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Three Cool Drupal-Based Software Projects

Drupal has long been known for its incredible versatility and extensibility. Here are a few interesting Drupal-based software projects and solutions you should know about:

 

CiviCRM

CiviCRM is used by more than 10,979 organizations on a daily basis. This free and open source CRM solution is web-based, offers a complete feature set out of the box, and integrates with your website. CiviCRM is specifically designed for the needs of nonprofits, non-governmental organizations and civic sector organizations. The CiviCRM community envisions that “all organizations – regardless of their size, budget, or focus – have access to an amazing CRM to engage their contacts and achieve their missions.”

CiviCRM is built for constituency, or customer relationship management. This CRM solution is designed to manage information about an organization’s donors, members, event registrants, subscribers, grant application seekers and funders, and case contacts. CiviCRM can also manage volunteers, activists, voters and more general sorts of business contacts such as employees, clients or vendors.

CiviCRM’s core tracks contacts, relationships, activities, groups, tags and permissions, while its components keep track of contributors (CiviContribute), events (CiviEvent), member lists (CiviMember), cases (CiviCase), grants (CiviGrant), campaigns (CiviCampaign), petitions (CiviPetition), bulk mailings (CiviMail) and reports (CiviReport).

CiviCRM is currently used by many large NGOs including Amnesty International, Creative Commons, and the Free Software Foundation.

CiviCRM is a competitive, powerful piece of software, but like any decent software project, the core team has plans for improvements in future releases of the project. CiviCRM’s roadmap includes a new and powerful form designer built with modern tools to make it quicker and easier for users to customize screens. The team also has plans to improve the API as well as polish the look and navigation of the interface in order to put more of CiviCRM’s functionality within easy reach.

CiviCRM downloads are available from SourceForge, where it was ‘project of the month’ in January of 2011.

 

RedHen CRM

RedHen is a Drupal-native CRM originally designed for common nonprofit needs. It is a flexible CRM system with functionality for managing information about contacts, organizations, and their relationships with you and each other.

Although it’s fully-functional on its own, RedHen is also designed to integrate with enterprise CRM solutions suchas Salesforce or Blackbaud. RedHen is created and maintained by ThinkShout, who wrote the latest version of the Salesforce module.

RedHen also has capabilities for engagement tracking, customizable one-page donation forms, and website-integration for purposes such as event registration.

Because it can integrate with your website, you can use relationship and interaction information to change the way your site behaves and the way your users interact with it. For example, users who have logged in to your site can update their mailing address and that information is reflected in your CRM database.

RedHen allows you to customize your CRM data in the same way that you can customize Drupal. Its modular structure is similar to Drupal Commerce. The modules you get won’t give you an instant functioning CRM. This requires configuration and customization for your specific needs. It’s possible that one day, RedHen will produce “Features” and “Apps” that provide prepackaged CRM solutions for different use cases, but these don’t exist just yet

 

FarmOS

FarmOS is a Drupal web-based farm management and record keeping tool. With farmOS, you can manage areas, plantings, animals, equipment and more with a number of pre-packed contrib modules. The distribution also includes fourteen farmOS-specific modules including Farm Admin, Farm Asset, Farm Crop, Farm Equipment, Farm Map and more.

FarmOS allows different roles to be assigned to managers, workers and viewers. Managers have access to the entire system while workers can use the record-keeping tools only. Viewers have read-only access.

Because farmOS is built on Drupal, it is modular, extensible and secure. Both Drupal and farmOS are licensed under the GNU General Public License, which means they are open source. You can download and set it up yourself on your own web server, or you have the option of using a farmOS hosting service called Farmier.

The lead developer of the project, Mike Stenta’s inspiration for farmOS came from software he developed for a CSA program. He says, “If you can think of it, you can probably build it in Drupal – and chances are someone already has.”

FarmOS is currently looking for beta testers and other contributors to the project.

 

Let us know what you think of these Drupal-based software solutions. We’d love to hear from you!

