downloadzencart

How to Install and Set Up Zen Cart

This article was written by Richard Robbins 

Zen Cart is one of the most popular open source (free) shopping cart systems available.  Zen Cart allows users to easily set up an online storefront where they can list products for sale.  It also provides a checkout system that can be configured to accept PayPal, credit cards, and other payment methods.  The administrative section of Zen Cart gives store owners the ability to keep track of orders, update their catalog, and perform numerous other functions that help them make money online.  I’m going to show you how to set up Zen Cart on a web server running on a Unix/Linux based system.  The server administration used in this example is cPanel.  This configuration is a popular one for web hosting accounts.

Downloading Zen Cart
Before you can install Zen Cart on your web host, you’ll first need to download it from www.zen-cart.com.  Download the latest release.  Right now it’s version 1.3.8.

After saving the Zen Cart .zip file to your computer, you then upload it to your web server.  I use a program called WinSCP to transfer files from my computer to my web server.  You can use an FTP program or whatever works for you.  Upload the Zen Cart zip file to your public_html directory.

Once you have uploaded the Zen Cart zip file to your web server, you need to unzip it.  If you can get around Linux pretty well and know what you’re doing on the command line, you can execute the command unzip zen-cart-v1.3.8a-full-fileset-12112007.zip.  If you are using cPanel, you can go to the File Manager.  Browse to the location of the Zen Cart .zip file, and click on it.  You’ll then be given the option to Extract File Contents.  Click that link, and the file will be unzipped.

Extract Zen Cart

Once you’ve unzipped the file, you need to do some quick cleanup.  The folder containing all the Zen Cart contents comes out of the .zip file looking something like this: zen-cart-v1.3.8a-full-fileset-12112007.  If you are planning to have your store exist in a subdirectory of your domain (e.g. www.domain.com/store/), go ahead and rename the long-winded Zen Cart folder to whatever name you’d like to have as part of the URL used to access.  Many people choose terms like “store” or “catalog”.  If your Zen Cart store is going to be the prominent feature of your entire website, I recommend moving all the contents of the Zen Cart folder into the public_html folder so that when your site visitors go the root of your domain (e.g. www.myonlinestore.com), your Zen Cart store is the default page that loads.

Now that you have your file structure in place, it’s a good time to prepare our web server so that Zen Cart can install itself.  You need to create a database for your Zen Cart store using your cPanel.  Creating a database is fairly simple.  You follow the link in cPanel to MySQL Databases.

cPanel MySQL

On the MySQL Account Maintenance page, you need to create a database by entering a name and clicking the Create Database button.  Then create a user (including a username and a password) that can access the database.  After you’ve created a user account, you need to assign that user to your store’s database.   The interface for these three functions is shown below.

Zen Cart Database Setup

You will use this database information when you go through the Zen Cart installation wizard, which is up next.  Make sure you have on hand the name you gave to your new database along with the databases user’s username and password that you assigned to the database.

The last step for you to take to prepare your Zen Cart environment for installation is to set up two configuration files, one for the admin section of the site, and one for the storefront section of the site.  The two files come packaged in Zen Cart as /admin/includes/dist-configure.php and /includes/dist-configure.php.  Change the names of each of those two files to configure.php.  You may need to change the permissions on both of the files.  Don’t worry about permissions at this point.  If the installation tells you it can’t access them when the time comes, it will let you know.

To begin the installation, point your browser to your where you extracted the Zen Cart files on your server and add /zc_install/ at the end.  If you put the Zen Cart files in the root of your web server, you’ll go to domain.com/zc_install.  If your store is going to be located in a subdirectory on your site, you’ll go to a URL analogous to this:  domain.com/store/zc_install.  In these examples, you substitute your website domain for domain.com.  In the second scenario, substitute the name you gave to your Zen Cart folder for store.  If you’ve accessed the correct URL, you will see the Zen Cart installation screen, which looks like this:

Zen Cart Install Welcome

From this screen, click Continue.  Then you move to the installation agreement.  Select the box that says you agree to the Zen Cart licensing terms, and click Continue.  The next installation page (System Inspection) shows the results of an inspection that the Zen Cart installation does to determine whether your web server meets the performance and software support requirements for running Zen Cart.  Most web hosting accounts don’t have problems running Zen Cart.  If you have an X on any of the items on the checklist, you need to fix the problem before Zen Cart can be installed.

Now it’s on to the meat of the installation.  The next page is where you need to enter the information you kept from the database you set up previously.  You will provide Zen Cart with your database’s name along with the database username and password that you just set up.  This provides the Zen Cart installation with access to your database.  The Zen Cart installer will then set up the structure of the database (tables) and insert the default information it needs for your fresh store.  When you’re finished entering your database login information, click Save Database Settings.  You’ll see a progress bar indicating that the database is being setup.

Zen Cart Install Database Setup

The next page allows you to change the “System Setup”, including your web server’s physical path to your Zen Cart installation, the URL of your Zen Cart store, and your domain’s SSL settings.  The Zen Cart installer detects that information automatically, so you probably won’t need to change anything.  If you don’t have a secure certificate installed for your domain yet, you can just leave the Enable SSL fields set to “NO”.  You can go back later and configure your Zen Cart store to use SSL by editing the configure.php files for both your store (/includes/configure.php) and your admin (/admin/includes/configure.php).

