Poor Image Quality Fix for Magento

Magento

Magento

It’s been a long time since my last post.  In fact, I haven’t updated this site in a year or so.  I had planned on adding many more pages and updating the blog regularly, but soon after I made this site I decided to pursue two new pretty big projects.  One of them is an e-commerce site that I’m just finishing up.  As these two projects get rolling, I’ll have more time for this site, and I’d like to keep it current and add more pages and posts regularly.  For now though, a relatively short post on a Magento fix, which I’ve recently implemented in my new e-commerce project.

First, Magento is an awesome shopping cart.  I’ve used several, and Magento just blows them all out of the water.  And, the community edition is free.  It took me a while to give it a go, because I read and heard so many people talk about how difficult it was to wrap your head around, how it was a beast, how the learning curve was steep, etc.  Having used it now for several months, I disagree.  I’ve found Magento to be fairly intuitive, and very easy/quick to learn.  There are some issues, as with everything, but a quick search almost always turns up a quick and relatively easy fix.  However…

Magento Product Images Suck!

For some strange reason, Magento has decided to compress uploaded product images in a way that results in very poor quality images.  Even if you upload an image that is the appropriate size, Magento will compress it.  Product image quality is one of the most important components of an e-commerce site, for obvious reasons, and this is a serious flaw.

This Magento thread goes on for 11 pages (so far), from 2008 to 2013, with numerous possible ways to fix the product image quality problem.  I believe I tried all of the solutions in that thread, but none of them resulted in perfect quality images.  In addition, many of the listed fixes would break when a new update would be released.  So I came up with my own method, which allows you to use any image you create with no compression at all.

How to Get Uncompressed, Perfect Product Images

When you upload a product image, Magento creates a compressed copy.  When you load a page on your site in your browser (front end) with a different size of that image, Magento then creates a compressed version of that sized image too.  It may end up creating as many as 4 different variations: the full sized image, a thumbnail for the “cart”, a medium sized image for the product listing/category page, and a larger version for the product page itself.

The solution is simple.  You simply replace the compressed images with perfect images, via FTP.  It’s not ideal.  And it would be a serious pain if you’ve already got hundreds or thousands of products on your site.  (Although, any solution will require you to upload all new images, anyway.)  But it does work, and it will stick even when Magneto is updated.

  1. First, upload your image(s).
  2. Second, go to your front end and load each page that is going to display a variation of the uploaded image(s).  If your products are already live, you can skip those two steps.
  3. Right click on your product image on the front end of your site, and view the file info to find the location of the image in your file system.
  4. FTP into your file system and replace the Magento generated images with your own perfect images.

You’ll see that Magneto places different sized variations in parent folders that are named based on the pixel size, and uses standard naming conventions.  So an image named “image-name_1.jpg” might be located in a parent folder named “450″ for example.  That’s going to be the 450 pixel version of your image, compressed by Magento.  You can create your own 450px sized images, name them the way Magento names them, and simply drag them into the folder to replace the Magento generated/poorly compressed images.  Presto.  You’ve got perfect images now.

Again, it’s not an ideal solution, as it would be best if Magento would automatically create perfect images, or give you the option of using uncompressed images!  But I have yet to find a way to get it to do so.  At least this fix works, isn’t difficult, and won’t break with the next update.

 

Why Edward Snowden Is a Hero

I can’t stand the overused and ridiculous use of the word “hero” in the US media.  With that said, Edward Snowden is a hero that has done the US and the world an incredible service.  Will it matter?  I sure hope so.  If you haven’t seen it, watch this interview he gave the Guardian.

I’ve been a big proponent of freedom and privacy for a long time, and it’s often disappointing to me that many others just don’t seem to care.  But the reason they don’t is understandable.  They don’t get it because they don’t see it.  Although I’ve never worked for the US government, I have seen (better than most) what big organizations with massive spying capability and data collection can and will do.  I’ve watched as Google has wiped out countless businesses without even a shred of caring.  In their fight against “spammers” they actively penalize websites and small businesses for past actions, actions that are beyond the control of the website/business owners.  The businesses that get destroyed are simply “collateral damage”.

(Before anyone objects that there is no other way for them to fight this fight, there is.  The difference between rewarding sites for positive signals and punishing sites for negative signals, particularly when those signals can be provided by less ethical competitors, is the difference between being responsible and careless, if not pathological.  And additionally, business owners who don’t have cutting edge information can inadvertently run afoul of Google, or can get nailed when Google changes their standards for what is and was acceptable.)

