Sitefinity vs. WordPress: A Support Perspective

In our last post, we discussed when to build a website in WordPress, and when to build it in Sitefinity. We did get a couple responses privately, as the readers didn’t want to call out their CMS on the blog (which I completely understand).

Extending on that premise, let’s talk about support options.

Where you get support for a website, especially after it’s live, makes a big difference in selecting your CMS. If you choose a CMS made by one developer on his own time, chances are you won’t get much in the way of support a year later. But choosing a CMS made by a full-fledged business, with developers on staff and working daily, means you have reliable support for a long time.

“Support” in this case refers to a broad umbrella of help you may need. Any of the following issues require support for the CMS:

  • Page rendering issues
  • Load failures
  • Customization
  • Help with setup
  • Version upgrades
  • Security patches
  • Hacks
  • Bugs
  • License expirations & renewals

Our customers have run up against every one of these issues, both in Sitefinity and WordPress. (Except for the “Hacks” issue; none of our Sitefinity customers have ever been hacked.)

Which CMS was used determines the type of support options available. The support options available determine whether the issue is fixed quickly, slowly, or not at all.

Let’s examine Sitefinity’s support options, and WordPress’.

WordPress Support Options

One of WordPress’ strengths is also its weakness. Automattic developers the WordPress core software. However, third-party developers contribute the vast library of WordPress Plugins and Themes.

Some of these developers provide support for their Plugin or Theme. Some do not. Automattic contributes some support resources, but it doesn’t cover every part of the WordPress behemoth.

Which means there’s no “one number to call” if your WordPress site isn’t working properly. You’ll have to find the support option which coincides with the part of your website that’s not working.

These are the Support Options available to WordPress users.

  • WordPress Codex (Free). The Codex is a huge knowledge base. You’ll find plenty of documentation on WordPress’ functions, how to use it, and how to get support. Make this your first stop for WordPress support.
  • WordPress.org Forums [Official] (Free). This is your second stop. If the Codex didn’t help with your issue, post in the forums (the “Fixing WordPress” forum is devoted to troubleshooting).
    • CAUTION: If you receive an answer from someone else on the forums, take a moment to click on their account name. You’ll see a profile window, like the one below.
      WordPress Forums Profile
      Read through the links on the left – “Topics Started,” “Replies Created,” and “Reviews” in particular. What you’re doing is verifying that this person is legitimate, and that the advice they’re giving is sound. I have heard of hackers “helping” people in the forums by supplying them with infected code.
  • Third-Party Developers (Paid). For plugins and themes. An ecosystem has grown up around theme development. Which I find great in terms of support. The plugin/theme will have support links in its documentation.
    • Two examples of plugin/theme developers: ThemeForest, Yoast (Makers of SEO Plugins)
  • Third-Party WordPress Support Agencies (Paid). If you need regular support help, you can contract a WordPress agency for the work. Many of these do exist. Here’s a few examples:

If you’re uncertain of whom to ask for WordPress Support, the WPBeginner Blog has a good starting point: How to Properly Ask for WordPress Support and Get It

Sitefinity Support Options

As Sitefinity is maintained by a private company, the primary support option is contacting that company, or its partners.

These are the Support Options available to Sitefinity users.

  1. Progress’ Sitefinity Forums (Free). These forums are frequently used by Sitefinity developers. Many of whom are happy to assist others with support-related questions.
  2. The Sitefinity Support Center (Free/Paid). This contains documentation, a knowledge base, a link to the forums, support tickets, and a phone support link. There’s a lot of (searchable) information here…useful for solving small problems. I’ve consulted it many times when a page edit causes a strange layout error, or when I’m uncertain which widget works best.
  3. Progress Sitefinity Support [Direct] (Paid). Progress does provide a support ticket system to Sitefinity licensees. You’ll need a Progress ID to access them. Please note, Progress may forward you to a partner for the support you’ve requested.
  4. Progress’ Sitefinity Partner Support (Paid). This is where we come in. We’re one of a number of Sitefinity Partners, certified to provide technical support directly to a Sitefinity customer. Unless the issue stems from the CMS itself, chances are your best support bet is a partner.

What support options you can use depend on your Sitefinity license. This page provides a reference table: Sitefinity Support Offerings.

For example, every Sitefinity edition gets weekly bug fixes. But you’d need at least a Professional Edition license for Phone Support.

Factor in Support When Choosing Your CMS: It Helps After Your Website Goes Live!

A CMS is a piece of software. At some point, it will need maintenance.

Arranging Sitefinity Support

Remember, support is something to consider BEFORE you select a CMS, even though it comes after the website is live. By the time you’ve built the new website, you’ve invested hundreds of hours. Switching your CMS because the available support is bad means you’ve wasted all those hours.

When choosing your website’s CMS, consider how often you’ll update your website. How long can you wait on minor support issues? Do you need a reliable channel for support each & every time, or can you bounce between a few?

While we prefer Sitefinity’s support model, for its stability and single-channel accessibility, WordPress does indeed have support options available.

Where do you get support for your website? Please comment or email with the support option, and (if you like) what you think of your support experience so far.

Why Pay for Sitefinity When WordPress is Free?

Today we’re responding to a reader request, sent in via the “Ask a Question” link in the top navigation. (If you have questions to ask, please submit them by clicking the link!)

The reader brought up a longstanding CMS question…why pay for a CMS like Sitefinity, when WordPress is free?

We actually talk about several reasons to pay for a CMS in our white paper, Open Source Vs. Proprietary CMS: Which is Stronger?.

But this paper talks primarily in terms of Open Source CMS vs. Closed Source/Proprietary CMS. Let’s get a little more specific in this post. Just Sitefinity CMS vs. WordPress. Is one better than the other? What justifications might exist for paying for Sitefinity?

When a Free CMS like WordPress is a Good Choice

Yes, I’m going to say it. There ARE instances where WordPress (or another free CMS like it) is a good choice for a business website.

In general, I’d say to consider WordPress if your needs sound similar to any of the following.

