Posts Tagged ‘E-Commerce’

Zen Cart & Google Analytics

If you’re running an E-commerce website, and you are building it yourself, chances are you would be using one of the more popular open source shopping cart scripts; one of which is Zen Cart. Based on the osCommerce framework, it offers a LOT of functionality, as well as a vast selection of third party add ons to suit the needs of most small businesses.

Although to most Zen Cart powerusers, this topic is probably hardly a big deal, however, for all you newbies out there I would like to talk about an add on for Zen Cart that is very valuable indeed. The Google Analytics addon. We all know it is absolutely vital to know what is happening with our online businesses. We need to keep track of how profitable it is, and whether our (if any) advertising efforts are paying off. By signing up to Google Analytics, and linking your Google Adwords account with your Analytics account, you can trace what your paid traffic is doing. But in order to make the most of Analytics, you should implement Ecommerce tracking. Doing this is a pain, especially if you do not have much programming experience. Even more so if you’re using a shopping cart like Zen Cart.

But this Google Analytics add on, which is fairly straightforward to install, will do exactly what you want. Having just installed it on my two websites; www.alteregouk.com and www.aelingerie.com ; I managed to test it and must say it works brilliantly. It tracks transactions completed through your website; depending on what payment modules you are using, it will be fairly accurate. Obviously if you accept COD or any other form of offline payments, it will be impossible for Analytics to find out whether or not the transaction was actually completed – therefore I would suggest using this data only if your transactions are just online (such as through PayPal, Nochex or some other credit card processor).

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Continuing beef with Google Adwords…. the saga continues

For anybody who missed my first post about my current issue with Google Adwords;

Read it now: My beef with Google Adwords

Summary of the problem: I started off with a voucher entitling me to £75 of Adwords balance. £5 of this was to be taken as an activation fee for the service to start. The rest was promised to me (by Google Adwords’ email which offered me the voucher) could be used up by running ads to test their service. Valid for new customers only. So After using around £20 of that balance, Google suspended my account claiming I did not have sufficient funds. I contacted their Support.. They first claimed that I had no money in my account and the balance I’m seeing (£49.80) is just an estimate which is updated every 24 hours and actually I had no balance at all. When I pointed out to them that my ad campaign in total cost only £21 and the activation fee was £5, therefore I should be left with approx. £49, I received the following reply:

Hello Hedonist666,

Thank you for your email. I understand that you do not not agree that your
funds have exhausted.

I apologise for the inconvenience caused.

I reviewed your account and noticed that your funds are showing as
exhausted because you have not made an initial payment towards activation
fee. Even though you are using a promotional coupon of GBP 75, you still
need to make an initial activation fee payment (GBP 5). Usually unless
this payment is made we do not let the ads to run in that account, however
due to technical issue your ads ran. This issue has now been fixed and so
unless you make an initial payment of GBP 5 towards activation fee, your
ads will not run and your account will show an alert saying ‘prepay funds
exhausted’.

You can easily make a prepayment by following the steps below.

1. Sign in to your AdWords account at https://adwords.google.co.uk/
2. Select the ‘My Account’ tab.
3. Click ‘Make Payments’.
4. Enter the amount that you’d like to pay in the ‘Payment amount’ field.
Before doing so, please find the activation fee applicable to your country
and currency at https://adwords.google.co.uk/select/AfpoFinder. Your
prepayment amount must be at least twice your activation fee. In addition,
we strongly recommend choosing an amount that covers the cost of your
advertising for a week, so that your ads run consistently.
5. Once you have entered the amount, click ‘Go’ and then ‘OK’.

Now that you have successfully made your payment, your ads will start
running almost immediately and you can spend the remaining balance in your
account. You can see your payment record on your Billing Summary page
within 24 hours of the transaction.

I hope I have now clarified your concern.

If you have additional questions, please visit AdWords Support at
https://adwords.google.co.uk/support, where you will find answers to many
frequently asked questions.

We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising
available.