Where does this tie in with Edward Snowden and what the US government has been doing?  The US government is similarly (but on a far greater scale and with far more potential for much worse “collateral damage”) collecting comprehensive data on everyone.  As Snowden said, it’s not only what is being done now, but everything you’ve ever done in the past.  What you’ve bought, who you’ve talked to on the phone, who you’ve emailed, what you’ve said.  It’s all being stored.

But you’re not doing anything bad, so you don’t have to worry, right?  Tell that to the small businesses that have been wiped out by Google for going against guidelines or algorithmic mumbo jumbo they’ve never even heard of.  How about the Jews in Europe?  They weren’t doing anything bad until the Nazis decided they were.  What happens if or when Google, Apple, or the US government decides that you or someone you know is connected to someone who is “bad”?  And what happens if they’re just wrong?  You may just be acceptable collateral damage.

Combine that with secret courts, renditions, secret prisons, and unmanned drones blowing people (and anyone that happens to be near them) into minced meat, and you’ve got a pretty nasty picture forming.  In the west we often hear about the surveillance state in countries like China.  Is the US really all that different?  Or, are we just so addicted to the technology, so brainwashed by the propaganda, that we don’t realize that our government is no different?

Hopefully, people will listen to what Edward Snowden has to say, broadcast it to all their friends via their constantly monitored social networks and smart devices, where Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and countless others will log and save your communications in case they want to punish you later.  Is this really the world we want to live in?

Edward Snowden is a fucking hero.  Sign the WhiteHouse.gov petition to have him pardoned, here.

Interactive Content: Four Easy Ways to Increase User Engagement

Over the last couple of years, Google has made it substantially more difficult to game their search results and rank artificially high.  Buying loads of cheap links is more likely to get your site penalized than to increase your rankings and traffic.

These days, visitor engagement is the key to success.  Engagement ensures that visitors who arrive on your site will stay there, a positive quality signal for Google, and that they’ll be more likely to share your content with their friends, creating natural links, and indirectly increasing your rankings and traffic.

One of the best ways to increase the amount of time visitors spend on your website, and the chance they’ll share your site with their friends, is to create valuable interactive content.  And it’s not as hard as you may think.  Here are four easy ways to do so:

Online Calculators

Calculators aren’t just useful for boring mathematical tasks.  If you think outside the box, there are few websites that couldn’t benefit from a fun, valuable, interactive calculator.  With financial sites, weight loss sites, and fitness sites, there are tons of obvious applications.  But what about other sites?  On this site, for example, I’ve created a custom calculator that estimates website revenue.  For a site about dogs?  Create a calculator that estimates the amount of food a dog should eat with various levels of weight, exercise, and age.  How about a travel site?  Create a calculator that provides the amount of vacation days a visitor needs to stay sane.

The calculator(s) can be useful, fun, or both, and in any case, visitors will appreciate them, they’ll stay on your site longer, and if you make a really cool one, they may link to it or share it with their friends.  If you don’t know how to make a calculator, I’ve created a very simple tutorial here, with copy-and-paste code you can use.  So you’ve got no excuse!  Come up with a cool calculator idea or two, and add one to your site today.

Online Quizzes

Quizzes are another great option for interactive content.  Again, there are few sites that wouldn’t benefit from a quiz or two.  You can choose to make your quizzes a serious test of knowledge, a fun break, or any combination in between.  It’s unlikely your competitors are using quizzes on their sites, so adding one to yours is not only a great way to increase user engagement, but will also create a point of differentiation.  If you don’t know how to make a quiz, here’s another easy tutorial, with free files you can download and use today.

Make sure you promote your quizzes (or any new content for that matter) on pages that get a lot of traffic, and to influential people in your industry that may be willing to spread them.

Free Downloads

In many industries, free electronic downloads can be valuable.  On this site for example, I’ve created a free website template and WordPress theme.  Excel files are another great option.  On a weight loss site you might offer a free excel file that helps users track their caloric intake and calories burned.  On a finance site you could offer a free financial planning worksheet.  And on many sites, a free, small downloadable e-book can work.  Again, thinking outside of the box is often most useful.

Most sites don’t offer free downloads.  By offering them on your site, assuming you do create something of value, you also increase the value of your site and the chances that others will promote it for you.

Free Videos

Lots of sites nowadays do have video, so much so that many visitors will be looking for it.  Adding videos to your site is an excellent way to keep people on it for an extended period, and if the videos are good and you add them regularly, they’ll keep returning for more.