  • You’re a new business which needs a basic “starter” website.
  • You’re a creative professional, such as a designer, and don’t want all of your work homed in social profiles.
  • You’re a freelancer who needs a portfolio (non-ecommerce) website.
  • You’re a Small Business with no IT department (yet).
  • You’re a Small Business which focuses more on social profiles than a website. This is called the “home base” strategy; your website just serves as “home base” while you go out on social.
  • You just want to start a blog. (The original purpose of WordPress…who’d have thought?)

In these instances, just about any CMS will do the job. WordPress, with its thousands of plugins and even more themes, makes for a quick and cheap solution.

That said, it’s not for everyone…

When a Proprietary CMS like Sitefinity is a Good Choice

There are also instances where a bigger, sturdier CMS like Sitefinity is the better choice.

We’ve built Sitefinity websites for businesses and organizations fitting each of the following criteria. In general, if they apply to you too, it’s worth paying for Sitefinity CMS.

  1. Businesses with multiple departments (or branch locations), where people from each department/location will need to update the website.
  2. Businesses who need to stay compliant with federal/state regulatory requirements, such as SOX or HIPAA.
  3. Businesses already using a Microsoft IT infrastructure. (This is because Sitefinity uses ASP.NET in its development. As such, we recommend you only run it on Windows Servers.)
  4. Businesses who use digital marketing initiatives.
  5. Organizations who must stay vigilant about security.
  6. Businesses with non-technical users. And let me expound a little more on this point, because it’s extra-important.

Non-Technical Users on Sitefinity: Keeping Updates Easy

Over the last few years I’ve gained a lot of training experience. I’ve conducted Sitefinity training sessions for dozens of our customers’ employees. Some were what you’d call “technical people.” But most were not.

Sitefinity CMS Content MenuFrom the trainer’s perspective, it’s easy to spot the difference.

Technical users will ask questions like, “How do we tie in Vendor X’s service?”
Non-technical users will ask questions like, “Where do I go to update a page?”

The non-technical user’s answer is very simple. Just go to the Pages section. Click a page. Update the part you want to update. Don’t forget to click Publish.

Every time I answer this question for non-technical users, it only takes a few minutes for them to grasp the process.

The way Sitefinity is structured lends itself not only to easy updating, but also easy information-finding. “Where’s the blog?” Under the Content menu. Click Blogs.

“Where did Bob put that news article?” It’s under the Content menu too. Click News.

“We need to change the address in the footer. But it’s on all the pages!” It’s in a shared content block. Look in Content Blocks.

“Can I change the description tag for search engines?” Sure! Click the Actions link to the right of the page name. Click Title & Properties. “Description” is the field you want.

Of course there’s a lot more you can do in terms of website updates. But I can convey the basic update process in a few minutes. Consider how much employee time this saves…a few minutes to make one page update, as opposed to scrambling around the CMS, trying to dig up that one spot where this one update is stored.

I’ve lost HOURS chasing down updates for customers in the past. Their CMS buried the details and gave me zero direction. (I did figure it out. But I spent time I didn’t really need to, as a result of their CMS getting in the way.)

Is it easier to update pages in Sitefinity than it is in WordPress? Personally, I think it is. That’s because WordPress divides its content between several different areas – Widgets, Posts, Pages, Appearance > Themes, plugins, etc. I know where things are (usually) and it doesn’t take long to update content (usually).

But in Sitefinity, most of the page content is concentrated or accessible in one place—the Page Editor. Click on a page and you’re in.

Easy page updating is one big part of why we recommend Sitefinity. For technical and non-technical users alike.

Before Choosing, Ask Yourself What’s Most Important for Your Website Moving Forward

Websites have undergone something of a standardization in recent years. The growth of mobile Web use has encouraged a simple, easy-to-navigate user experience. Many Content Management Systems have updated their tools to work within such a user experience. Including WordPress. And Sitefinity.

I know it’s overly simplistic. But when you’re asking “which CMS do we use for our website?” the best answer is, “It depends on the website.”

  • What do you want the website to do for your audience?
  • What should it do for your employees?
  • How much are you willing to pay up front?
  • How much can you pay for website support down the line?
  • How long will you keep the website’s current version before upgrading?
  • Do you have an employee who can dedicate time to maintaining the website, or will you contract website maintenance out?

Answer those questions before choosing Sitefinity or WordPress. It’ll make the choice—and the work to build the website—a lot easier.

Which CMS does your website use? Sitefinity? WordPress? Something else? Please comment or email with the CMS, and why you chose it.

How to Use Sitefinity as an Email Marketing Service

The other day, a reader sent in some feedback. They were curious about how to integrate MailChimp with Sitefinity. I did a little investigation, and while I found it possible, it requires some custom coding. Coding which I didn’t have the skill to effect on my own. (Might return to that later, after I can bug our developers.)

But, it made me think about the larger question. Namely, if I want to send emails to my audience, could I do it through my website?

With Sitefinity, yes you can! The CMS has a built-in Email Marketing service. We’ve mentioned it in the past, but haven’t done much beyond that.

Until today. Let’s take a trip through Sitefinity’s Email Marketing toolset.

The Elements of Email Marketing

You’ll find the Email Marketing toolset under the “Marketing” nav header. There are four elements under Email Marketing: Campaigns, Message Templates, Mailing Lists, and Subscribers.

Emails are grouped & sent out in Campaigns. The messages are built on Message Templates, and sent to Mailing Lists, which are comprised of Subscribers. Pretty standard, right? Most email service providers are built this way.

(Please note: I am just talking about the Email Marketing functionality here. Marketing Automation/the Digital Experience Cloud makes use of Email Marketing, but it has more functions which deserve their own post/posts. If you’re curious about DEC, here’s a rundown at Sitefinity.com: Digital Experience Cloud)

Prerequisite: You must have an SMTP server set up in Sitefinity’s Settings (under Administration). Here’s a tutorial for locating & updating SMTP settings: Configure SMTP Server – Sitefinity Documentation

Campaigns

The Campaigns section is where you house your emails. Each Campaign can contain multiple Issues (Sitefinity’s term for individual emails). Which makes it easy to do A/B testing.