Why a Discovery Phase is so Important to Your Website Project

Every successful project begins with a Discovery phase. This is the part of the project that includes research, analysis, exploration and planning. The goal here is to grasp the bigger picture, define business goals, establish project scope, acknowledge constraints and define success.

Unfortunately, this phase is often overlooked so as to save time and/or money. Without the discovery process, you risk consequences such as overspend later on in the production phase or misguided development. Not all development agencies use a Discovery phase, but they should. Beyond projects with very simple objectives, a designer or developer couldn’t possibly understand your business well enough to give accurate estimates without a detailed analysis. Most project managers would agree that if the requirements are identified early on in the project cycle, this would result in reducing the project schedule and/or budget. It also results in project deliverables suitably meeting the business user and technology requirements. Reworking and fixing errors adds unnecessary time, cost and avoidable headache to your project.

One option is to go forward with in-house discovery. Think about it: it’s already your job to think about how you can best serve your users. You probably know the subject matter better than anyone else and you already have some of the research you would need on hand. But, proceed with caution. Be mindful of your assumptions and internal bias. This process takes time and effort and it can be frustrating to admit failures to make the improvements necessary for success. In-house discovery is as effective as the people conducting it. Lack of discovery experience or blind spots in a team’s collective knowledge will limit the value of the process and its outcomes.

Another option is to work with an agency that can assist you with the discovery process. Our process begins with a discovery phase to fully articulate the goals, constraints and measures of success for your project. We set out to bring clarity to your vision and concept. We meet with you and your key stakeholders to ensure that project goals and stakeholder expectations are fully aligned and that all potential opportunities are explored. We work together to develop real understandings of what achievements are expected in terms of outputs and outcomes.

The goal is to develop a blueprint or detailed plan that reduces the risks of your project. At the end of the discovery engagement, you’ll walk away with the following deliverables to inform the production process:

 

Revised Information Architecture

This is how the content should be organized, classified and expanded/reduced to match the goals and stakeholder expectations.

 

Wireframes

This is how the content should be arranged on a webpage to let the target user access the most relevant information with the least amount of effort, letting the user navigate your site naturally. Wireframes give you a glimpse of how visitors will interact with your site. At this stage, we focus exclusively on the user experience and functionality of your site.

 

Detailed Project Requirements

The project requirements document is the foundation for all subsequent project deliverables, describing what inputs and outputs are associated with each process function. The requirements document also includes the system, performance, integration and interface requirements for your website project.

 

Launching your website project with a discovery phase is one of the most important things you can do to set them up for success. Following discovery best practices would result in reducing project costs, shortening the development cycle, enhancing team productivity and most importantly, a better website.

 

Start off on the right foot. You can learn more at www.sanmita.com. We invite you to contact us with your website or CMS needs and any questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you!

3 Free Image Tools Every Content Manager Can Use!

If you’re in charge of a blog, newsletter, social media or other content management, you know there are times when you need a little more than a nice stock photo to make the best impression. What about when you want to show off your new website’s awesome responsive design? Or need a custom graphic for your Facebook banner? Here are three totally cool — and FREE! — image tools that will help put the polish on your content!

PlaceIt

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Image with Sanmita website created with PlaceIt

This is a very cool tool — I can already think of dozens of ways to use it! PlaceIt creates product mockups and videos showing your images on device screens in beautiful, crisp stock photographs, which you can then download for use in your blog, newsletter, social media, etc. You can upload a product shot, or it will take a screenshot of your website. If your website is responsive, it will present the appropriate image on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone; and you can even choose a multi-image shot to demonstrate your site’s responsiveness. Super easy to use, with fabulous looking results.

Canva

CANVA

Blog Graphic created using Canva

Simple and fun to use, fresh designs, and the basics are cost-free! Choose from a whole range of templates which include handy items such as Facebook Cover, Twitter Post, Blog Graphic, and many more. Or use your own custom dimensions. It’s easy to play with their pre-formatted layouts, or get creative with tons of trendy backgrounds and text treatments. You can upload your own images, or select from their huge library of stock images for only a dollar. In just minutes you can have great looking, professional quality graphics to perk up your content.

