was impressed with the shipping module. There is a very flexible range of options, but despite it’s power, it’s relatively easy to use. All the options you’d expect – shipping by weight, by number of products, flat rate, etc, are all easily supported. Your shipping requirements would have to be quite unusual to not work in a default install. Management of taxes was similar, flexible and easy to use, with support for different regions. Configuring taxes was similarly flexible.

An area that could be improved is the checkout process. This process is critical to minimize shopping cart abandonment, and while not bad I felt it could have been made easier. My biggest objection was that it was unclear to the customer when payment was to be handled. While most Zen Cart shops will probably be using a third party payment processor such as 2CO or Paypal where payment is handled on an external site, in the mind of the customer this is still part of the entire payment process, where as Zen Cart gives the customer the impression that payment is a completely separate step. The Zen Cart developers could take some tips from other products such asCubeCart who handle this process much more smoothly.

Reporting

All the reports you expect to see are found out of the box. Sales, most popular products, customers, order status, etc, are all available. There isn’t any highly sophisticated reports such as sales by search keyword, but that’s not found in many expensive carts either. The conclusion on reporting: don’t expect in depth analysis, but you should have all the essential information needed for day to day running.

Support

Being a free product, there is no formal support. You basically have 3 options. Look through the source code and work it out yourself, post to the forums and hope for the best, or pay someone to sort it out for you.

I found the source code for Zen Cart to be somewhat convoluted. I tried to make a few small tweaks and found it time consuming. Admittedly, PHP isn’t my strongest language, but I found what I saw confusing. I have comfortable hacked other PHP shopping carts with no issues. You’ll need to be at least a mid-level PHP coder in order to be able to work through the source code in a meaningful way. There does seem to be a small range of people able to give paid help. I requested a small modification via rentacoder, I wasn’t overwhelmed with bidders but found someone who did quality work for me at a good price.

The forums are ok. They aren’t the busiest forums in the world, and one or two questions went unanswered. The replies I received were reasonably good and helped me with a few problems.

There is some documentation available. There is an FAQ on the web site which did help me out with one or two questions. There is also a detailed administrators manual available as a PDF file. It is helpful in parts, but mostly just steps through the screens you’ll come across and provides a little bit of detail, the sort of thing that should really be done inline on the site. There is a small “how to” and troubleshooting section, but not thorough enough for my liking.

Conclusion

Overall, Zen Cart is certainly a powerful piece of software. Zen Cart is worth considering if your requirements are very basic and you aren’t very fussy about the look & setup of it, or if you enjoy hacking PHP and are moderately good. However, if you want a complex store up and running quickly and cheaply, I’d recommend thinking twice. Personally I would rather build my business and focus on how I can increase sales than spend hours hacking PHP files (or paying someone else to do it).

Article courtesy of Shopping Cart Reviews.

Read the magneto ecommerce review.

Comparing Bids and Proposals

If you are planning a web design project, you can post your project on DesignQuote and get up to eight free bids from developers in your local area, the entire US or worldwide! DesignQuote is the worlds largest creative marketplace and has over 44,000 designers registered globally. They have helped more than 4000 people find the right designer. Just post the details of your RFP (Request for Propsal) and then choose the designers you want to receive bids from.

Planning on getting a web site designed? Then you should read how much should a website cost?