Reports are built-in for every Issue. They’re not incredibly detailed, but they will tell you how many people opened the email and clicked its links.

Message Templates

Any email marketer will tell you – one of the biggest pains is making your email appear the same across all devices. What renders normally in Gmail looks funky in Outlook. An email on a phone needs different rendering than on a laptop. And so on.

We use templates to standardize emails, to reinforce branding, and to save time. Sitefinity treats its Message Templates much like it does webpages. You have three choices for creating a template: Like a Web page, Rich text (HTML), and Plain Text.

  1. “Like a Web page” means you get the Sitefinity Page Editor to make your template. All the tools & customization you’d get for making pages. That’s a lot of customization power…but it’s also easy to mess up your emails too, so use caution. Don’t get too fancy.
  2. “Rich text (HTML)” gives you an editor window with all the formatting controls. However, you can’t use widgets. Not necessarily a bad thing though – if you’re working with raw HTML, your emails stand a great chance of appearing consistently across devices.
  3. “Plain Text” is just like it sounds. You have a menu of basic email widgets to insert (First Name, Last Name, Unsubscribe Link, etc.), but otherwise, your template is basic text. Good for simple follow-up emails and autoresponders.

Could you create an HTML template and upload it? Yes, according to a discussion thread from 2012/2013. However, styling may take some serious trial-and-error to get right.

(Curiously, Patrick posted a link on the thread to Campaign Monitor’s stellar CSS guide. We currently use Campaign Monitor for some of our customers’ email marketing…it’s a great system.)

Mailing Lists

All those people out there, eager to receive your next newsletter…got to store all those email addresses somewhere, right? Hence the ubiquitous Mailing List.

In Sitefinity, creating a Mailing List is simple…deceptively so. Just go to the “Mailing Lists” section and click the “Create a mailing list” button.

However, make sure you click the arrows next to “Mail Settings” and “Advanced.” Or you’ll miss a lot of options!

Each Mailing List lets you set multiple add-on options, such as a Reply-To email, text to remind subscribers how they got on the list, a “Welcome” email autoresponder, a post-unsubscribe follow-up, and several more.

Once you have a mailing list created, you can invite people to subscribe, using a Subscribe form. Sitefinity has already taken care of this for you, with a pre-made widget. Here’s how you use it.

How to Put a Subscribe Form on Your Website:

  1. First, create a Mailing List. Use the “Create a Mailing List” button and select the options we mentioned above.
  2. Then, switch to Pages in Sitefinity. Locate the page where you want the Subscribe form.
  3. Click the page to open its Editor.
  4. In the Widget menu list, look for the “Email Campaigns” category. Click it.
  5. Drag the “Subscribe Form” widget out onto the page. Once it’s in place, you’ll see a command in the form box: “Click edit and select mailing list”.
  6. Click the form’s Edit button.
  7. In the Options window, select the mailing list you created in Step 1. If you like, enter a title and description for the form.
  8. Click Save. The new Subscribe form will appear on the page.
  9. Click Publish. Done!

Subscribers

Each Mailing List has to have one or more Subscribers in it. But, something important to note here. Subscribers are tied to Mailing Lists—but you can delete a Mailing List and not lose the subscribers. That’s not universal across email service providers. If you plan to use Sitefinity for email marketing, keep it in mind.

Ideally, you’ll get subscribers adding themselves in via your Subscribe forms. But you can create a subscriber using the “Create a subscriber” button. Make sure to assign them to a mailing list when you do!

Sitefinity’s Email Marketing Service: Does What It Says, and No More

The Sitefinity Email Marketing toolset is missing a few of the advanced features you’d get with a dedicated email service provider, like Aweber or Campaign Monitor. But overall, this toolset is perfectly workable as your Email Marketing service. I could use this to send out newsletters, promotional emails, or announcements.

Email Campaigns – Sitefinity Documentation

What do you use for email marketing? Please comment or email (especially if you already use Sitefinity for it!). I’d like to hear what your experience is, what you like/don’t like, etc.

On behalf of everyone at PlanetMagpie, Happy Holidays! We’ll see you again in 2017.

How to Connect to Google Analytics in Sitefinity 9

First off, I’d like to announce the all-new PlanetMagpie.com!

Completely redesigned from the ground up in Sitefinity 9. Built mobile-first with fresh content and a neat Personas engine right on the homepage. It lets you select what content you want to see, right away. Please hop over there and give it a spin. There’s a neat pop-out Contact form if you have feedback to give.

Now, let’s get to today’s post.

One of Sitefinity’s foundational Digital Marketing tools is its Google Analytics connector. Once you connect Sitefinity to your Google Analytics account, you can view analytics data about your website within its own CMS. Saves you a step–you can see how well the website’s doing without going anywhere.

The only hitch is, you have to connect the two first. And that’s a bit of a process.

These are instructions for connecting Google Analytics to Sitefinity: Register the Analytics Module – Sitefinity Help

They are a little out of date – Google has changed a few of the steps – but they’re still mostly correct. However, in the interest of clarity (and since we just did this with our new website), I wanted to document the process I used.