Sincerely,

*Name Removed*
The Google AdWords UK and Ireland team

Well that is very odd indeed! After receiving an email which tells me I get £75 to spend on ads, all of a sudden it turns out either the email with the voucher code, or what this Customer Support person is telling me; one of them is wrong…..

My response:

Hello *Name removed*,

Although this is an explanation for what happened to my account, I would argue that it is false. And if it is not, then the initial email in which the voucher for £75 was offered to me was misleading. NOWHERE in the email does it state that I need to pay the activation fee (£5) separately. Instead it clearly states that the fee will be taken from the £75 that the voucher covers and that I can try it out and use the full £75 minus the activation fee for running ads.

Let me quote to you the terms and conditions in the email:
” Terms & Conditions: Use of AdWords and redemption of the promotional credit is subject to ad approval, valid registration and acceptance of the Google AdWords Terms and Conditions. The promotional credit will be automatically credited to your AdWords account once you have entered your unique code and billing preferences. If you choose pre-pay billing the account activation fee (currently £5) will be deducted from your promotional credit. You will be charged for any advertising charges that exceed the promotional credit, and you are solely responsible for the payment of any taxes incurred. If you do not wish to incur additional charges beyond the promotional credit then you should monitor your account and pause or delete your campaigns before or once this amount has been reached. From the date when you pause or delete all of your campaigns, your account will not accrue additional clicks or charges. The promotional credit is non-transferable and may not be sold or bartered. If you indicate that your AdWords account should be subject to a different currency to the one in which your promotional credit has been awarded, then the actual amount of the promotional credit may be subject to foreign currency fluctuations. Offer may be changed or revoked at any time for any reason by Google Ireland Limited and/or any affiliated company offering the AdWords service in your country. One promotional credit per customer. Offer expires and promotional credit will only be granted to accounts created on or before 31st October 2008. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. Google and AdWords are trademarks of Google Inc. and are registered in the US and other countries. Google Ireland Limited, Gordon House, Barrow Street, Dublin 4, Ireland.”

Which one is correct then, what you’re telling me that I need to pay £5 separately in order to use up the voucher credit, or what was written in the email which offered me the voucher code to begin with?

If you like I can forward the entire email to you so you can see for yourself that it says absolutely nothing about having to pay £5 in addition to what the voucher gave me. There must be some misunderstanding between various departments in your organisation regarding this issue.

Kind regards,

Hedonist666

Google’s response:

Hello Hedonist666,

Thank you for your email. I have forwarded this issue to our payments
team. They are currently investigating the situation and we will contact
you as soon as we have found a solution. We thank you for your patience
and apologise for any inconvenience.

If you have additional questions, please visit AdWords Support at
https://adwords.google.co.uk/support, where you will find answers to many
frequently asked questions.

We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising
available.

Sincerely,

*Name removed*
The Google AdWords UK and Ireland team

Bloody hell, I hope something comes out of this soon… And although I realise the person I’m dealing with is just an employee doing their job, and I’m probably being quite annoying; I can’t help it, I’m damn pissed off about it all! Either don’t give me stuff for free, or clearly state when there’s a catch to it…

My beef with Google Adwords

adwords

I’m getting increasingly frustrated and angry at Google Adwords. Fine so it’s the only service of its kind worth using. People can get wonderful returns running Adwords Ads… BUT: (and this is a big but!) Their billing system is SHIT! I simply cannot put it into milder terms. When you sign up, and pay them X amount of money, use your account, keep a careful eye on your spending, one would expect that you will be able to actually USE UP the cash you put in. Logical thinking, right? Not so for Adwords. Below an outline of what I’m currently dealing with:

Mid September I signed up with Adwords. Put in £75 (OK I admit, it was a gift voucher I received, so I didn’t actually pay anything). Firstly Adwords tells you that a £5 admin fee will be deducted from your balance. Fine… Then you run some ads, get some clicks, set your budget perhaps at £2 per day. Towards the end of the month the ad charges of the whole month are taken from your balance. Fair enough. So basically at any given point, your account balance is NOT shown Realtime. For a company as big as Google, you would think that they would get the calculations right for determining how much money you still have to spend. Well I thought wrong….

