Dynamic Content: What and Why?
What do we actually mean when we call it "dynamic"? Does it mean the content itself changes while the customer is browsing through the website? Here, we mean that the content of the whole website changes as time goes by, and more and more content is added. At this stage, it doesn't really matter who or what adds the content—whether it's the Administrator of the osCommerce website, or the website's visitors, or customers, or if the content is downloaded from another source (another website).
Why is dynamic content important for osCommerce? It's not only important for osCommerce, but for any website that is supposed to generate traffic and has goals to attract more visitors. The more professional, detailed, and interesting the content of the site is, the more customers will find it potentially useful to visit the website again and read newly posted materials. If the content of the website changes quite often, it will keep constantly growing with the flow of visitors.
For online stores, including osCommerce dynamic content is especially important.
First of all, it attracts more visitors who are interested in reading new and updated content to the website. It attracts more target audience visitors, who are likely to become customers and existing customers who are likely to become return customers. And all this without any advertising expenses involved!
Then, well prepared content increases the visitor's confidence and helps to increase the "visitor to customer" conversion rates.
Finally, keyword-rich content is well indexed by search engine crawlers, and search engines are more likely to put a website that constantly updates higher in search results than a website that doesn't.
So publishing dynamic content on an osCommerce site may increase the number of visitors, make the website more noticeable in search engines, and also increase the number of sales.
How Can We Make Users Participate?
By inviting not only readers but also writers it is possible to publish even more articles, news, reviews, etc. Such an approach may also help a lot in attracting users and converting them into customers, as they will know your osCommerce online store as a place in the Internet where they can both buy goods online and read what other customers have to say, express their thoughts, and participate in discussions, etc.
Here are several ways to invite users and customers of the website to participate in creating dynamic content:
- First and most important, is to make customers and website users aware of apossibility to participate and post content or just comments on other posts.
- Give them technical means to participate.
- Ask them to describe their own experience or opinion on a productor service.
- Ask them how you could improve your services and product range.
Even though it's extremely important to get feedback and content from users and customers of an online store, the Administrator of such a site should be ready to fight SPAM, fraudulent posts and content, copyright violations, and content that harasses, abuses, or threatens other users or customers.
Different Types of Dynamic Content in osCommerce
There can be multiple types of dynamic content present in osCommerce. There are osCommerce contributions and website authoring and building techniques and methods that allow for dynamic content to be added to an osCommerce online store.
In this article, we will specifically focus on articles, and how they can used for marketing on various blogs and online magazines.
CMS, Blogs, and Online Magazines
Article marketing means that you will write articles about your field of interest and distribute them for publication on other websites, blogs, and ezines with a link back to your site. Each time your article is published on a website you get a one-way link to your site. As with most good things, this method has been pounced upon by Internet marketers and the net is flooded with a lot of low-quality articles. However, if you produce meaningful articles, you can still get a lot of benefit by distributing your articles.
By publishing articles in your own online store, you not only get better indexed by search engines, but what's more important provide useful information to your customers who may be seeking for it.
What can the articles be about?
- Articles can be about products or series of products available forpurchase online.
- Articles can be about specific features of products and help customers to choose the product they want based on the detailed explanation of what this or that feature actually means. This sort of articles are called "buying guides". Also, in the articles, authors can compare features of several products and provide comprehensive information on what is the best choice forwhat needs.
- Articles can contain information on the best practice, tips, and tricks for using certain products advertised in the online store. Such articles help customers imagine how they would use this or that product, which increases chances for customers to buy the product online.
- Articles can be about some interesting facts related to the products sold online (similar to how Starbucks write in their brochures about water supplies in dry regions where their coffee grows).
- Articles can be about tendencies in certain industries, related to the products available in the online store.
Actually blog posts would not be that different to the articles, except that an article is supposed to be more detailed and informative than a blog post. Also, in the blog posts the author often can ask the readers to comment on certain questions/topics to make the discussion live and initiate opinion exchange.