Connecting Sitefinity to Google Analytics, Step-by-Step

  1. In the Marketing menu, click Analytics.
    sf9_01configanalytics
  2. Click “Configure Analytics.”
  3. You should see a screen titled, “Authenticate to Google API,” asking you for a Client ID and a Client Secret number.sf9_02authenticate
  4. In order to get these two numbers, you must authenticate the Sitefinity CMS within Google’s Analytics API. Click the link that says “Google API Console” to open the console in a new browser window.
  5. From here, you’ll click “Create a Project.”
    createaproject
  6. Name the project and click Create.
  7. Once the new project appears in the API Console, you’re presented with a list of APIs. We want the “Analytics API.”
    analyticsapi
  8. You’ll see an “Enable” button. Click to enable the Analytics API.
  9. You’ll see a warning message like this.
    gotocred
  10. Click the “Go to Credentials” button.
  11. “Add Credentials to a Project” window. You want to click the “Client ID” link instead of choosing an option.
    addcred_clientid
  12. You’ll see a message saying you must first set a product name on the Consent Screen.
  13. Click the button.
  14. On the OAuth Consent Screen, enter a product name (e.g., “Your Website’s Analytics”), and your website’s URL. Click Save.
    consentscreen
  15. Now that we have a product name in place, we create a Client ID.
    createclientid
  16. Select “Web Application” from the list. Enter a Name in the field below. (You can reuse the product name from before.)
  17. In this window, under AUTHORIZED JAVASCRIPT ORIGINS, enter your website’s URL (http://YourWebsite.com).
  18. Under AUTHORIZED REDIRECT URIS, enter this URL – http://YourWebsite.com/Sitefinity/marketing/Analytics
  19. Click Create.
  20. A window will popup with your Client ID number, and a Secret ID number. Copy both of these.
    clientid_clientsecret
  21. Return to Sitefinity.
  22. Paste in these ID numbers in the Authenticate box. Click Login to Google.
    (Important Note: If you experience an error here, go back to “Authorized Redirect URIs” and enter the non-WWW version of your website’s domain name. Like this:http://www.domain.com/Sitefinity/marketing/Analytics
    http://domain.com/Sitefinity/marketing/Analytics

    That way both are authorized in Google.)

  23. You’ll see an authorization screen like the below image. Click Allow.
    sf9_03accessgoogle
  24. Select the Google Analytics account you want to view in Sitefinity, and the domain (the same domain for the site you’re on). Click Save Settings.
    sf9_04analyticsacct
  25. Next you’ll see a screen with your Google Analytics tracking code. Paste in the tracking code (if you haven’t already done so) on all pages you want to track.
    sf9_05trackingcode
  26. Click Save, and voila! Access to Google Analytics within your CMS!
    sf9_06analyticsdashboard

 

If you need more details, check out last year’s post:
How to Connect Your Sitefinity Website to Google Analytics

Why Connect the Two? Search Data and Marketing Value, That’s Why

Why connect Sitefinity to Google Analytics? If you have your website tracked in Analytics, you can just go there to get all the statistics & reports you want. Isn’t this unnecessary?

You don’t HAVE to connect the two. Your site won’t break without this. But it does gain a few boosts, as does your digital marketing productivity.

I see three areas (at least) where accessing Google Analytics within Sitefinity helps out:

Time-saver. As I said earlier, it saves the time of logging into Google Analytics and looking up your site’s account. We manage analytics data for a bunch of customers; it takes a while to dig through all that data!

Site Search. Analytics includes a dashboard under the Content section titled, “Site Search.” Does your site have internal search? (It should.) If so, Sitefinity can track it. From there you can learn what kinds of search terms are popular, how well search is working, and so on. Valuable information.

Helps the DEC. The Digital Experience Cloud provides you with customer activity data and marketing tools. Hmmm, what would help these tools do their job better…how about analytics data?

That’s why I consider connecting Google Analytics up with Sitefinity a useful undertaking.

 

Would you like to see more “Sitefinity Connectors” posts? Please comment or email your ideas if so. I do have some reader requests for email marketing and marketing automation software. But more is always welcome!

How to Set Up Basic Website Elements in Sitefinity 9.0

Since we went through a number of Sitefinity 9.0’s improvements last time, I thought I’d dig a little deeper. We recently set up 9.0 for a new website in the works. I have full access.

So I’ve gone through the CMS and performed many basic tasks for building a website – creating pages, adding news items, and so on. I’ve documented the steps involved for these tasks below. Consider this a how-to for basic website build-up in Sitefinity 9.0.

Creating a Page

After logging into Sitefinity, click Pages in the top toolbar. Click the Create a Page button.

Create a Page in Sitefinity 9 01

Enter a Name for the page. From here you have multiple options to select.

Create a Page in Sitefinity 9 02

Not all are required though. Only these:

  • “Put this Page” – Where do you want this page within your site? Either leave it at top level (the default), or click “Under parent page…” and select an existing page under which you want the new one to reside. (You can change this later.)
  • Show in Navigation – Checked by default. If you uncheck it, the page will create, but nobody will see it on the website. This is helpful if you want to make a new page, but don’t want it to display publicly yet.
  • Title for Search Engines. This field populates with your page’s name automatically. (See screenshot below.) You may want to add more detail here – this is the title people see when someone searches for your site in a search engine. It’s important. The title needs to state what the page is about, and why they should click.
  • Template. Two options here, “Use Template” and “Don’t use template (start from scratch).” If you have Page Templates in place, click “Use Template” and you’ll see an option to select one of those templates.

Create a Page in Sitefinity 9 03

Everything else on the New Page window is either optional, or pre-set by templates. It’s useful stuff to know, though…in fact, I may dedicate a later post to all the ins & outs of page creation. Comment below if you’d like to read one!

Once you’ve entered the information you want, click the “Create and Go To Add Content” button. This opens the Page Editor, where you populate the page with images and content. (That’s another post too.)

Creating an Email Mailing List

In the Marketing menu, click Mailing List.
Click “Create a Mailing List.” In the Create a Mailing List form, enter a Title.

Create a Mailing List in Sitefinity 9 01

You also have options to setting a “From” address, subject line, unsubscribe page, or an automatic Welcome email.

Create a Mailing List in Sitefinity 9 02

Click the “Create this mailing list” button when done.

Add Users

In the Administration menu, click Users.
Click the “Create a User” button.
Enter the user’s username, password, and email address.
In the bottom 2 boxes, select the checkboxes beside the permissions levels you want to assign.

For example:

  • This user will create pages, add templates, and do administrative work? Check the “Administrators” box.
  • This user will enter content, but will not modify any pages or templates? Check the “Authors” box.
  • This user will only review pages, and not make any edits? Uncheck the “This user can access site backend.” box. Check the “Users” box in the list below it.

Add a User in Sitefinity 9

Use caution when assigning user permissions. If you give a person too much power, they may break something and not even know about it. Make sure your website host keeps good backups!