The easiest way to add videos to your site is via YouTube.  If you use YouTube, you won’t have to bother with hosting your videos or figuring out how to integrate it on your page…which can be way more trouble than you might imagine.  Ideally, you should use a high quality camera, but depending on the type of video you’re making, even an iPhone video uploaded to YouTube and shared on your site can work.

The downside to using YouTube videos is that visitors may click off to YouTube.  So I’d recommend disabling additional videos from showing up at the end of yours.  And make sure you’ve got complimentary, interesting and engaging content near the video, so that after someone watches it they’ll be even more likely to get further engaged in your site.

Do It Now!

Making a video will likely be the most difficult of the above 4 methods, but once you get going, you’ll see that it’s actually pretty easy.  Using my free tutorials you should be able to create a cool calculator and/or quiz, and add them to your site in as little as a couple of hours.  So do it now, add links to your new interactive content to your highest traffic pages, and email a few people in your industry!

The State of SEO: OODA Loop Implications

SEO and the OODA Loop

Understand & Make Money

Can you still make money with SEO?  Have Google’s latest actions driven the final nail in the coffin?  Or is there more opportunity than ever?

Read on, and find out.

Over the last two years, the pace of change in the SEO world has been fast and furious.  Internet marketers are giving up in droves as many of their sites are hit by penalties like Panda, Penguin, and the EMD update.  Cries that SEO is dead, particularly for small business, can be heard more than ever.

But it’s not SEO that’s dead, it’s the old ways of doing it that no longer work.  Things change.  They always have, and they always will.  Being able to adapt is key.  And if you can adapt as the competition gets slaughtered, there are more profits to be had than ever.

Here’s how you can use a concept developed by a military strategist to make sure you stay on top.

The OODA Loop

A colonel in the US Air Force, John Boyd developed the OODA Loop concept to apply to combat.  Make no mistake, there is a war going on between Google and the rest of us.  Naive or ill-informed SEOs may not realize this (at their own peril), but it nevertheless is true.

Webmasters want their sites to rank well in search results, and in the face of global competition for the top 10 spots, doing so requires understanding search engine algorithms and giving them what they want.  “Giving them what they want” is a nice way to say manipulating them.  Google doesn’t want to be manipulated.  They want to manipulate you.  The war is on.  And there is carnage.

Google and its foot soldiers (pandas, penguins, and untold others) are slaughtering websites and webmasters at a pace that’s pure crazy.  High quality sites and small businesses that get in the path of these maniacal beasts are acceptable collateral damage to Google’s war machine, and the government isn’t going to stop them.  We’re on our own, friends.

In the face of constant assaults by Google’s monsters, we must adapt in order to survive and prosper.  The OODA Loop provides a framework for doing so.

Observe – Orient – Decide – Act

OODA is an acronym for observe, orient, decide, and act.  In the face of change, we first observe the change.  It takes time to orient ourselves to the new reality.  Only after orienting ourselves to the new reality can we make a decision based on it.  And we can’t act until we decide how to do so, based on that new orientation.  The tricky part in this war against Google is that when Google is at the last phase of the OODA Loop, acting, they’ve forced us into the observation phase.  This leaves us 3 steps behind.

Let’s look at an example:

One day you’re walking along, doing just fine.  All of a sudden a panda jumps out and shoots you right in the face.  It’s rather shocking.  Most people do one of three things in such situations:

  • They fall down and die.
  • They freeze (in fear) right where they are, and the panda slaughters them or they bleed to death while frozen.
  • Since they’re not dead yet, their brains have them keep doing what they were doing…a natural survival response…which doesn’t work very well against deranged pandas and penguins.  They get slaughtered to, just a little bit later, as the panda runs behind them and shoots them several times in the back.

The Solution: Default Response

There’s one way to dramatically increase your chance of survival in the face of a vicious assault.  You need to have a default response.  A default response is an action that gets triggered by an aggressive action against you.  So when you get attacked, rather than getting stuck three steps behind and dying one way or another, you instantly act.  This action in the face of an attack forces the attacker into the observation phase, putting you instantly 3 steps ahead.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so easy with Google, as we rely on our opponent’s monopoly position in search for our income.  And because Google is such a huge monopoly, our action isn’t really going to kick them back to the observation phase, with us instantly on top.  But in order to survive, you still need a default response.  You need to move to a safe fall-back position from which to observe, orient, decide, and act with good and effective strategy.

Fall-Back Position

It may take some time before you figure out why that panda shot you in the face.  You’re going to need medical supplies and a safe place to hide while you orient to this new reality and decide how to proceed.  And, once you decide to act, the game may continue to change in front of you.

