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Website Design July 21st, 2010
There are a lot of content management and eCommerce systems out there. With so many available these days, it’s sometimes hard to choose which one to build your website with. Believe me I’ve been there, and as a result I’ve used a lot of them. Perhaps the one I’ve used the most, is Joomla. I thought I would take a minute to talk a bit about what Joomla is and how it can be used to run a pretty hefty web property.
Joomla was built with one function in mind: content management. Because of this, I have found it to be my own favorite tool for managing websites. You can manage multiple users with various permission levels. This will help you to make sure that your marketing assistant doesn’t accidently change something they shouldn’t. Because it works on a template system, it lets users simply drop in their content and the website wraps the rest around it automatically. Building your website in a hierarchical manner (pages > sub pages etc) is also very easy with Joomla because it was built to do that in the first place. I particularly like the lack of code experience required to use it. Once it’s been built and skinned (a design applied), the client has full control over their content, menus, modules and the positions of all elements through the administrative panel.
Because Joomla is open source users all over the world can create new add-ons and toys – similar to how WordPress works. A quick visit to the Joomla extensions directory and 9 times out of 10 you’ll find the tool that you need. To install a new plugin, simply install the .zip file through the admin panel. The only downside with this feature, which also goes for other CMS systems as well, is that for every few good modules, there are a few terrible ones. I have had the odd time where I’ve installed and uninstalled a few photo galleries to find the one that works the way I need it to.
I’ve also found that it takes considerable programming knowledge to re-design the look and feel of many of the downloadable features to match the look of your website. This is where the actual building of a Joomla website does require a professional hand. With that being said however, let’s say I have a quick contact form in the left panel of my website. Now let’s say that I want to move it to the right side. No problem. Since everything works on a serious of pre-defined zones known as “positions”, I can simply set the position of the form to “Right” and it will move to the other side of my screen. This makes it very easy to move content around as more important elements become available. One of my personal favorite components worth checking out is a complete project management tool called Project Fork. I’ve used this quite a bit myself and it’s a great little tool! If you’ve used programs like BaseCamp, you’ll find that this is very similar and even, in some ways, superior to it.
While I have built many websites in WordPress and continue to do so, sometimes I do want to use another system like Joomla. I don’t however, want to lose the fantastic blogging functionality of WordPress. The solution is actually quite simple – use both! You can actually run a WordPress blog from within Joomla and manage everything with the one administrative login. To do this, you simply have your developer install the WordPress for Joomla plugin and link everything together. This allows you to use Joomla as your CMS and WordPress as your blog. Each system is doing what they were initially made to do, all within one admin.
But what if you want to sell online? Not a problem, there are actually several eCommerce components available for Joomla. I like the ability to manage my products and my content in one place and other systems simply don’t do that very well. For example, most stand alone eCommerce solutions do have some form of static page management but it’s almost always very basic – borderline useless. The standard for Joomla is Virtuemart. Virtuemart is a great little eCommerce solution which offers many of the standard features for product management, shipping, payment gateways such as PayPal and Google Checkout, and even downloaded products like eBooks. It’s fairly flexible and very easy to use. Another eCommerce solution for Joomla is RokQuickCart. While I haven’t run this through the same paces I have with Virtuemart, it does come highly recommended.
As you’ve seen, Joomla can be quite powerful. You can manage your content, blog and eCommerce all in one convenient place. The one drawback, which is the same for most other content management systems, is that considerable skills and experience are required to incorporate a custom design into it and setup many of the modules and components. Once you’ve done that however, managing it can be quite easy. While I do like Joomla a lot, I won’t necessarily recommend it for all websites. For some, Joomla may simply be the wrong fit or overkill and I may recommend building your website on WordPress. For many others however, Joomla is a fantastic solution for managing your website and all the various tools and toys required to help your business grow.