Add a Page Template

We covered what a Page Template is in the post, “Sitefinity Templates: What is a Page Template?

Once you have a page template to add, click Page Templates in the Design menu. You’ll see a button, “Create a Template.” Click it, and you’ll see the Create a Template screen.

Create a Page Template in Sitefinity 9

This screen is similar to the Create a Page screen. You’ll only need to fill in a name, a thumbnail image, and select some options. Then you click the “Create and go to Add Content” button, just like creating a page.

Create a News Item

In the Content menu, click News. Click the Create a News Item button.

Create a News Item in Sitefinity 9 01

Enter a title. Make sure the title’s unique; Sitefinity cannot use a title more than once.

Below the Title field is the news item body. Enter your content here. Use the toolbar and Design/HTML switches to customize its design.

Create a News Item in Sitefinity 9 02

Below the news item body is a Summary field. Click to add a short summary of the news item. This is optional, but a summary is useful as a short description of the item.

Below the Summary field are several options boxes. The defaults are “Categories and Tags,” “Additional Info (Author, Source),” and “More Options (URL, Comments).”

Create a News Item in Sitefinity 9 03

These are all optional, but again, useful for display. Click each box to open it.

  • Under Categories and Tags, click checkboxes to select which news categories you want to apply (you must set up Categories beforehand). Tags are used like keywords – type in whatever descriptive words/phrases you want, or select from an existing list of saved tags.
  • Under Additional Info, type in the news item’s author. The Source Name field is open to you – if you created the news item, you can put your organization’s name. If it came from another outlet, enter theirs (it’s only fair). Enter a link to their site in Source URL too.
  • Under More Options, there’s a button to change the default URL. Most of the time you don’t need to do this. There’s also options for allowing comments and including the news item in the sitemap. They are checked by default, and unless you really don’t want any comments, it’s fine to leave them checked.

Create a News Item in Sitefinity 9 04

That’s it! Click Publish when the news item is ready. It will automatically show up wherever you have a News widget displayed.

These are Basic Website Elements. There are More (and We’ll Cover Those Too)

Most of these tasks remain unchanged from previous Sitefinity versions. Still, we came up with several good examples of how easy Sitefinity 9.0 makes typical website management tasks.

(The biggest change I saw was in configuring Google Analytics—part of which came from Google itself. So much difference in fact, that we’ll do a separate post on connecting Google Analytics in Sitefinity 9+ later on.)

Next time we’ll cover a reader request – connecting a third-party email service to Sitefinity. Which one? How does it work? You’ll have to join us next time to find out!

P.S. – Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sitefinity Insider mailing list, in the signup box on the right. No need to set a reminder for next month that way!

Sitefinity 9.0 is Here – With New Personalization Tools, Form Builders, App Development Tools and More

One year ago, we posted about Sitefinity 8.0’s release.

A year later, Sitefinity 9.0 is here.

Sitefinity 9.0 – What’s New

What does 9.0 bring to the table? Enhancements to its Digital Experience Cloud, form builder, app builder, localization…it’s what we call an “evolutionary release.” Taking the existing tools and making them better.

Let’s go down the list and see just how much better 9.0 is.

List of New and Upgraded Features in Sitefinity CMS 9.0

Improvements to the Digital Experience Cloud
The Digital Experience Cloud (DEC) has more detailed customer profiles, like lead scoring. This helps you see where a prospect is in their journey to becoming a loyal customer, at a glance. It’s called a “360-Degree View.”

There’s now support for importing customer data via CSV. Data is often stored this way by other third-party tools. Now you can add them to Sitefinity & make a more complete picture of the person with whom you’re talking.

Personalization Campaigns
More flexibility in audience segmentation – Split your audience into groups by any category you’d like. Location, industry type, job type, their history with you, common characteristics, etc.

Personalization also includes measurement on conversion rates. You’re able to continually monitor how well your marketing efforts are doing.

Content-driven Mobile Apps (Made in Sitefinity!)
Engage customers on their phones! Build apps driven by your own content with the Sitefinity Mobile Apps Builder.

Not only can you reuse existing content, you can guide customers to what they need, all on mobile.

“Content as a Service” API
Share your content to other systems too! Sitefinity’s new API is based on OData standards, to make integrating your content a simple & modern process.

Operate Internationally
Manage language-specific versions of your website. And now you can include your images, videos, documents and other files.

Multi-Page Forms
Create forms using widgets, like you do pages. Need more information, but requesting it would make the form too long? Split the form into sections! Sitefinity’s Form Builder lets you break forms into smaller pieces for a better user experience.

Faster Feather Work
When you visit a website, you want a fast result, right? You want to locate the information you’ll need right away.

To help you make this happen, Sitefinity 9.0 includes updates to the Feather framework (mobile-friendly development).

Simpler widget development, precompiled views…the kind of help developers can use to shorten their deployment times.

New Interface
Sitefinity 9.0 comes with a new administrative interface. Keeping up with the latest clean design standard, this new interface makes finding what you want to edit nice & quick.

Testing Sitefinity 9.0: It Only Takes Minutes to Add New Features

A free 30-day trial of Sitefinity 9.0 is available: Free 30 Day Trial – Sitefinity.com

I opened a sandbox – a demo of Sitefinity you can activate in 5 minutes – to test out these new features.
First thing I did was enable the new interface. It’s clean and pretty!

Pages View in Sitefinity 9.0

Next I went to the Forms library (under the Content menu). The sandbox has 2 forms prepared for you: a Job Application and Contact Us.

I opened the Contact Us form to test modifying an existing form. All it takes is drag-and-drop. Just like on a Sitefinity webpage.

Form Widget Test

Creating a new form is just as simple. It only took me a few minutes to make a simple Quote Request form.

Quote Request Form Builder

Next, it’s over to the Mobile App Builder.

Selecting content to display only took 3 steps. From there I can publish the app to Sitefinity Box (an app for testing Sitefinity mobile apps), modify it in App Builder, or download the app.

Sitefinity Box

Finally, I went to Personalization (under the Marketing menu). Creating a user segment is just as easy as creating a form. I created an “IT Manager” segment and applied 2 characteristics.