When running a business blog, it makes sense to create several categories where the articles could be sorted. This way the customers will be able to find previous posts more easily, and also the blog author(s) will have certain goals, like, for example, to write to each category regularly.
Online magazines would contain articles grouped by certain theme and would be issued/updated regularly.
With both articles and blog posts, a facility to leave a comment is important to make the customers participate in discussion.
For search engine optimization purposes and for better user (reader)-to-customer conversion, links to the related products advertised on the online store can be added to each article or blog post, or be published alongside it.
Besides a facility to publish articles in other websites and online magazines, there are a number of content management solutions that can be integrated into the online store.
But first, we will consider a very effective and free way to publish content on the Internet. Open encyclopedia Wikipedia.org allows for publishing content. Of course the content needs to be properly prepared and be very detailed and to the point. But if you have anything to say about the products advertised in the online store, the technology that stands behind those products, or e-commerce approach that stands behind the online store, that qualifies to become an article in the electronic encyclopedia—a post in Wikipedia would be one of the most effective ways to promote your online store, its technology, and products.
Existing Content Management Solutions
There are a number of open-source solutions available to an osCommerce store owner that could be used to publish content directly on the website. We will consider several of the most popular ones, and also general integration practices with osCommerce.
osCommerce Information System and News Desk
osCommerce Information system is a publicly available contribution that can be downloaded from the osCommerce Contributions website at http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/1709.
osCommerce Newsdesk contribution allows for creating multi-level categories of articles and actually posting articles into the categories. It has support for multiple languages and each article can be posted in several languages. It also has built-in support for the so called WYSIWYG HTML editor, so that the Administrator of the online store can create nice-looking HTML content directly in the Administration panel of the osCommerce online store, with no use of any additional HTML authoring tools.
Posted articles can be added to the front end of the online store, either into an information box in one of the side columns, or displayed on one page, groupedby categories.
Posting an article is really easy. In the Administration panel, one has to fill in the article name, abstract, content, and may also want to fill in page title and keywords for the sake of SEO. Articles can be posted in different topics (categories), and the system allows for a multi-level tree of categories to be built in the Administration panel of the site. When posting an article, one can also select author from thedrop-down list. Authors are managed separately.
It becomes possible to add the Tell a Friend box on the Article page, this is configured in the options in the Administration panel. Reviews can be submitted by readers, and, once a review gets approved by the Administrator, the website displays it on the Article page, along with the Article text.
Yet another very important feature includes a facility to assign certain products to articles. Once a product gets assigned to an article, a link to the product information page appears underneath the text of the article. This feature works really well for SEO, and also, it helps customers who would be interested in products that are described in the associated article to find them easily.
This solution, which is available for free and can be downloaded from the osCommerce website (http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/1026) can address the needs of an online shop by allowing posting articles to the website, running online magazines, creating buying guides, and so on.
Third-Party Content Management Systems
Besides the built-in content management systems, osCommerce can be integrated with a number of third-party content management solutions. In this case, the website will be supposed to split into the website itself and online store. Of course, for proper visitor-to-customer conversion both parts should be linked together.
For example, the main website may contain some very detailed information about the business, products, buying process, usage practices, etc. and each page containing any product related information may be linked to the corresponding page of the osCommerce online store where the customer can actually buy a product. This approach is useful for more expensive and complex (or very new) products where customers would require a lot of additional information before they are ready to commence with the product purchase.
It's obvious that both the main website (based on a third-party CMS) and the online store (based on osCommerce) should have similar or the same design and be linked to each other.
Also, if the main website has any registration or login facilities user accounts should be shared between the two parts of the system for user convenience. So by logging into the main website, the customer would also get access into osCommerce Customer account and vice versa.
Another important point here is that osCommerce session should not be lost when the customer navigates back from osCommerce to the main website.
Having the same or a similar design, preserving osCommerce session ID, and having shared customer accounts are the key features of successful integration between osCommerce and a third-party CMS solution.