Social Image Resizer Tool

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Facebook Profile image created from Sanmita Blog using Social Image Resizing Tool

If you’re posting to different social media feeds, you know how frustrating it can be to ensure that your images are viewed correctly. Twitter uses a 2:1 ratio; Facebook likes images more square; Pinterest and Google+ are set up for vertical images. The Social Image Resizer Tool can save you a nice chunk of time: just upload your image, and select from the drop-down list of options and places you want to post the image; then move and scale to optimize your image for all the most popular networks, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. You can also use your own custom dimensions as well.

Do you have a favorite tool or tip that you use for your website content or promotion? Let us know!

Automatically Better! A Look At Automating Website Functions

SHORPY_8b29345a.previewYour website should be making tasks easier and more efficient — not slowing you down!

Yet this was exactly the problem facing our friends at the Cornell Alumni-Student Mentoring Program (CASMP).

The CASMP program fosters personal and professional relationships between enrolled students and alumni at Cornell University, with over 900 alumni and 2,000 students matched so far. Making an appropriate match requires not only collecting detailed information from applicants, but compliance with security protocols required by the university’s Risk Management Office. The cumbersome process involved an online registration form, answered with a personal reply and waiver form sent via postal mail. Signed waivers had to be returned to CASMP by mail, which were then scanned by an admin and delivered to the Risk Management Office. Missing signatures or errors on the forms, which were not uncommon, required a further round of personal follow-ups for corrections, again via mail. Variance in mail delivery and follow-through from applicants meant that the process typically took a couple weeks at best to complete, and in one case, almost two years! As a result of all the tedium and repetition involved in the application process, registration rates for the program were staying lower than expected.

Sanmita was asked to find ways to streamline the process and make it more efficient. Our expert team was able to quickly assess the site’s functionality and implement automated processes, resulting in dramatic improvements — here’s how we did it:

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Drupal for Higher Ed: Reflections from the Fall 2016 Intern Team

For the past four months we’ve been working at Sanmita as marketing interns. In the second half of our internship, we focused exclusively on building Sanmita’s sister brand, DrupalAnswers. Over the course of our internship we have gained experience in market research, higher education website audits, video marketing, the creation of social media and blog posts, and content curation.

We also learned how to create an integrated content strategy across different platforms. Throughout the entire experience, we worked as a team to complete tasks and brainstorm strategy, which we believe led us to produce even greater results than we would have alone.

When we started this internship we had basic understanding of what exactly web development involves. We understood there were multiple facets to the development process but our grasp of the topic was limited to design and the aesthetic aspect of a site. Throughout our internship, we gained a fuller understanding of what truly encompasses web development.

We now know the importance of the discovery process and why research is a vital part of a website’s strategy and creation. For instance, conducting proper research influences the development of information architecture, which plays a major role in determining the success and organization of a site. As we completed audits of college websites, we also learned several other aspects that contribute to a site’s success, including accessibility, page speed, mobile-friendliness, and how easy it is to navigate through the website’s content. One of our favorite quotes found during our research sums up what we learned perfectly:

“Pretty things can be useless, and ugly things can be useful. Beauty and quality are not always related.” ― Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

Essentially, good design rests upon a solid foundation.

Since our company focuses on higher education institutions, we spent a lot of time researching best practices for mission critical sites. Without a doubt, we agree that Drupal is the best CMS for higher education. Drupal is powerful, flexible, and is built to handle the complexity of a higher education site– even the White House chooses Drupal as their go-to CMS. As we’ve learned, Drupal is the best option when stability and scalability are vital to the project, or if it requires close attention to detail and unique customization. An added benefit of Drupal is that most of their extensions and ways to customize the site are free of charge – perfect for higher ed institutions that might be working on a tight budget.

Now with just a week left in our internship, we feel that we have gained experiences that we can apply in the future. One of our favorite parts of the internship was having the opportunity to work on the company’s integrated online marketing strategy. We strategized and executed ways to drive traffic to the website and blog posts through social media, demonstrating the importance of consistent messaging across all platforms. Another aspect of this internship that we were thankful for was being able to see the full lifecycle of the projects we worked on. We were involved in each step of the way, from start to finish. This was a unique experience that we have not received elsewhere. Overall, the skills and experiences we have had working at Sanmita are invaluable to us and will affect the way we will grow as marketers.

