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Archive for the ‘Hosting’ Category

Issues on Upgrading to Latest Version of CMS Made Simple

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

I really like CMS Made Simple. Its pretty neat if you want to set up a website using a CMS software.

However, after being hacked last week, I just tried upgrading to the latest version (1.9.4) of CMS Made Simple. I was happy to see the upgrade script ran fine and everything seemed to work. However there were couple of things that were broken.

I’m documenting them here, hoping it might be useful to others.

1) The old config.php file contained the following property

#If you're using the internal pretty url mechanism or mod_rewrite, would you like to
#show urls in their hierarchy?  (ex. http://www.mysite.com/parent/parent/childpage)
$config['use_hierarchy'] = true;

However in the latest version, when they migrate the old version of config.php, this property is dropped.

Some plugins like Blogs Made Simple rely on this property for creating pretty URLs for RSS feeds.

2) We’ve written some code which looks up the current page id in the $gCms variable.

We had used the following code to figure out the page id:

$smarty->_tpl_vars['gCms']->variables['page_id'])

However in the latest version of CMSMS this does not work. Instead had to change it to:

$smarty->_tpl_vars['page_id'])

Basics of making Webpages Search Engine Friendly

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

I’m just learning the basics of how to make webpages easily searchable. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a vast topics, in this blog, I won’t even touch the surface.

Following are some simple things I learned today that are considered to be some basic, website hygiene stuff:

  • Titles: The title of a web page appears as a clickable link in search results and bookmarks. A descriptive, compelling page title with relevant keywords can increase the number of people visiting your site. Search engines view the text of the title tag as a strong indication of what the page is about. Accurate keywords in the title tag can help the page rank better in search results. A title tag should have fewer than 70 characters, including spaces. Major search engines won’t display more than that.
  • Description Meta-tags: The description meta-tag should tell searchers what a web page is about. It is often displayed below the title in search results, and helps people decide if they want to visit that website. Search engines will read 200 to 250 characters, but usually display only 150, including spaces. The first 150 characters of the meta description should contain the most important keywords for that web page.
  • H1 Heading: The H1 heading is an important sentence or phrase on a web page that quickly and clearly tells people and search engines what they can expect to find there. The H1 heading for a page should be different from its title. Each can target different important keywords for better SEO.
  • Outbound Links: Outbound links tell search engines which websites you find valuable and relevant. Including links to relevant sites is good for your website’s standing with search engines. Outbound links also help search engines classify your site in relationship to others.
  • Inbound Links: More number of website linking to your site is always better. Most search engines look at the reputation of the sites linking to your site. They also consider the anchor text (keywords) used to link to your site.
    • Self Links: Link back to your archives frequently when creating new content. Make sure your webpages are all well connected with proper anchor text (keywords) used to link back.
  • Create a sitemap: A site map (or sitemap) is a list of pages of you web site accessible to crawlers or users. The fewer clicks necessary to get to a page on your website, the better.
  • Pretty URLs: Easy to understand URLs, esp. the ones that contain the correct keywords are more search engine friendly compared to cryptic URLs with many request parameters. Favor mysite.com/ablum/track/page over mysite.com/process?albumname=album&trackname=track&page=name
  • Avoid non-Linkable Content: Some things might look pretty, but it might not good from SEO point of view. For example some flash based content or some javascript based content to which you can’t link.
  • Image descriptions: AKA alt text – is the best way to describe images to search engines and to visitors using screen readers. Describing images on a web page with alt text can help the page rank higher in search results if you include important and relevant keywords.
  • Keywords Meta-tag: Search engines don’t use the keyword meta-tag to determine what the page is about. Search engines detect keywords by looking at how often each word or phrase occurs on the page, and where it occurs. The words that appear most often and prominently are judged to be keywords. If the meta keywords and detected keywords match, that means the desired keywords appear frequently enough, and in the right places.
  • First 250 words: The first 250 words of on a web page are the most important. They tell people and search engines what the page is about. The two to three most important keywords for any web page should appear about five times each in the first 250 words of web page copy. They should appear two to three times each for every additional 250 words on the page.
  • Robots.txt file: A website’s robots.txt file is used to let search engines know which pages or sections of the site shouldn’t be indexed.
  • Canonical URL: A canonical URL is the standard URL for a web page. Because there are many ways a URL can be written, it’s possible for the same web page content to live at several different addresses, or URLs. This becomes a problem when you’re trying to enhance the visibility of a web page in search results. One factor that makes a web page rank higher in search results is the number and quality of other websites that link to it. If a web page is useful enough that lots of people create links to it, you don’t want to dilute the value of those links by having them spread across two or more URLs. Use a 301 redirect on any other version of that web page to get people – and search engines – to the standard version. Some common mistake people do:
    • Leave both www.mysite.com and mysite.com in place.
    • Leave default documents directly accessible. (mysite.com/ and mysite.com/index.html) More details: Twin Home Pages: Classic SEO Mistake
  • Web Presence: Having as much information and links about your website on the web as possible is key. Let it me other people’s website, news sharing and community sites, various social media sites or any other site which many people refer to. Alexa and Compete are two companies which give you a pretty good analysis of your web presence.
  • Fresh Content:  The best sites for users, and consequently for search engines, are full of often-updated, useful information about a given service, product, topic or discipline. Social media distribution via Blogs, Microblog (Twitter), Discussion forums, User Comments, etc. are great in this regard.