There seem to be no existing open-source contributions that would integrate one of the most featured and flexible CMS solutions with osCommerce. There are commercial products that allow utilizing benefits of the shared customer account between osCommerce and Typo3. You may want to check with your osCommerce consultant regarding the most suitable and cost effective option.
A solution based on the common customer account principle integrates osCommerce with Joomla CMS. This solution is called osCommerce Bridge. It combines customer registration and customer login features of both osCommerce and Joomla together.
PHP-Nuke can be merged with osCommerce in terms of customer login and registration as well. The corresponding solution is called OSCNuke and integrates osCommerce as one of PHP-Nuke's modules.
It should be noted that for better search engine optimization and visitor-to-customer conversion, all published text should be linked to osCommerce products where possible.
Built-In and Third-Party Blog Solutions
There is one blog contribution available for osCommerce at the moment. It can be downloaded from http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/4808.
It allows for posting short and medium updates, news, and comments in a blog. They are sorted by date of post and then split into groups, each group covering one month. All information can be published on the website afterwards, on a special page. A link to such a page can be added to the Information box of the site.
This solution has a built-in support for RSS. Website visitors can sign up to receive updates about new posts via their RSS reading client software.
Like any blog, it allows for comments to be made by its readers. Comments can be posted on a per article basis, and then the Administrator has a facility to approve or not approve comments made by the readers.
These features can be seen on the following screenshot.
Since it's still a very new add-on to osCommerce, integration with a third-party blog solution is a better choice for businesses.
The blog solution can be either installed as a separate part of the website, or a hosted blog solution that can be used to publish blog posts.
If the Administrator of the online store decides to have a blog solution hosted on the same server where osCommerce is operating, the best idea would be to install the blog into a sub-folder of the osCommerce online store. This way search engines will consider both osCommerce and the blog to be parts of the same website, which will eventually improve osCommerce indexing and page ranks because of all the keyword-rich content published in the blog.
Besides links to the blog from the osCommerce website (and back) blogs can be integrated into osCommerce using RSS feeds. Then the latest (most popular) posts in the blog will be imported by osCommerce in a certain format (RSS) and published in the osCommerce online store. For example, links to the latest/most popular blog posts can be published in the new Information Box in osCommerce.
The contribution that can be downloaded from http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/2692 allows for reading the RSS feed from the blog or any other news feed and publishing links to the source of the content in the information box.
To install, use, and customize blog solutions that can be presented to the customers as a part of the osCommerce website WordPress can be used. WordPress is a fully featured blog solution with multiple add-ons created especially for it.
The Advanced Administration panel allows for easy management and content writing. Readers can of course read articles, search articles, leave comments, and sign up to an RSS feed.
WordPress is an open-source solution, the same as osCommerce. The two are quite easy to integrate together. There is a separate contribution that integrates WordPress with osCommerce, and can be downloaded from http://addons.oscommerce.com/info/3886. It adds an information box with the latest posts extracted from WordPress and contains links back to the blog. In order to integrate WordPress with osCommerce, it is possible to use the previously described contribution that downloads any RSS feed and puts it into an information box.
RSS integration allows for not only integrating osCommerce with the blog installed as a part of the same website, but also with literally any other blog (or a CMS system that allows for RSS feed export). For example, a blog hosted by Blogger.com can be easily integrated into osCommerce using the same contribution as already described.
Attracting Customers Read and Write Articles
There's no better way to attract customers reading articles than publishing original content.
In order to attract customers leaving comments in the blog, the author should communicate with the readers by asking questions and inviting them to participate in dialog. Answering comments and questions left by the customers in the blog is not only polite but will also demonstrate to the readers that the author cares about their opinion and comments and will stimulate them to do it in the future.
The site owner may also run a contest for the best article sent by customers of the osCommerce online store. To make it easier for customers writing articles several topics may be proposed for writing by the Administrator of the online store. There may be some professional copywriters and journalists among the customers of the online store who would gladly participate in the contests or will simply agree to write articles and publish them in the online store content management system for certain discounts or free product samples.