Zen Cart Install Server Settings

Click Save System Settings to move onto the next page of the installation.  Zen Cart allows you to integrate a phpBB Forum  if you already have one.  I’ve never used phpBB, so I always leave this page alone and click Save phpBB Settings to move to the next page of the installation.

The final two pages allow you to enter general information for your store.  The values you enter here will be used in various parts of your store later on.  For instance, the store address you enter will be listed on the default Contact Us page.  You can change these values later through the Zen Cart admin.  At the bottom of the Store Settings page you’re also given the option to install demonstration categories and products.  Zen Cart is simple enough to figure out that you don’t need to install the sample data unless you’re interested in simply getting some experience with Zen Cart without having to set up a store on your own.  Click Save Store Settings to move to the admin setup page.

On the Administrator Account Setup page you’ll setup the username and password of the backend administrator.  You’re also given the option to detect when upgrades are available.  Keeping your Zen Cart store updated is a very good idea.  However, if you choose to leave the upgrade detection field selected, you may notice there are times the admin section of your site runs very slowly.  That happens when it’s trying to check for updates, and the Zen Cart update server isn’t responding.  If you find that to be the case, you can disable the automatic upgrade detection from your store admin.

After you’ve finished setting up your admin account, you should see the page below, indicating that you’re finished with the installation.  However, there are two quick finishing touches you need to make.  First, you need to remove the zc_install directory so that someone doesn’t come along later on and try to run your setup wizard again.  Second, you need to change the permissions on your /includes/configure.php file (use chmod 444 from the command line or make it User:read, Group:read,World:read using your cPanel File Manager) so that it’s secure.

Zen Cart Finish Install

Now that you’ve finished installing your Zen Cart store, you can move on to adding categories and products, configure your shipping and payment options, and customize the look of your store.  You’ve now taken a significant step forward with your online retailing goals.

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Using Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a resource for tracking traffic that comes to your site.  To use Analytics, set up an account at http://www.google.com/analytics.  You will be directed to add a website profile.


Leave the “Add a Profile for a new domain” radio button checked.  Then enter your web domain.   For my Analytics account, I entered www.websitetemplatedatabase.com.  Click Finish, and you’ll be taken to a page that contains your tracking code.  The Analytics tracking code is simply a piece of JavaScript code, invisible to visitors to your website, that reports to your Analytics account every time someone accesses one of your pages where you have the tracking code installed.  As noted in the Tracking Status message, shown in the image below, you need to install the tracking code (by simply copying it from the Analytics box and pasting it in a section of your site) on each page of your site that you want to have tracked.  Obviously, if you have pages on your site where the tracking code doesn’t exist, Analytics can’t report information about visitors to those pages.


You might be overwhelmed with the prospect of inserting this piece of JavaScript into each page of your website.  Fortunately, most websites in operation today (yours should be included) use file includes to insert headers and footers that show up on every page site wide.  For example, if your website is based on a Content Management System such as Joomla, you can easily insert the JavaScript code into the header or footer section of your active template, and you’re done.  If you’re using a shopping cart system such as Zen Cart, you can simply insert the code into the header or footer file of your template.  Setting up the Analytics tracking code on popular blog platforms such as Blogger.com and WordPress is just as easy.

After you’ve pasted the Analytics tracking code into the appropriate place on your website, you can go back to your Analytics account and confirm that the reporting system has been set up.  Sometimes there is a delay of a few minutes before Analytics updates itself to recognize that your tracking code is indeed installed.  Until Google Analytics sees your tracking code installed correctly on your website, you will see something like this in your report dashboard.  The warning sign means that Analytics hasn’t been able to find the tracking code for the site.  Normally there are no problems setting up the tracking code, but once in awhile (depending upon your website structure) you might have to do some troubleshooting.


Once you do have the tracking code setup correctly, you’ll see something that looks like this:


Analytics Reporting
Once you’ve got Google Analytics set up on your website, you can get to the fun part: checking out how your website promotion efforts are paying off.  Analytics shows you every angle related to traffic patterns on your website.  I like to look at the general overview of how many unique visitors I’m getting to my site.  The default view is for one month, but you can easily change it to show much longer or shorter periods.  You can see on the chart below that websitetemplatedatabse.com has gone from just a few visitors a day in July when we first brought the site online up to about 150 visitors per day now.  There are some noticeable spikes on the chart from specific marketing campaigns we ran to drive traffic to our site.


I like to see how my SEO efforts are paying off in the search engines, so I normally visit the Search Engine reporting page, shown here.


You can see here that we’re making good progress showing up in the search engines, with Google leading the way as expected.  If I click on the Keywords link, I can see the individual keyword phrases visitors have used to find my website.  I often use this information as feedback into my SEO efforts to capitalize on the search terms I’m naturally being ranked for in Google search results.  For instance, if I’m getting a handful of visitors for a keyword term such as “blogger templates”, I might check what my Google ranking is for that keyword phrase and expend some effort pushing my site to the top.  Using this strategy is often more efficient that going after a keyword term for which my site is buried deep down in the search results.