User Segmentation

Manage Your Website and Your Customer Relationships from One Place

This is just with the basic options, too. With a Sitefinity developer available, there’s almost no limit to how far you can customize each and every one of these features.

9.0 shows the Sitefinity development path as focusing on a complete digital marketing platform. Using it, you manage not just your website, but also your lead generation. Your email marketing. Your overall customer relationships from first visit to third sale (and fourth, and fifth…).

What sounds most useful to you about the new Sitefinity CMS? Please comment or email us about which of these 9.0 features appeals the most.

How to Use Sitefinity’s Content Editor for Website Updates

How do you edit the text on your website?

If you use a CMS, you’ll open a certain page & use an editor. It’s the part of the CMS that lets you type or paste in text.

Sitefinity has such an editor too. But it’s much more than a place where you enter text.

Sitefinity’s built-in webpage editor has a few names – Content Editor, RAD Editor, Text Editor. We’ll use Content Editor today, while we take a dive into its functions. You’ll find there’s a lot of power contained in this one little CMS component.

What is the Content Editor?

The Content Editor is a component that facilitates updates for webpages, news items, blog items and shared content.

Many content management systems employ a text editor for making website updates. Sitefinity’s editor is unique though, for a couple reasons.

  1. The editor is actually a complete “control” – like a mini-app – which received dedicated development alongside Sitefinity.
  2. It was modeled after Microsoft Word, to make its use both powerful and intuitive.

How You Use the Content Editor

Opening the Content Editor only takes one step.

Click “Edit” on any content block on a webpage, OR
In the News/Blogs/Shared Content library, click the item you want to edit.

You’ll see this Editor box pop up.

Sitefinity Content Editor

From here, you can type in text, paste text in, add images/video, and style the content how you want.

The editor box may look slightly different, depending on where you are in Sitefinity. For instance, the Content Editor on a webpage may look slightly different than the Content Editor for a blog post.

You’ll note that the editor in this image only has 1 line of commands and a “More formatting options” button above the text field. That’s the default setting in Sitefinity. At any point you can click the button to reveal the remaining buttons.

Quite a few buttons, in fact! So many I need to list all their names.

From left to right, these are the buttons on the Content Editor.

Content Editor Commands

LINE 1: Bold, Italic, Numbered List, Bullet List, Add Link, Remove Link, Add Image, AJAX Spellchecker, Paste from Word, Paragraph Style (Dropdown)

LINE 2: Align Left, Align Right, Align Center, Justify, Indent, Outdent, Font Name, Font Size, Foreground Color, Background Color

LINE 3: Media Manager, Flash Manager, Document Manager, New Paragraph, Insert Table, Insert Symbol, Horizontal Rule, Superscript, Subscript, Format Stripper, Find and Replace, Print, Toggle Full Screen Mode.

As I said earlier, Telerik designed the Content Editor to work like the toolbars from Microsoft Word.

Most of Line 1 you’d use for text formatting. Line 2 helps you organize your content on the page.

A few of the Line 3 buttons need a little more explanation.

  • Media Manager – This button lets you add a video into content. Only use it you want to surround a small video with content. Any other time you want to put a video on a page, use the Video widget instead.
  • Flash Manager – Lets you add Flash content to the page.
  • Document Manager – This button you’ll use if you want to add a file, such as a PDF, into the content.

More on the Content Editor’s workings: Content Editor Section on Sitefinity Docs

Design/HTML Modes

Above the Editor’s Save button, we have “Design” and “HTML.” Design is selected by default. Hmmm. What are these for?

These are the Editor’s two modes – Design Mode and HTML Mode.

Best way to explain these is:
Design Mode – What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG)
HTML Mode – Raw HTML Code

Design Mode acts like Word. If you underline some text, you’ll immediately see it underlined.
Select Heading 3, and the text changes before your eyes.

No surprise most of our customers only work in Design Mode.

(One catch though – look at the button names in Line 1 again. See “Paste from Word?” If you copy text within Word, and want to paste it into Sitefinity’s Content Editor, you must use this button. Don’t just paste the text in with a Ctrl-V. If you do, all the Word formatting gets pasted in too, which can seriously mess up how the text looks.)

If you’re comfortable working with HTML, HTML mode lets you do so. You put [strong] tags around some text, it will bold the text. But you won’t see the change until you click over to Design Mode, or click Save.

That’s an extra step, but trust me, having HTML right there helps! Countless times I’ve had to fix a broken webpage by going into HTML Mode and finding where some text didn’t get formatted properly.

Modifying the Content Editor

Can you modify the Content Editor? Yes, but you probably don’t need to.

Like nearly every aspect of Sitefinity, the Content Editor is customizable. However, most customization requests we’ve heard didn’t require any modifications.

Branding your website? The Content Editor only shows up in the backend; no site visitor will ever see it. No need to brand it.

Want a certain functionality? It may already exist elsewhere in Sitefinity–another widget, for instance. If it doesn’t, you can make a custom control more easily than modifying Content Editor.

Caution: Stylesheets May Override Content Formatting

There is one aspect of web design you won’t see when using the Content Editor: stylesheets.

If your website uses global stylesheets, you won’t see their styles in the Content editor. They take effect once you click Save. You should see the content styled on the webpage afterward.

Keep stylesheets in mind when editing content! If you format some text one way, but the global stylesheet wants to format it differently, the global stylesheet’s styles will override your formatting.

Here’s how you can check this. Use this method to test your content before you publish any changes too.

  1. When you’re done entering content, click the Save button. The Content Editor will close, returning you to the webpage.
  2. Look at how your content appears (“renders”) on the page. If it doesn’t look quite right, re-open Content Editor by clicking Edit & making your changes.
  3. When the content does look right, click the Publish button at the top to publish your newly-updated page.

As I said before, many of our customers prefer to work in Design Mode. I like working in HTML Mode because I can change formatting fast.

Either way is fine! Sitefinity’s Content Editor lets you update your website how you like.

What do you like about Sitefinity’s Content Editor? What frustrates you about it? Please comment or email your responses.