I had £75, they took £5 admin fee, I spent around £21 on advertising during the months of September and October. And behold: There should be £49 left in my account… However, Google has suspended my ads claiming that I’m broke. Brilliant!

Dear Madam/Sir,

My ad campaign is suspended because supposedly my funds are exhausted. However, at the beginning of November I still have 49.80 left in my account, with no ads running, therefore no charges incurred in the meanwhile. I would like to spend this money before I add more to my account.

Thank you,

Hedonist666

Google’s Response:

Hello Hedonist666,

Thank you for your email. I understand that you are concerned that though
you have £49.80 left in your account your ads have been suspended for
funds being exhausted.

I apologise for the inconvenience caused.

I reviewed your account and noticed that your balance is 0.00. For the
most updated balance please check out the yellow space above the billing
summary table. It says “Funds remaining in your account”. This shows the
correct balance.

The “Balance remaining as of today” section gets updated only once in 24
hrs and is not accurate. I have attached a screenshot of your billing
summary page for better understanding.

I hope I was able to clarify your concern. Please feel free to send a
direct reply to this email in case of further assistance.

If you have additional questions, please visit AdWords Support at
https://adwords.google.co.uk/support, where you will find answers to many
frequently asked questions.

We look forward to providing you with the most effective advertising
available.

Sincerely,

*Name removed for privacy reasons*
The Google AdWords UK and Ireland team

Brilliant! So the balance shown isn’t the balance you actually have. And the balance Google claims I actually have is nil. My reply:

Dear *name removed*,

I realize that it SAYS 0.00, which is False.

I have no charges for any ads unsettled because the last ads I ran were in October, and October’s charges have been deducted from my account already. Now at the moment, neither can I run any ads or do anything else to spend the remaining balance of my account.

Please check closely, you will be able to see that in the time I had my account I HAVE NOT SPENT a total of £75 (which was the starting balance of my account) and therefore my remaining balance CANNOT be 0.00. It would be interesting to find out how this figure is calculated to begin with. The logical way would be starting balance minus charges incurred for services used. Since I have not used £75 worth of services, the figure of 0.00 cannot be the outcome of any logical calculation. Even if we assume that nothing has been paid at all from the charges I incurred for running ads: The total of my campaign for ALL TIME is £20.21. This means I should have :
£75 – £5 (admin fee) – £20.21 (ad campaign total) = £49.79. Which is exactly what my Balance page says.

I would like someone to look into this closely because as it stands right now it means Adwords is just a moneypit that I have to keep topping up without actually spending what’s in it. This is not cost effective for me or anyone wanting to use this service.

I insist that I get my money’s worth and am able to spend the balance that remains in my account.

Kind regards,

Hedonist666

I am hoping for a quick resolution, although this has been dragging on for a few days already. I’m practically fuming.. I cannot stand it when a supposedly tech-savvy company makes stuff that doesn’t work, and then refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem! Assuming I actually do top up my account, so Google’s system is happy that I have money again, will this go on endlessly and they keep telling me I’m broke when they actually have almost £50 of mine gathering interest in their bank account??

Anyway, rant over, is there anyone else facing this or a similar problem?

Forum Rules?!

Life is tough for small business owners. Running your own online shop means a lot of legwork trying to promote your site in order to get traffic. And yes, I will bluntly admit that I engage in some seemingly social online behaviour with the underlying purpose of promoting my website, who doesn’t?

So I joined this Forum, relating to the topic of my own website; namely sex. And I engaged in conversation, gave advice, etc. Just like would be expected of anyone active on such a forum. I read the forum rules which seemed pretty much normal, but forgot to look at what I assumed were “comments” posted in the same sticky thread. My interpretation was, that as long as you don’t spam, you’re free to post whatever links you wish in your signature. As is the case with any other forum I am active on. Well apparently they changed their mind and decided that normal members of the community posting links in their signature would be unfair to their sponsors?! So it should no longer be allowed.

