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Website Upgrades

28 January 2011

Our workshop elves have been busy over the holiday season upgrading existing features and creating new ones. Some of these may have already been applied to your website:

Search-Engine-Friendly URLs

We've introduced new search-engine-friendly URLs for the News database, Photo Galleries, Product pages and similar features by incorporating words from the Title field into the page address as follows:

http:// www.yourdomain.com /read/xxx/title-of-the-news-item.html
(where 'xxx' is a number referencing the database)

This makes the address longer, but also more attractive to search engines which will generate more traffic. To form a shorter URL, you can leave off the "http://" and "www." and also place any text you want after the database id. The shortest possible address for this news item, for example, is then just chirp.com.au/read/1287 which will automatically redirect to the longer URL.

The generated URLs strip out some short words and special characters and the result is then displayed in lower-case. We've added support for common accented characters and will be monitoring in case other characters cause problems.

Social Media Buttons

For websites with regular media releases, popular articles, a blog or shopping cart we recommend placing the new Like (Facebook), Tweet (Twitter) and Share buttons provided by AddThis.com. This lets people share your content more easily and gives you feedback as to how popular different items are on your website.

The service is free, but does slow down the page slightly so it should only be used where you think it has some value. You can see an example at the bottom of this page.

HTML5 Form Validation

If you're using a modern browser (not Internet Explorer) you will notice some new icons appearing inside form elements. These indicate which fields are required and whether the input matches the format specified. This is particularly useful for email, URL and date input fields.

Photo Gallery Uploads

Our Photo Gallery module now supports uploading of multiple photos at once using a ZIP file. You should still re-size your images to 640x480 pixels before uploading. The file size limit is 16Mb which allows for 1-200 photos to be uploaded at once. You can then add captions as you want to individual photos.

Calendar Subscriptions

For websites with an Events Calendar or Coming Events feature we can now provide a link for people to subscribe to events from a range of programs, including: Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCalendar, Mozilla Sunbird, and Google Calendar.

If you're using an application that supports .ics file formats, try subscribing to or opening this file: www.hall.act.au/halldistrict.ics in one of the abovementioned programs.

PayPal Checkout

For E-commerce websites using PayPal as a checkout option we can now have PayPal display itemised lists of items rather than just the total of the shopping cart. We're also able to receive payment confirmation directly from PayPal to the website and use that to update the database and/or generate a confirmation email.

PDF Formatted Invoices

Rather that sending emails using Plain Text or HTML we can use the database or form input to generate a PDF file containing your logo and nicely formatted text and tables. This file can then be displayed for saving/printing or sent as an attachment to a regular email.

The same system can also be used to generate PDF-formatted Receipts in response to online payments, Membership Cards, Certificates or other items.

New Web Server

We're continuing to transfer websites across to our new web server. This takes some time as the database and some code needs to be upgraded each time. Websites on the new server will load much faster, not just because the hardware is newer, but also because it has installed "mod_deflate" (to compress HTML and other text files for transfer) and the new "mod_pagespeed" (to optimise HTML and related content).

Database Optimisation

For websites making a lot of calls to the database - to load menus, news items or similar elements on every page - we are working to optimise the relevant database tables using indexes and also add a server-side cache for query results to reduce database load. The effects will be marginal, but less load on the database lets all database queries run faster.

Summary

As always, our focus has been on making our services more secure, more efficient and more user-friendly. Also to introduce new technologies as they become available. We believe that the websites we develop have a huge advantage in terms of speed and search engine optimisation and intend to keep it that way.

Server upgrade 15/16 Feb »

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