Monkeying Around: De-Mystifying the Magento Platform

Monkey Longleat

I hate instructions. As in, I. Really. Hate. Instructions. Instruction manuals are good for one thing and one thing only…firewood. So I can watch them burn… I use this extremely well-thought out and empirically based opinion in everything I do including content management systems; monkeying around, so to speak, until I get the answer. Or smack the computer. Or send an irate email to my developer…

With regards to using this method to work your way around the digital world, WordPress and to a certain extent Joomla are easy peasy. Magento however, has led me to irritating a lot of developers for a while now (sending a Twitter-felt apology to all of you) so I thought I’d cover the basics of it here as – let’s be honest – when it comes to building an eCommerce site, there is no better platform.

The Good, The Bad, The Blogging
First hurdle with this platform is that the free (yes free!) albeit basic version of it does not have a built in blog feature. Darn. Options are to either install a WordPress blog and attach it to the site (my personal favourite but a developer task) OR there’s another way. The best things in life are…simple. Therefore I love this idea, create one permanent, static page as your blog intro page then create a separate, static page for each blog. Link your intro page in a standardized format to articles as you post them et voila – a cheap, and effective way of creating and ordering a simple blog. One downfall of this is that categories are pretty difficult to create with this method once you build up a number of live posts.

Meta Data – Meta Likey
Each newly created page has four tabs; page information, content, design and meta data. Thank god! No plugin needed. However…meta title is not present on the meta tab so you will need to put meta title in the title field under the first tab – page information. This is because the meta tab only has keywords and description in – and if you need to ask which of those should be left blank then it’s 2014…Google it. Content and blog title then go in the content tab where you can customize easily using a classic wysiwyg editor.

Your Life In Order
How no life should ever be! However ordering your products and categories using a pristine and foolhardy system online is a definite yes. It’s so technical even I did it first time, go to catalog. That’s it. All your products and categories nicely, neatly ordered. “Manage categories” takes you to your first layer where you can edit your category navigation tabs, their content and their meta data, “manage products” is where you…well, manage products. It goes much deeper than this but as a novice, this is all you’ll need to manage your infantry once set up is complete.

Sassy Sales Analysis
In my personal opinion along with Magento’s ability to grow as a site alongside its owner, this is its best feature: What did people plug in to find your site? Which search terms brought you the most sales? What times of day during the last 24 hours did you get sales? Have sales peaked or fallen this month? Have sales risen or fallen this year? Forget drudgy data crunching, all this information is easily accessible and translatable from the main dashboard with a big, fat graph and a simple drop down. Hallelujah.

Amazon-tastic and Ebay-rilliant
These are hardly small players in the eCommerce world. Your target audience is people who buy your product; where do people looking to buy products go? What sites rank the highest on Google for people looking to buy products? I won’t insult you by spelling it out but yes, Magento has a built in feature allowing you to control and link your products to these two platforms and from what I’ve seen, you can expect this to have a very favourable effect on your sales. It’s also got a good plugin for Google Shopping available.

Turn Offs
IMAGES! Managing images is horrendous. Bone number one – inserting an image into a blog requires two windows; to upload first press the image icon, window opens, click browse button, alt tab to new window, browse for image, click upload, click on image, alt tab to previous window, set paramaters and click insert. Not great.

Second bone is alt tags…images aren’t stored in a standard media file as far as I can tell. Any insights on how to add alt tags please let me know in the comments below!

This CMS system is awesome – and yes, this entire blog was written so I use the above picture of a monkey I took…long live Longleat safari park. Oh, and Magento.