(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version, which did not include comments from the Joomla community.)
When it comes to SweetSpot.ca’s search for a new content management system (CMS), the third time was the charm. But now the Toronto-based women’s Web site likes its new custom-built .Net solution so much that it is using it as the basis for its two new Web sites, SweetMama.ca and SweetHome.ca.
In the summer of 2007, SweetSpot.ca started out with an implementation by an outside partner of open source content management system Joomla, version 1.0.13 (Sunglow).
SweetSpot.ca didn’t feel that the CMS was working with their needs, according to Scott Snowden, a partner with the Toronto-based Trioro, who did the current CMS.
“They needed to publish content on a daily basis, and (they couldn’t) schedule publishing ahead of time,” he said. “So, depending on the type of content being published that day, everyone had to take turns doing 6:00 a.m. wake-up duty for the Web site.”
SweetSpot.ca also thought there was a lack of flexibility in being able to integrate new elements, whether it be linking to a related article or tracking traffic statistics. They thought “it wasn’t easily customizable,” said Snowden. The content management system also encumbered the business’ workflow, he said.
In version 1.0.13, without a free extension, the content and image areas were separate, which added a lot of extra hassle when the employees had to go in and link stories and image together.
“It took many clicks to remember where you’d put it, and there was a very large library (of content) that they had to manage,” said Snowden. “From a business efficiency perspective, they were very tied down.”
Even the front-end was a mess. To place an article in different sections, stories were duplicated, which led to multiple same search results. “The site was very unfriendly for both readers and search engines. This was affecting our revenue because we were not maximizing traffic to the site,” said Joanna Track, SweetSpot.ca founder.
According to Lincoln, Nebraska-based Web services consultant and Joomla community member Amy Stephen, all this functionality was, in fact, present in version 1.0.13 of Joomla, whether it be via out-of-the-box functionality or free extensions available at the time.
“It was not the right decision to go use Joomla 1.0 on that site, although, in experienced hands, they could actually have pulled it off better with that version,” according to Joomla core developer Andrew Eddie.
After six months, however, SweetSpot.ca had had enough. They had also spent a lot of the budget allotted for the new Web site. “So we had to do it on the budget they had left,” said Snowden.
Trioro was called, and attempted a solution that used Blogger and .Net in combination with Joomla 1.0.13. According to Snowden, the beta release of version 1.5 (Khepri) had been around for a while at this point, but he said that, at the time, even Joomla’s own Web site cautioned against using a beta in production. “For us, it’s not a good policy to use betas in a live environment,” he said.
First, the team started with a three-month goal of improvement. Once these were reached, the company set a new longer-term goal. The site’s performance improved and, come summer 2008, SweetSpot.ca decided to stick with Trioro and go with a full-fledged, customized .Net solution.
The newest release of Joomla—version 1.5 (Khepri)—was several months old at this time. “Joomla, by that point, had fixed their problems, so the upgrade (to version 1.5) would’ve been an option,” said Snowden. “Our goal wasn’t to avoid Joomla, but to find the best tool to keep SweetSpot.ca’s business running smoothly. It was a partner choice, not a technology choice.”
According to Eddie, Joomla 1.5 was a radical change over the 1.0 version. “There was no direct upgrade path (there was a migration path for all of the Joomla Core data, which got you started). So it would have been a big deal for a company to tool up to 1.5,” he said. “You have to understand that Joomla had a huge extension market and at the time of releasing 1.5, not all the popular extensions ran properly. So there is certainly a case for not migrating sites immediately to 1.5.
“However, my advice to anyone that asked was that if you were creating new sites after around November 2006, was to push forward with 1.5 because it was a simply much better to work with,” he continued. “Certainly 1.5 would have been a better choice for SweetSpot.ca, but I will concede that, at that time, there were only a handful of people in the world that could have successfully pulled that site off.”
By building on SQL Server, Snowden said search functionality was improved, and Windows Server enhanced the reliability of the platform.
“.Net is a good way to efficiently build a solution, especially with the Master Page functionality and the user controls you can build,” said Snowden.
Ease of use was also important. To make sure the CMS was as user-friendly as possible, Snowden knew he had to talk to the users first. “We spent a lot of time interviewing them on how they wanted the information presented. We took out any excessively technical details for them and made and (Microsoft Word-like) interface that was familiar to them,” he said.
And the Web site itself? The revamped CMS went live last September. Workflow is far more optimized now, with more people being able to easily enter content into the CMS. For visitors to the site, search results are better-indexed and de-duplicated, and the URLs themselves are more user-friendly.
Both Eddie and Stephen worry that this could leave SweetSpot.ca in a bit of a spot in the future. “SweetSpot is now completely dependent on that one vendor. If they had stuck with the Joomla solution, there are thousands of other people around the world that could actually have picked up the pieces for them,” Eddie said. “That’s the advantage of using software from projects on the scale of Joomla, or even Drupal and WordPress. You don’t just get the software, you get a community thrown in with the deal.”
For now, there have been significant gains in traffic, month over month, since the relaunch of SweetSpot.ca, such as an 80 per cent improvement in search engine traffic in the first month alone. “We have definitely experienced improved productivity and reader satisfaction,” said Track.