This means you either need enough savings to hold you over, or additional income sources.  Those income sources can be other websites not slaughtered by Google, or businesses/jobs that don’t depend on SEO traffic for income.  Having both savings and multiple sources of income is, of course, ideal.  In this day and age, where SEOs are in a full-on war with Google, having only one income generating site and no savings is a recipe for painful death by one of Google’s soldiers.  It doesn’t matter how good your site is, or how many people love you.  Google doesn’t care.

From your safe fall-back position, it’s time to fully observe, orient, decide, and act.

Strategic Pause

Taking a strategic pause from active web development, giving yourself time to observe the new playing field and orient yourself to it, can be of huge benefit.  Look at sites that were hit vs. sites that weren’t hit.  What are the differences?  Look deeply into your analytics.  What date were you hit on?  Does that date correspond to a known/confirmed penalty date?  Were you hit only for certain keywords or pages, or were you hit across the board?  Once you move to your fall-back position, still in good condition due to your savings or additional sources of income, take whatever time you need to observe and orient as best you can.

See What Sticks

If you’ve attempted to observe and orient with little success, you may have to send out spies to get more intelligence.  Don’t risk your best assets.  Every serious SEO should strive to have a number of sites with different types of content (quality, quantity, text, video, static vs. interactive, etc.), different types of link building (quality, quantity, frequency, anchor text variety and distribution, etc.), and different traffic sources (search, paid, social, offline marketing, etc.).  Once you’ve got a network of sites, you can use them to test the waters.  Throw enough at the wall, and something will stick.  When you know what’s sticking, build on it.

A Time to Fight, A Time Not to Fight

Know that there is a time to fight, and a time not to fight.  If you come to the conclusion that a site, page, or method is dead, don’t fight it…move on.  This may require giving up on a site (it may come back in the future as algorithms change and penalties expire), moving content to a new domain and starting over fresh, or deleting pages with “bad” links pointing to them (allowing them to 404 so the bad links are killed off).

OODA Lag

It takes time to observe, orient, decide, and finally act based on that new information.  Many of your competitors will die right after the initial assault, without defaulting to a fall-back position with a plan.  There will be a vacuum, where sites rank with little effort, simply due to active webmasters being taken out.  If you’ve got a number of test sites or back-ups in the ready, you may be able to take advantage of this vacuum.  Due to the time lag, it may seem like nothing works.  But something will.  It just takes time to figure it out.  For those that do, there will be less competitors and more to gain, as web use still continues to grow year after year.

The 4-Hour Workweek Review: Lessons and Comments

4-Hour Work Week

The 4-Hour Workweek

I recently read “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferris.  Obviously, I’m late to the party here as the book has been popular for years.  I’ve seen plenty recommendations for it, but a friend that read it (and said he really enjoyed it) had told me there was no point in reading it as I already live it.  However, I was walking through a book store a couple of months ago, passed the newest version, and figured I’d give it a shot.

First, I’m not exactly living it.  I work a lot more than 4 hours each week.  And actually I think the chance of you working 4 hours a week and making enough money to survive is highly unlikely.  I also seriously doubt Tim Ferris works anywhere near as little as 4 hours a week.

Apparently Tim built an e-commerce site in 2001 or so, selling nutritional supplements.  Back in 2001, if you were so lucky as to have realized that possibility, you could have made a ton of money with relative ease too.  I started my e-commerce site in 2005, and there was nearly no competition compared to these days.  Anyway, Tim was able to outsource most of the operation of his site.  Doing that, I can see how it’s possible to work 4 hours a week.  But that would require you to be lucky…to have seen, had the time and knowledge for, and seized an opportunity very early on.  Most of us aren’t quite so lucky.  Most of us, if not all, did not start an e-commerce site where all operations could be effectively outsourced back in 2001.

For Tim to suggest that because he did it so early on, you can do it NOW…is a little misleading in my opinion.  He’s written at least 2 books since then, promoted them everywhere, etc.  There is no way he’s doing that and working only 4 hours per week!  So that’s my primary complaint about the book.  The main premise is misleading or not applicable to the vast majority of people.  However, there are some excellent lessons in the book.

Retirement Is A Worst Case Scenario

This may have been the most valuable concept in the book.  Most people (particularly in the US) spend their best years working hard as hell, taking only two weeks vacation each year, in order to enjoy themselves when they retire.  But this thinking is really backwards.

First, it takes a LOT of money to retire and maintain or increase your quality of life.  When most people retire, they downgrade their lifestyles due to having less money to live off rather than more.  Second, when most people do retire they’re not in the shape they were in earlier in life…where they can physically enjoy what they missed in their younger years.  They’re not as likely to fly as far, walk as far, or even able to eat and drink as much as they previously could.  If you wait, you may not get the chance, both due to your finances and your health.