What bull! How can a small link compete with full colour banners plastered all over the rest of a website. As I’m seeing it, although it’s about intimate topics, and I’m not an expert by any means, me giving my opinion or sharing tips and suggestions, should at least be rewarded by some exposure of my own additions to the world wide web. Fine, so if you feel it’s unfair to the sponsors, disallow banners in signatures, don’t allow commercial links, but the fact that should I so choose, I cannot even post a link to my own non profit blog in my signature is preposterous!

All the forums I am a member of have sponsors, with nice big ads. And all of them allow self promotion in members’ signatures. It is a common web practice. And if it bothers you that people are just link building by posting comments, you could always make them “nofollow” for the search engines.

I believe they’re just shitting on the little guy. Even on this very blog, I moderate comments, but if someone has something valuable to say or add to the discussion, I will allow it, including promotional link. So post away my friends, so we may do what the web in its name already suggests: link stuff together to make one larger structure…

Google Base – The mystery is solved…

I have been complaining a lot about Google Base lately. Having twice submitted my entire product list from www.alteregouk.com (2500+ products!) and not being able to see any of them even while searching for only my own products, I finally decided to contact the Help Desk. Now there’s good news and there’s bad news.

I finally know why I couldn’t see any of my products! When you go to the google homepage, and you select Shopping/Products; in Preferences there is a setting that filters out Adult content. When I turn it off, all my products show up.

So that’s it. The only reason my products seemed to disappear. And I’m not happy finding this out. Because: while my products were nowhere to be found, all my competitor’s products seemed to show up just fine. And we’re selling the same (adult!) products! So in effect, somehow Google thinks my site isn’t decent enough, and my competitors are. Just the fact that there was such a setting was news to me, and I’m sure many people who search on google for Adult products are not aware of it either. So basically I’m never going to get the same exposure as my competitors. Very irritating indeed!

Google’s advice is “remove inappropriate language from your items and try again”. I’ll try to censor my listings and see what happens, but I think I’m just doomed to fail at effectively making use of Google Base.

Google Base – Second Try!

Generally I am a fan of Google products. I can’t help it; until now I have found it to be the best search engine (although results are deteriorating, but perhaps that is a general trend, not just Google’s fault!), their Webmaster tools and Analytics are extremely helpful for anybody running a commercial website. A while back I was also using AdSense on one of my sites. I did earn some money with it but because I was forced to give up my site, I couldn’t keep earning from ads either.

One product I have not yet used is AdWords but I’m on it; once my site(s) are settled in a bit and optimised properly, I will try running and Ad Campaign with the voucher my hosting company so graciously provided me with (£50! and all I had to do was pay around £10 on hosting.. now that’s a bargain!) Oh and not to mention the kind people at Google gave me a voucher as well… £70 after all I did was use Analytics for a while.

Either way, that’s not what I wanted to discuss here… My point is: I generally am biased towards liking Google. So I wanted to try Google Base; a tool for submitting your products to the Google shopping search results. And I don’t know about anybody else, but I use it quite heavily, mainly for comparing prices of products on various websites.

So I happily and naively went into Google Base, opened an account, and read up on how to add products. Because my site has LOADS of them (and I do mean LOADS!), the datafeed option was my salvation. I created a tab delimited txt file in Excel, containing around 2500 products. And I submitted it. That was around a week ago. The first thing that happens is, Google base tells you the file is being processed, which could take up to an hour. After an hour it tells you how many errors there were, and how many products were submitted. And then you get a list of products and their status is “Published … searchable soon”. As long as this displays, you should sit patiently and wait for up to 48 hours until the products are in the search results. Then the status will say something like “Published and searchable”. Right on time, within a day or so the status changed to searchable and I got excited. Could not wait to find out how many people search for my products on google shopping. Guess what: none!

Not a single visitor… absolutely nothing. So I logged in, and tried searching for some of my own products. No result; all I get is competitors’ products. Then I went through the help files… They tell you a way to search for your own products using your user id. Nothing! Not a single product of mine was in the index.