 

 

Inspiring Students to Achieve Education Beyond High School

As education becomes more of a necessity for the future workforce, educators and parents are constantly looking for new ways to encourage and motivate students to achieve more academically. However, they often overlook the primary ways to get students to be motivated and inspired to achieve higher education. Often the solution is to set academic standards higher for students but what might actually help students is to communicate with them on platforms that they are already using and encourage them to pursue careers in creating digital content. According to the latest earning and unemployment data, those who earn higher education still on average earn more than those with just a high school diploma and unemployment rates reduce the higher the degree. Here are four simple ways to incorporate the web and social media into your institution to help motivate and inspire students to achieve higher academically:

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Free Resource: Content Audit Template

The goal of a content audit is to understand the current state of your website content, i.e. what content is relevant, what can be merged with other content and what can be safely removed. You can then analyze the information and organize the content based upon  your users feedback, industry trends and site analytics. Theoretically, it seems a very simple process, but in practice, conducting a site audit can be a messy exercise if you don’t have a plan in place. Some reasons to conduct content audits include:

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Is Drupal Secure?

It’s essential that you have security at the forefront of your website projects to keep your data and visitors safe.

ARE YOU AT RISK?

Most websites only need to worry about automated security attacks. These kind of attacks have a very low success rate, but they still happen. High risk websites have to worry about someone trying to actively hack their site. Usually this happens because of a few reasons:
  • Your website has information worth stealing (ex. ecommerce site with membership records)
  • Your website has a lot of visitors
  • Someone wants to shut your website down

Read more

Mega Menus

Navigation has always been a design problem for large websites. Mega drop-down menus are a growing trend in web design that structures navigation choices through layout, typography, and sometimes icons.

 

Mega menus can greatly improve navigation and usability on sites that involve a lot of pages or products. With mega drop-down menus, a visitor can see all their choices at once. For bigger sites with many features, regular drop-down menus typically hide a lot of your site’s content. You can scroll, but this becomes confusing and hides a number of choices at any given point in the navigation process. Mega menus show everything at a glance and through grouping, allows your visitors to visualize the relationships among items on your site. CSS-only dynamic drop-downs are possible, but they don’t offer mouse over/out latency or work in every browser.

 

While mega menus can make it easier for users to find the information they’re looking for deep within a site, a vast number of links can also overwhelm some visitors. Mega menus can help streamline the navigation process by allowing you to group menu items. Chunk options into related sets using concise, yet descriptive labels for each group. Try not to offer huge groups of options that require a lot of time to scan. At the same time, don’t make the groups so small that the menu has an overabundance of groups that your users have to spend time understanding.

 

Just because you can put everything in a mega menu doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The standard usability guideline to “keep it simple” also applies to mega menus. Avoid GUI widgets and other interface elements that involve a lot of interaction. Mega drop-downs are temporary – They appear on hover or click so shouldn’t replace dialog boxes, which should be used for more complex interactions. Even though mega menus have the room to support many options, it’s best to try not to overload your users.

 

From a design standpoint, mega menus can look great and allow you to further express your brand’s personality and creativity. These drop-down menus are a design canvas! They eliminate unnecessary scrolling and offer additional elements such as typography, icons and tooltips to help guide users to the content they came for.

 

Mega menus are common on e-commerce sites because they typically include many categories of products. They’re also useful on other large websites where fewer clicks should be necessary to get to a specific page. Mega menus allow visitors to reach the content they’re looking for no matter where they are on your site.