Until the next post!

How to Find and Use Themes in Sitefinity

We start off 2016 with a question from a customer!

The question was:

“We need a new Sitefinity website fast. What can we do to speed up the normal design and development process?”

The first idea that came to mind was, “Work with Sitefinity experts who can rapidly design and build your Sitefinity instance and help you populate it.”

The next idea was, “Try a Sitefinity Theme.”

It’s the second idea we’ll discuss in today’s Sitefinity Insider post.

A Refresher on Themes

A theme provides the look/feel and page templates for a Sitefinity website.

Theme Overview – Sitefinity Documentation

Theme elements include images, layout elements like icons and bars, and stylesheets. Themes determine things like:

  1. What colors you’ll use
  2. The styling for page layouts
  3. Page element styles & positions (headlines, navigation bars, etc.)
  4. How images are displayed
  5. How lines, boxes, etc. are displayed
  6. What display changes to make when viewed on a phone or tablet (Responsive Design). This is shared with the templates as well; you may have phone-specific stylesheets, for example.

Where Do I Get a Theme?

Sitefinity does include a basic theme by default. But it is very basic. That way you can create your own look for your own site.

You can get themes two ways: Download pre-existing themes or have a custom one designed for you.

With a pre-existing Sitefinity theme, you will reduce your web design costs by a great deal and speed up your development process. The drawback is that in most cases, it’s fairly evident that it’s a template site. Plus the themes have varying degrees of responsive design for mobile and tablets so you may spend additional money making your site responsive.

Here are some websites where you can review and download Sitefinity themes:

Tornado Applications – Sitefinity Templates
Sitefinity Marketplace: Themes and Templates
Sitefinity-Templates.com

Some themes are free; others you’ll pay for. We recommend the paid themes, as they’re generally better quality and you can get some support from the maker.

Please Note: Sitefinity’s continuous advancement can render some themes out-of-date. You should check a theme’s compatibility with your version of Sitefinity, and the date of its last update, before you choose it. Otherwise the theme may cause trouble in building the site.

How to Apply a Theme

Once you have a theme downloaded or created, it’s rather easy to apply it to your website.

Step 1: Register the Theme Within Your Sitefinity BackendWhere to Put the Theme

  1. Place your theme’s files inside any of Sitefinity’s “App_Themes” folders. For example: “/App_Data/Sitefinity/WebsiteTemplates/YourTemplate/App_Themes/Theme1”. You can do this via FTP or within Sitefinity, under Administration/File Manager.
  2. If you haven’t already, log into Sitefinity’s backend (http://www.yourwebsite.com/sitefinity).
  3. In the main menu, click Administration/Settings.
  4. Click “Advanced” on the right of the page name. The full Settings page will appear.
  5. In the left menu, expand the “Appearance” section.
  6. Click “Frontend Themes”.
  7. Click the “Create New” button on the right. A form will appear.
  8. In the “Name” field, enter a name for the theme. Whatever name will identify it to you works best.
  9. In the “Path” field, enter the path to your theme we made in Step 1 (~/App_Data/Sitefinity/WebsiteTemplates/YourTemplate/App_Themes/Theme1). Don’t forget the tilde (~) at the beginning.
  10. Click “Save Changes” to finish.

Register a Theme – Sitefinity Documentation

One theme registered! Now Sitefinity knows it’s there. Next, you’ll apply this theme to the Page Templates you’re using (or plan to use).

Step 2: Apply the Theme to Page TemplatesApply Theme to Template

  1. On the main menu, click Design/Page Templates.
  2. Click the name of the template to which you want to apply the theme.
  3. In the upper-right corner, click the “Theme” button.
  4. You’ll see a dropdown menu. In the menu, select the new theme.
  5. Click “Publish” to save the changes. The new theme will now apply to all pages using this template.

Apply a Theme – Sitefinity Documentation

Save Time on a New Sitefinity Website with a Theme

Here are two examples of customers’ websites built using a Sitefinity theme.

drugrehabhome
Support Systems Homes Drug Rehabilitation Programs

sttheresaparentsclubhome
St. Theresa School Parents’ Club

Again, if you want a truly unique-to-you website, you’ll want a Sitefinity design and development team to create a custom theme for you. Some businesses need a custom website; others can get away with a pre-existing theme—it’s all industry and company specific.

I asked last month, but it’s worth repeating: Is there anything you’d like to read about on the Sitefinity Insider for 2016? If so, please leave a comment or email us.

Join us back here next month for more Sitefinity how-to!

Sitefinity Templates: What is a Responsive Design Template?

The last post of 2015 is the last post in our “Sitefinity Templates” series.

At the bottom of the Design menu in Sitefinity, you’ll find “Responsive & Mobile Design”. This section contains the Responsive Design templates.

Responsive and Mobile Design

By now you’ve heard of Responsive Design. (If not, here’s an Overview of Responsive Design at Sitefinity.com.) Without it, we either have to design separate mobile-only versions of our websites, or display the exact same website on every device out there.

Which usually results in a “squished” website on your phone, right?

So today we’re talking about what the Responsive Design Template does in Sitefinity. And how you make good use of it. Onward!

Definition of a Responsive Design Template

The Responsive Design Template is a little different from the other templates in our series. It’s defined as a group of rules for how to display a website when viewed on a certain device, or device category.

99% of the time, the template is used to alter (or “transform” in Sitefinity lingo) websites for smartphone screens or tablet screens. Almost all smartphones & tablets can resize a website to fit their screens (at least partially) by default. What a Responsive Design template does is help you determine exactly how you want those devices to display your site. You’re not relying on the device to do it for you.

Using Responsive Design Templates in Sitefinity

You don’t apply Responsive Design templates to individual pages. They apply to all pages which use the Page Templates you select. Responsive Design sits like a layer of frosting on top, giving an extra set of guidelines.

In this example, a Responsive Design template is applied to two of the website’s Page Templates.

Templates Using Responsive Design

Any pages which use “Home” and “SecondLevel” here, also use the Responsive Design template when loading.