Retirement also assumes that you want to retire, that you don’t like your work.  And that begs the question, why are you doing something you don’t like?!?!  You should strive to do something for work that you enjoy.  If you’re doing that, then there will be no reason to retire, other than being physically or mentally incapable.  And that, as Tim writes, leaves retirement as a “worst case scenario”.

Instead, he advocates what he calls “mini-retirements”.  These are 1-3 month vacations you take every few months.  Although I very much agree with this concept, and my wife and I do it, I do have a couple of issues with it.  Some people won’t be able to take 1-3 months off regularly because of the type of work they do.  And some people won’t want to do it even if they can.  I can take 3 months off, almost anytime I like.  But I really don’t like to be on vacation for more than a month.  My preference is to take one or two month-long vacations each year, with a couple of week-long vacations here and there.  People with kids will also have more trouble with this than single people.  But it’s a great concept.  Enjoy yourself NOW.  You only live once, and if you wait, you may not get the chance.

Time Management

Tim writes a lot about the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers or 20% of the work you do.  If you can cut the 80% that’s responsible for only 20% of your profits, you free up 80% of your time and keep 80% of your profits.  Then, you can either not work during that time (which is the only way you could even come close to 4 hours per week!), or you can focus more of that time on the 20% of activities that are bringing in most of your profits…dramatically increasing your earnings.  It’s a nice idea, and you may be able to apply it to your work to some degree.

Obviously though, most people, from doctors and dentists to street sweepers and house maids, cannot cut out 80% of their work…because their time is in large part all spent on equal value/necessary pursuits.  But if you’re working on the web, it’s likely you are working on things that don’t really make you much money…things that you can cut out in order to be more productive.

The difficult thing here is that we don’t always know what efforts will produce profits.  For example, I have one site I made in a single day, four years ago, that makes $10K per year in Adsense income, every year.  I do no work on that site, whatsoever.  But I have other sites I spent weeks building that make nothing at all.

Sometimes it’s true that 20% of your work is responsible for 80% of your profits.  But you don’t know which 20% that will be until it’s all said and done!  So apply the concept where you can.

Email Management

This is a part of the book that has already improved my life.  I’ve wasted a lot of time with poor email management.

For years, I wrote the same responses to the same 10 or 20 questions I’d get from my e-commerce customers, over and over and over again.  I knew I should create template responses.  I kept telling myself I was going to do it.  But I never got around to it.  Until I read “The 4-Hour Workweek”.  As soon as I got to the part of the book about standardizing email responses, I wrote about 20 different email templates.  Now, when I get these common questions, all I have to do is select the template and click send.  Over.  It’s already saving me lots of time and mental effort.  If you’re running a business where you have customers or users asking the same questions regularly, minimize this window, install something like Quick Text (I use Quick Text with Thunderbird), and make your templates.  Do it right now.

The other advice Tim gave on email management, is to only check your email twice a day, once at 11AM and once at 4PM.  He then goes on to say you should minimize that to once a week if possible (by outsourcing work email responses).  That’s another great lesson for me.  I used to check my email first thing in the morning, and I’d often get bogged down with it.  Hitting my to-do list first, without even reading my emails, makes me about 10x more productive.  In addition, I no longer leave Thunderbird open.  So I don’t get notifications every minute that I’ve gotten a new email.  If you’ve got 20+ email addresses you monitor, believe me, this is HUGE.  The lack of interruption is really nice on your quality of work and life!  I wish I had taken that advice years ago.

Multi-tasking & Working In Batches

No matter how much you think you can, you cannot multi-task.  Or, maybe you can, but the quality of your work is going to suffer, along with your mental state.  I’ve known this for a long time, but I don’t always practice it.  Tim writes about the problems with multi-tasking, and why we shouldn’t do it.  He’s right.  Do not multi-task.  Do one thing at a time, and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted.

Doing repetitive tasks in batches is another great idea in the book.  If you do some repetitive task regularly, decreasing the number of times you do it, doing it less frequently but in longer bursts, is going to save you time.  It also takes our minds time to shift from one task to another.  So you’ll spend less time in total by batching a single repetitive task, and the quality of your work will be better.

Should You Get The Book?

There are several more great points in the book.  While I did disagree with the premise, and I’m not sure how applicable many of the concepts will be to most people, I do think it’s valuable and worthwhile especially if you’re working online, working for yourself, or would like to.