 

Your site may benefit from a mega menu if:
  • You manage a large number of products (eCommerce sites like REI)
  • You publish and manage a lot of content (content aggregators and news sites like Reuters)
  • You have complex service offerings requiring a lot of supporting content (large association sites, higher education sites like Cornell, government sites like The White House)
  • Your site is information-oriented, diverse, and you offer a lot of long-form web copy

 

You probably don’t need a mega menu if:
  • Your site is small without too much content (small businesses, restaurants)
  • You have fewer pages and focused content
  • Your site is dedicated to a singular function, such as a tool or online calculator

 

Be warned: The increased ability to navigate a site will come at a tradeoff on the SEO front. Too many navigation links in a mega menu may dilute your site’s overall page rank. Google assigns a PageRank score based on the number and quality of links pointing to a webpage. A site’s internal link structure transfers PageRank throughout the site. When you distribute a site’s PageRank in a “broad” way, you dilute the page’s ability to rank competitively in the SERPs. Sites with weaker trust and authority metrics will suffer more than established sites with strong authority and trust metrics. Shoot for 100 links or less, but keep in mind that there are occasions where the SEO hit will be worth it.

 

Navigation has a huge impact on your website’s usability and appearance, so make sure you have the right menu for your site’s content, layout and visitors. This article features several free and premium WordPress plugin options that can help you create a responsive menu, or make your existing navigation compatible with mobile devices.

 

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Not Found? 404 Error Pages

What is a 404 (Not Found) Error page?

A 404 Error Page is essentially a non-existent page that returns a status code of 404. The 404 error is generated whenever a server can’t find the specified page.

 

How do 404 errors occur?

A 404 page can happen for a number of reasons. These reasons fall into two buckets: user errors or website glitches. Either way, an informative 404 page is the most effective solution.

A web server will typically generate a 404 Not Found web page when a user misspells a URL or attempts to follow a broken or dead link. 404 errors also occur when pages have been moved or deleted, the page has expired, or the page was blocked.

To find broken links on your site, check out Google Webmaster Tools (Crawl and Fetch). Here, you can find tools that can scan your entire website for 404 Error pages.

 

Why are 404 Error pages important?

One of the biggest mistakes you could make when you launch a new website is ignoring all of the links, pages, and content from your old website. If Google has Site Links indexed and listed for a website and the navigation menu changes, Google considers these to be broken links. Google will then remove the links and lower the overall ranking of your website in its Search Engine. Any links to your site from other blogs or directories will also break, and you can expect your site to take the hit.

To avoid the headache, make sure to use error pages! Adding 301 Redirects and 404 Error pages can ensure that you don’t lose business because of an upgrade to your site. A 301 Redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link ranking value to the new page. This is the perhaps the best way to retain online marketing efforts from old websites. If you have redesigned, added or removed content from your site, a custom 404 Error page is essential to direct site visitors to content on your new site when they’re looking for content from your old site.

A customized 404 Error page is an advantage for your site. It can help visitors find the information they were looking for and provides them with a much better overall user experience.

 

What should I include on my 404 Error page?

When a user lands on an error page that doesn’t contain any helpful content, it’s very likely they’ll navigate away from your site. To avoid frustrating site users and losing out on potential business, we recommend developing a custom 404 page.

The typical content a user sees when they reach a 404 Error page is a “page not found” message. This doesn’t provide users when any helpful information or instructions as to where to go from that point. To minimize visitor loss, a good 404 Error page provides a clear, helpful message that informs the user that the page they’re looking for can’t be found and points them in the right direction. You may want to ask the user to re-check the URL they’ve entered.

It’s also recommended that you use an error page that has been designed to look like the rest of your website. Maintain the main navigation menu, logo, fonts and colors. If the 404 page looks drastically different from the rest of your site, the user may become confused and abandon the site all together.

To prevent a visitor from leaving your site, include links or other elements that requires the user to take action. Include a link to your home page in addition to your main navigation menu.  You can also provide a few key links to your most popular categories or pages  on the site. If you have one, feature a link to your site map or search function. This will help the visitor find exactly what they were looking for. Here’s a good example of a 404 Error page with a search function from MailChimp.

To avoid having your 404 Error page appear in Google search results, make sure your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.

It’s also a good practice to ask site users to report a broken link on the 404 Error page so consider including a link to your contact page or email address.

 

Build a better website and stop turning visitors away with your 404 Error pages. To learn more, contact Sanmita today!

 

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