I’d advise you to spend some time looking around after you’ve set up your Google Analytics account and installed the tracking code.  There are numerous ways you can use Analytics as very useful feedback into our website structure as well as your website promotion strategies.  For instance, if you’re selling a product, you can check to see what page customers are commonly exiting your site from.  You might find that your checkout page is suspicious or that your policies page is unpopular.  The information I’ve listed here is just the tip of the Analytics iceberg.

googleaccounts

The Google Suite of Webmaster Tools

When I first started promoting websites almost nine years ago (2001), there was a lot more guesswork that had to be done by webmasters to figure out what Google expected for a website to rank favorably in search results.  Google has evolved over the years, continually increasing interaction with its webmaster audience and giving progressively clearer instructions on how to rank well for targeted search terms.  Google has also become more open in seeking feedback from the webmaster community and its search audience in general.   In addition increasing the dialog between Google and its users, Google has created a suite of products that are very useful for accomplishing tasks that cover the full spectrum of website promotion, including getting your site indexed by Google, tracking traffic to your site from all sources, promoting products, and optimizing your content to achieve higher traffic and higher conversions.

Setting up a Google Account
To access the Google tools, you’ll need to set up a Google Account.  There are a few different ways to set up an account with Google, including signing up directly to access any of Google’s webmaster tools described below.  To set up a general Google account, all you need is an email address.  Although you could manage your access to the various Google tools using different accounts, it makes sense to keep everything together under one account.

If you don’t have any form of an existing account (such as Gmail, Picasa, iGoogle) with Google, you can go to their Accounts page http://www.google.com/accounts and set one up.  You simply enter your email address and a password to get started.  After you’ve submitted your account information to Google, they will send you a verification email with a link that you need to follow to verify that you own the email address you used to set up the account.

Google Analytics
Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) allows webmasters to monitor traffic patterns on their websites.  Setting up your website with Analytics is normally very simple.  You sign up for an Analytics account, insert a tracking code into your website header, and watch the stats start rolling in.

Google Webmasters
Google Webmasters (http://www.google.com/webmasters) serves a few purposes.  It is a community for webmasters to learn what Google expects from their websites in order for them to receive high search rankings.  It’s also a way for webmasters and Google to communicate regarding their relationship.  Webmasters can submit sitemaps to Google to help with indexing their sites.  They can also configure settings to give Google recommendations on how to index their sites.  Google provides through their Webmasters tool helpful information regarding links it recognizes pointing to a webmasters website.  The Webmasters tool also provides information about keyword searches for which the webmaster’s site ranks highly and clickthrough stats related to those high ranking keyword terms.

Google Sitemaps
Google Sitemaps provides a way for webmasters to help Google index their sites correctly.  You may have noticed when doing searches on Google that there are some results that show up on the results page, but when you click on the link to visit the site, the page doesn’t have the same information as was presented in the search results.  Sometimes the page is gone altogether.  Why does this happen?  Because Google has the ominous task of trying to index billions of web pages, keeping their contents as fresh as possible.  Obviously they’re not perfect.  They need help from website owners.

Sitemaps is Google’s way of asking for help indexing your site, which in turn helps your site.  In the control panel for Sitemaps, Google suggests that submitting a map of your website will “…tell Google about pages on your site we might not otherwise discover.”  Sitemaps has been integrated with the Webmasters setup, so you can submit your site’s map by logging in to your Webmasters account.

Google Base
Google Base is a handy tool for websites that sell products.  Webmasters can create product feeds representing what they have available in their online store, and submit those feeds to Google Base.  Google displays the products to people who use its product search module, and oftentimes products listed in Google Base are included with regular web searches.  Using Google Base is just one more way store owners can get their products in front of potential customers.

Google Website Optimizer
Google Website Optimizer is an analytical tool that webmasters can use to determine the best way of presenting content to their visitors.  Using Website Optimizer, a webmaster can run experiments to see which version of a page is more successful at accomplishing a goal such as generating a lead , a sale, or some other action.

Conclusion
Google’s tools have made it increasingly easier for website owners and webmasters to understand what is required of their websites in order to achieve success along the most dominant search engine.  Understanding and using these tools will certainly benefit your SEO and overall website promotion goals.

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Blogger: How to Keep Your Widgets When Changing to a Custom Blogger Template

For many Blogger users, changing templates is a regular occurrence.  Since my wife and began creating and publishing Blogger templates, we’ve noticed that a lot of people change their themes regularly.  The main difficulty with this habit involves keeping gadgets (also called widgets) that have been used to personalize a blog, such as Followers, Pictures, .  My wife recently designed a Blogger template for my sister-in-law to use on her recipe blog.  When my sister-in-law uploaded the new template, her blog list disappeared.  That scenario happens quite often, and it inspired this article.   Here’s a quick solution to allow you to change your Blogger template while retaining your gadgets.

 

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