Strange isn’t it? And if you search through help files and forum posts, all you get is pointers on what you could’ve done wrong; set the wrong country, item type, submitted items without prices etc. Well I did everything exactly as described, still nothing in the search results. So I’ve waited for a week, thought maybe I need to be more patient. But today I’ve had enough, deleted all my products, and my feed, and uploaded a new one. (exactly as the Google troubleshooting page told me to; resubmit and see what happens).

But as it stands now, I don’t like Google base as much as I thought I would. To me it seems like a buggy product. Good thing it’s free, because if I had wasted more than a bit of time, I would’ve been quite pissed off!

CMS Made simple?!

Today I’ve spent most of my day researching a CMS. I am in desperate need of a good, stable and easy to use CMS for two applications; my office requires a website and my boss wants to update content, and I am planning a new site myself that will focus mainly on content, rather than 100% ecommerce.

So as I started searching this morning, I came across a blog post describing 13 CMS’s that I had not yet heard of. I cannot really pinpoint why out of all of them, I opened one window for Silverstripe CMS, and another leading me to the CMS Made Simple website. I ended up looking through CMS made simple, tried out the demo install, and noticed some interesting features. For some reason I didn’t go beyond the frontpage of Silverstripe, perhaps I will look into it some other day.

Previously I have used a few Opensource CMS’s both for my own projects as well as for customers. Working as a freelancer, I was asked to do a few Mambo templates. That is how I got a little familiar with that system. I didn’t like it that much because it had many limitations and whenever I would find a module I liked, it turned out development had stopped on it and no support was given. But just like CMS made simple it was also based on PHP and MySQL. Mambo’s limitations grew me accustomed to problems having group permissions for various users, as well as some templating limitations.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that CMS made simple had inbuilt functionality for some things that were very hard to do in Mambo; Group permissions seem to be easy at first sight. I have not fully tested this yet but I will definitely do it within the next week or so. Templates are easily selected and different pages can have different templates assigned to them. I could straight away think of various situations in which I needed exactly this functionality and in the end gave up on my ideas because it was simply too difficult to do.

I was also very pleased with the fact that the inbuilt SEO Friendly URLs in CMS made simple actually work on my web hosting. Something I was not able to do on my Zen Cart site for some reason; which actually made me suspect that maybe I have Windows hosting. Clearly this is not the case because I’ve managed it with this CMS. So I have to suspect that htaccess isnt fully supported on my hosting and because CMS Made Simple has an inbuilt way of rewriting URLs through PHP (don’t ask me how; I’m not that nerdy!) it just works out of the box. Great, just what I wanted!

From what I could tell at first sight, there are many third party modules available for CMS made simple. The website has quite a comprehensive list of them. And I could find a handful already which I have downloaded and kept; a Comments feature, RSS feed, Google sitemap module, Events module etc.

Another I downloaded was osCommerce for CMS made simple. It seemed promising and I was very keen on using it but it just didn’t work at all.. So far this was the only disappointment I faced. Sure, I plan on using this system on a mainly content based site, but I will still need some ecommerce functionality. There are some other shopping cart and product catalogue modules available, and I will test them soon, so my final verdict is still pending. However, at least for my office site, which does not need an online shop, I think I will go with this CMS.

My next step will be learning how to create my own templates. That should be fun…

1-2-3 … Launch!

I realize very well that title made it sound much more exciting than it actually is; but I’ve launched my site; www.alteregouk.com. It was a silent launch (in fact, it’s been up for a week now and I haven’t told anyone yet. Just trying to get Zen cart running smoothly, troubleshoot and debug. Also, I’ve been planning my marketing strategy; how do I get Google to find a completely new site more interesting.

Furiously analyzing the data provided to me from Google Analytics and Webmaster tools. Interestingly I am already getting traffic from google; for the strangest keyword combos… apparently I rank highly for “chinese sex dolls” when searching only UK sites. surprising; I would’ve thought established sites would get the top few results pages.