What elements are affected by Responsive Design? Here’s a list.

  • What type of device
  • Whether to transform your website’s layout, or direct visitors to a mobile version of your site (no longer recommended)
  • Do you use a device-specific CSS stylesheet, or one universal stylesheet?
  • How to transform the website’s elements (columns, rows, images)
  • How to transform the navigation menus

This screenshot from a recent website project shows some of the elements.

Responsive Design Elements

NOTE: To use Responsive Design Templates on Sitefinity, you must install the Responsive & Mobile Design module. Refer to the Sitefinity Docs page on Activate and Deactivate Modules for help in doing so.

Customizing Responsive Design Templates

Since Responsive Design templates are groups of rules, customizing them involves changing those rules.

For example – Say your website has 3 columns laid out side-by-side. (Many news sites use this layout.) How do you want them to display on a phone? Should the columns stay side-by-side? Should they stack vertically? Should they collapse into small boxes with scrollbars?

Up to you.

You can do this within Sitefinity itself, or through extra stylesheets added in. We’ve done both in the past year. Using extra stylesheets gives you more flexibility to customize placement of elements. But it’s a little tricky to make those customizations work within Sitefinity’s framework smoothly.

Think of it like someone taking a test, using two different instruction manuals. If you have conflicting instructions in each manual, your test-taker is bound to mess up an answer or two!

Caveats & Cautions

Responsive Design is not optional. Not anymore. No matter your business or organization, you must employ some form of Responsive Design. In Sitefinity, that’s fairly simple. In other CMS it may not be.

Design for mobile-first. Designing for a laptop-sized screen, and then trying to compress that design into a mobile screen, often doesn’t work. The site looks cramped, choppy, and may violate critical user experience standards. It’s much easier to design for a mobile screen first, and then expand it to larger screen sizes. (Cleaner, too!)

Testing is REQUIRED! When using responsive design, you must test how the website looks on a range of mobile devices. Repeatedly. It’s the only way to make sure your templates work as desired. Trust me, at the start, they won’t!

If you have some phones & tablets available to view the website during development, great. If not, use the QuirkTools Screenfly Tool. It can emulate most phone/tablet screen sizes, and it’s free.

Consider the future of your website. Mobile took over as the #1 Web browsing platform worldwide in 2014. Your website needs to work as well (if not better) on mobile than on a desktop.

That’s it! The end of our “Sitefinity Templates” series. If you liked it or plan to use it for future reference, please send us a comment with your thoughts.

And since this is December – What topics would you like to see the Sitefinity Insider cover in 2016? Please comment or email your ideas.

Hope everyone has a Happy Holiday! We’ll see you back here in January. (Don’t forget to subscribe! We wouldn’t want you to accidentally skip over this blog when making New Year’s Resolutions.)

Sitefinity Templates: What is a Widget Template?

Widgets come up frequently on this blog. And for good reason—Sitefinity uses them to build in a huge assortment of capabilities.

Like webpages and blogs, widgets use templates. Widget Templates are a different animal though. A widget template acts in a similar manner to Page Templates. But it does things Page Templates don’t.

Definition of a Widget Template

A widget template is a set of rules for how to display a widget. All widgets must have a template for use in the Sitefinity CMS–both the default widgets included, and any custom widgets you create.

Examples of default widget templates are:

  • Content Block (Displays text/HTML)
  • Blog Posts (displays blog posts)
  • Navigation (displays a navigation menu)

Using Widget Templates in Sitefinity

Widget templates, like their Page counterparts, are accessible under Design in the main CMS top navigation. There’s a “Widget Templates” section just for them.sfinsider_widgetsmenu

Each template lays out how the widget looks & works on the webpage. Many govern how the site’s content works. So in using widget templates, you have control over what your content does.

Each default widget already has a template; nothing you need to do here. Think of these templates like a miniature page template, inside a normal page template.

Except for one thing: Widget templates can perform actions in response to a user’s actions.

When you open a page in the Page Editor, you’ll see a list of widgets down the right side.

Each time you drag a widget out onto a webpage, it’s displayed according to the template pre-assigned to that widget type. You can modify the widget once it’s in place. In some instances, you can modify the template from here (within the widget) as well. Other times though, you’ll want to customize the widget template first.

Customizing Widget Templates

Widgets have a little bit more customization capability than other Sitefinity elements. You can customize their templates, and many widgets include built-in customization.

Let’s take the Navigation widget for an example.

Editing the Navigation widget lets you customize how many navigation levels it presents, in what order, etc. Maybe you want three levels to show up, and the menu needs a blue color.

Modifying its widget template lets you change the navigation style, orientation, etc. Do you want the “About Us” link in navigation clickable, or not?

Customize the Navigation Widget – Sitefinity Docs

Widget template customization does require development work. You’re changing the backend code – the markup – of the template itself.
http://docs.sitefinity.com/for-developers-customize-widget-templates

You customize a widget template one of two ways:

  1. Modify the existing widget template.
  2. Create a new widget template file & upload it.

widgettemplatelist—List of widget templates, both default and custom

We often take the B approach for new custom widgets. It gives us control over every display aspect, without messing up other widgets in the process (a caveat common to modifying templates, as we’ve referenced in past Sitefinity Template posts).

If you’d like to see how to create & apply a new widget template file, here’s how: Use external widget template file – Sitefinity Docs

Caveats & Cautions

You can use HTML to customize widget templates. However, to really modify them you’ll need scripting skills. Sitefinity uses ASP.NET and JavaScript in its coding. If you want to do major modifications to widgets & their templates, hire a Sitefinity developer to do them. Saves a lot of time.

widgettemplatesamplecode—Sample of widget template code

Changing the only copy of a widget template WILL change how all widgets using that template on your site look. The same caution I’ve mentioned about Blog and Page templates. It’s still true here, so be careful what you change!
—-

Next up, let’s talk about responsive design templates. That’s a big one.

Do you use custom widgets in Sitefinity? What do they do? Please comment or email the URL. This is one area where you’re pretty much limited by creativity only, so I’d love to hear what you’ve built!