Big thanks to AboutUs.org for helping me understand these basic concepts.

Change WordPress Table Prefix using SQL Scripts

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

WP Security Scan Plugin suggests that wordpress users should rename the default wordpress table prefix of wp_ to something else. When I try to do so, I get the following error:

Your User which is used to access your WordPress Tables/Database, hasn’t enough rights( is missing ALTER-right) to alter your Tablestructure. Please visit the plugin documentation for more information. If you believe you have alter rights, please contact the plugin author for assistance.

Even though the database user has all the required permissions, I was not successful.

Then I stumbled across this blog which shows how to manually update the table prefix.

Inspired by this blog I came up with the following steps to change wordpress table prefix using SQL Scripts.

1- Take a backup

You are about to change your WordPress table structure, it’s recommend you take a backup first.

mysqldump -uuser_name -ppassword -h host db_name > dbname_backup_date.sql

2- Edit your wp-config.php file and change

$table_prefix = ‘wp_’;

to something like

$table_prefix = ‘your_prefix_’;

3- Change all your WordPress table names

$mysql -uuser_name -ppassword -h host db_name
 
RENAME TABLE wp_blc_filters TO your_prefix_blc_filters;
RENAME TABLE wp_blc_instances TO your_prefix_blc_instances;
RENAME TABLE wp_blc_links TO your_prefix_blc_links;
RENAME TABLE wp_blc_synch TO your_prefix_blc_synch;
RENAME TABLE wp_captcha_keys TO your_prefix_captcha_keys ;
RENAME TABLE wp_commentmeta TO your_prefix_commentmeta;
RENAME TABLE wp_comments TO your_prefix_comments ;
RENAME TABLE wp_links TO your_prefix_links;
RENAME TABLE wp_options TO your_prefix_options;
RENAME TABLE wp_postmeta TO your_prefix_postmeta ;
RENAME TABLE wp_posts TO your_prefix_posts;
RENAME TABLE wp_shorturls TO your_prefix_shorturls;
RENAME TABLE wp_sk2_logs TO your_prefix_sk2_logs ;
RENAME TABLE wp_sk2_spams TO your_prefix_sk2_spams;
RENAME TABLE wp_term_relationships TO your_prefix_term_relationships ;
RENAME TABLE wp_term_taxonomy TO your_prefix_term_taxonomy;
RENAME TABLE wp_terms TO your_prefix_terms;
RENAME TABLE wp_ts_favorites TO your_prefix_ts_favorites ;
RENAME TABLE wp_ts_mine TO your_prefix_ts_mine;
RENAME TABLE wp_tweetbacks TO your_prefix_tweetbacks ;
RENAME TABLE wp_usermeta TO your_prefix_usermeta ;
RENAME TABLE wp_users TO your_prefix_users;
RENAME TABLE wp_yarpp_keyword_cache TO your_prefix_yarpp_keyword_cache;
RENAME TABLE wp_yarpp_related_cache TO your_prefix_yarpp_related_cache;

4- Edit wp_options table

UPDATE your_prefix_options SET option_name='your_prefix_user_roles' WHERE option_name='wp_user_roles';

5- Edit wp_usermeta

UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_autosave_draft_ids' WHERE meta_key='wp_autosave_draft_ids';                 
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_capabilities' WHERE meta_key='wp_capabilities';                       
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_dashboard_quick_press_last_post_id' WHERE meta_key='wp_dashboard_quick_press_last_post_id'; 
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_user-settings' WHERE meta_key='wp_user-settings';                      
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_user-settings-time' WHERE meta_key='wp_user-settings-time';                 
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_usersettings' WHERE meta_key='wp_usersettings';                       
UPDATE your_prefix_usermeta SET meta_key='your_prefix_usersettingstime' WHERE meta_key='wp_usersettingstime';

Ultra-light Development and Deployment Example

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Over the last year, I’ve been helping (part-time) Freeset build their ecommerce website. David Hussman introduced me to folks from Freeset.

Following is a list of random topics (most of them are Agile/XP practices) about this project:

  • Project Inception: We started off with a couple of meetings with folks from Freeset to understand their needs. David quickly created an initial vision document with User Personas and their use cases (about 2 page long on Google Docs). Naomi and John from Freeset, quickly created some screen mock-ups in Photoshop to show user interaction. I don’t think we spent more than a week on all of this. This helped us get started.
  • Technology Choice: When we started we had to decide what platform are we going to use to build the site. We had to choose between customer site using Rails v/s using CMS. I think David was leaning towards RoR. I talked to folks at Directi (Sandeep, Jinesh, Latesh, etc) and we thought instead of building a custom website from scratch, we should use a CMS. After a bit of research, we settled on CMS Made Simple, for the following reasons
    • We needed different templates for different pages on the site.
    • PHP: Easiest to set up a PHP site with MySQL on any Shared Host Service Provider
  • Planning: We started off with an hour long, bi-weekly planning meetings (conf calls on Skype) on every Saturday morning (India time). We had a massively distributed team. John was in New Zealand. David and Deborah (from BestBuy) were in US. Kerry was in UK for a short while. Naomi, Kelsea and other were in Kolkatta and I was based out of Mumbai. Because of the time zone difference and because we’re all working on this part time, the whole bi-weekly planning meeting felt awkward and heavy weight. So after about 3 such meetings we abandoned it. We created a spreadsheet on Google Docs, added all the items that had high priority and started signing up for tasks. Whenever anyone updated an item on the sheet, everyone would be notified about the change.
  • User Stories: We started off with User Persona and Stories, but soon we just fell back to simple tasks on a shared spreadsheet. We had quite a few user related tasks, but just one liner in the spread sheet was more than sufficient. We used this spreadsheet as a sudo-backlog. (by no means we had the rigor to try and build a proper backlog).
  • Short Releases: We (were) only working on production environment. Every change made by a developer was immediately live. Only recently we created a development environment (replica of production), on which we do all our development. (I asked John from Freeset, if this change helped him, he had mixed feelings. Recently he did a large website restructuring (added some new section and moved some pages around), and he found the development environment useful for that. But for other things, when he wants to make some small changes, he finds it an over kill to make changes to dev and then sync it up with production. There are also things like news, which makes sense to do on the production server. Now he has to do in both places). So I’m thinking may be, we move back to just production environment and then create a prod on demand if we are plan to make big changes.
  • Testing: Original we had plans of at least recording or scripting some Selenium tests to make sure the site is behaving the way we expected it to. This kind of took a back seat and never really became an issue. Recently we had a slight set back when we moved a whole bunch of pages around and their link from other parts of the site were broken. Other than that, so far, its just been fine.
  • Evolutionary Design: Always believed in and continue to believe in “Do the Simplest, Dumbest, thing that could Possibly work“. Since we started, the project had taken interesting turns, we used quite a lot of different JavaScript libraries, hacked a bit of PHP code here and there. All of this is evolving and is working fine.
  • Usability: We still have lots of usability and optimization issues on our site. Since we don’t have an expert with us and we can’t afford one, we are doing the best we can with what we have on hand. We are hoping we’ll find a volunteer some day soon to help us on this front.
  • Versioning: We explored various options for versioning, but as of today we don’t have any repository under which we version our site (content and code). This is a drawback of using an online CMS. Having said that so far (been over a year), we did not really find the need for versioning. As of now we have 4 people working on this site and it just seems to work fine. Reminds me of YAGNI. (May be in future when we have more collaborators, we might need this).
  • Continuous Integration: With out Versioning and Testing, CI is out of question.
  • Automated Deployment: Until recently we only had one server (production) so there was no need for deployment. Since now we have a dev and a prod environment, Devdas and I quickly hacked a simple shell scrip (with mysqldump & rsync) that does automated deployment. It can’t get simpler than this.
  • Hosting: We talked about hosting the site on its own slice v/s using an existing shared host account. We could always move the site to another location when our existing, cheap hosting option will not suit our needs. So as of today, I’m hosting the site under one of my shared host account.
  • Rich Media Content: We questioned serving & hosting rich media content like videos from our site or using YouTube to host them. We went with YouTube for the following reasons
    • We wanted to redirect any possible traffic to other sites which are more tuned to catering high bandwidth content
    • We wanted to use YouTube’s existing customer base to attract traffic to our site
    • Since we knew we’ll be moving to another hosting service, we did not want to keep all those videos on the server which then will have to be moved to the new server
  • Customer Feedback: So far we have received great feedback from users of this site. We’ve also seen a huge growth in traffic to our site. Currently hovering around 1500 hits per day. Other than getting feedback from users. We also look at Google Analytics to see how users are responding to changes we’ve made and so on.
  • We don’t really have/need a System Metaphor and we are not paying as much attention to refactoring. We have some light conventions but we don’t really have any coding standards. Nor do we have the luxury to pair program.
  • Distributed/Virtual Team: Since all of us are distributed and traveling, we don’t really have the concept of site. Forget on-site customer or product owner.
  • Since all of this is voluntary work, Sustainable pace takes a very different meaning. Sometimes what we do is not sustainable, but that’s the need of the hour. However all of us really like and want to work on this project. We have a sense of ownership. (collective ownership)
  • We’ve never really sat down and done a retrospective. May be once in a while we ask a couple of questions regarding how something were going.

Overall, I’ve been extremely happy with the choices we’ve made. I’m not suggesting every project should be run this way. I’m trying to highlight an example of what being agile really means.

How to install Subversion on a shared host

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I use http://bluehost.com for hosting all my sites. So far I’m very happy with their service. The only thing I wished they provided was subversion on the servers. But they don’t.

So I decided to find ways of installing subversion on a shared host. While researching about this about, I stumbled upon this excellent post http://joemaller.com/2008/01/29/how-to-install-subversion-on-a-shared-host/ by Joe Maller where is explains step by step how to install SVN on a shared host.

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