My first real step in website promotion has been submitting my URL to the Zen Cart showcase. This was more effective than expected; from one day to the next I got 150 unique visitors! (Previously I had maybe 1 or 2). If only roughly 40% weren’t US based whereas my site only sells and delivers in the UK… As you can imagine I’ve had quite a few abandoned shopping carts.

People keep asking me when my site will be done. And I really can’t think of a good reply. Because anyone who operates a web based business knows this: a site is never done, it’s never complete. You always have to develop it and grow it, or it will die.

Therefore I’m still working on and on, writing content, meta tags, descriptions and keeping an eye on traffic data to see if the effort was worth it. It should be another few months before I can tell properly if my efforts paid off. And that is the very worst part of the whole process: I’m way too impatient to be able to wait and see!

E-Commerce & Me (My Zen Cart experience)

I am not new to the world of E-Commerce and IT. For years I have worked as a freelance web designer, building other people’s business websites from scratch. During that time I have also created and run multiple of my own websites, however due to circumstances outside my control, my pet project of a couple of years ago; an e-commerce website, never really took off. Basically I built it, designed it, coded everything myself, added products to it and people ordered before I even expected it! My concept was as follows: Sell Indian ayurvedic/herbal beauty products which I would source from local shops, package them and send them off to my customers.

The main issue was, that living in India at the time, I had a very hard time dealing with the post office. They somehow refused to help explain their charges for overseas shipments. Therefore I was not able to calculate the shipping rates properly. Two other problems I faced contributed to my decision of taking the site offline; 1. Product availability problems; whenever I added a particular product to the site, chances were, when the order for it came in, it was near impossible to source it because of supply issues. 2. The tiny scale on which I was operating meant I could not invest in buying packaging material in bulk, so packaging became a very time consuming and expensive affair. Bottom line: I made losses on orders that came in, took a very long time getting the products together and packaging them and faced issues with some orders getting stuck at customs.

Most online businesses abroad do not face the same issues. Shipping costs are very transparent in most of the world. Product supply is handled by a wholesaler; people would rarely buy from retail shops and sell online because they would be too expensive. Packaging might still be an issue; but even that can be solved; selling through a dropshipper rather than a wholesaler, can be more convenient because you do not need to worry about the hands-on process of getting the products packed and shipped yourself.

So because I felt quite comfortable with the idea of building and managing my own e-commerce website, a few months back I decided to give it another shot. I found a dropshipper, researched some open source shopping cart scripts (honestly; if a team of people has already done all the scripting for you, gone through various versions and upgrades, why would you reinvent the wheel all over again?!) and got started on my latest project; www.alteregouk.com

It’s always a steep learning curve, dealing with a new system. I have had to do this a couple of times already, when asked to develop templates for various content management systems during my time as a freelancer. But Zen Cart I found a little bit different. It is not as user-friendly as some of the other systems I have tried. But it seems to be quite versatile. It has quite a few options right out the box, but certain other supposedly simple tasks can be time consuming and frustrating: the configuration settings are vast and it’s easy to get lost in them. Also, the way the language system works is quite complex; there are numerous files strewn around the directory structure of the site which allow editing of various wordings and phases used on the site. It would’ve helped to have a nice user interface to allow quick&easy access to the words/sentences people most commonly want to change.

With the help of some Third Party additions to the main software; I think my online shop is taking shape quite nicely. I can add products in bulk with the help of the Easy Populate Addon, create Google XML Sitemaps with just a few clicks, display my full size product images in a neat looking hovering box

I could really only ask for one more thing; SEO Friendly URLs, but as I’m on Windows Hosting, that is never going to happen I’m afraid…

So now, after around two months of working on the website, I have over 2200 products, and am scheming my marketing campaign. My To Do list is getting shorter each day. I cannot wait to launch properly.. then play the waiting game to see if anybody actually orders! But don’t think I’ll just be sitting idle waiting for this site to take off; there are a few more ideas up my sleeve. Because in today’s online marketplace; you should definitely NOT put all your eggs in one basket!