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Installing Magento eCommerce on Windows and IIS 7

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 15:07 by Ben

Don’t be too put off by the system requirements on the Magentocommerce website, Magento is surprisingly easy to install and run on Windows and IIS 7.

We are currently developing a new ecommerce platform for an online t-shirt business specialising in music t-shirts.  In the past, we have used dashcommerce with great success, for example on Logs Direct. Unfortunately, dashcommerce has ceased to be living open source project.  Also, we develop primarily using mvc.net these days so I wanted to find an ecommerce solution based around mvc.net 3. 

The best mvc.net solution I could find was Orchard.  This is a really great platform but it doesn’t have a mature shop or ecommerce component, which is unfortunate, and perhaps somewhat strange, as I believe the codebase is founded upon Rob Connery’s MVC.NET ecommerce Kona project.

So, despite numerous reservations about Magento (the platform has a reputation for being slow, overly-complex, unwieldy, unsupported on Windows, good at marketing itself but lacklustre at delivering what it promises), I decided to have a bash at installing it on Windows Server 2008 running IIS 7.5 just to see what would happen/how hard it was.  It was surprisingly easy.

These are the steps I followed:

  • Prerequisites: We already have a Windows 2008 IIS 7.5 server setup running a number of PHP platforms (SugarCRM and CakePHP based web applications) so I think this helped a bit.  I didn’t have to install any extra components but these are the relevant ones I believe you need to install using the web platform installer:
    1. PHP 5.2.17
    2. IIS: CGI
    3. Windows Cache Extension 1.1 for PHP 5.2
    4. URL Rewrite 2.0
  • Install MYSQL: Once you have IIS setup, you also need a working mysql instance http://dev.mysql.com/downloads/
  • Upload Magento Install: Create a new website in IIS and copy/FTP the Magento 1.5.10 install files into the website directory.
  • Setting up the URL re-write rules:  This step is the key to a smooth Magento install.  Create a new web.config file in the base install directory and then copy the following URL rewrite rules in:
  • <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> 
       <configuration> 
        <system.webServer>
        <rewrite>
        <rules> 
         <rule name="Imported Rule 1" stopProcessing="true"> 
          <match url=".*" ignoreCase="false"/>        <conditions> <add input="{URL}" pattern="^/(media|skin|js)/" ignoreCase="false" negate="true" /> 
          <add input="{REQUEST_FILENAME}" matchType="IsFile" negate="true" /> 
          <add input="{REQUEST_FILENAME}" matchType="IsDirectory" negate="true" /> 
        </conditions> <action type="Rewrite" url="index.php" /> 
        </rule> 
       </rules> 
       </rewrite> 
      </system.webServer> 
    </configuration>
  • Permissions: I also encountered some permission problems which were a little tricky to diagnose as magento hides errors by default.  You simply receive a generic “There has been an error processing your request” message.  To print errors to screen, I followed the guide here - http://www.designersandbox.com/magento/fix-for-magento-1-4-install-does-not-work/.  

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Ings Mill Park Lake District Holiday Home Site Launched

Friday, 20 August 2010 17:57 by Ben

Invosoft were asked to design and develop a new website for to South Lake District Holiday Home Park, Ings Mill Park.

Ings Mill Park Home page

The new website is based on Invosoft’s advanced content management system and features a bespoke facility to showcase their regularly updated Holiday Home and Static Caravan stock for sale.

Click here to visit Ings Mill Park.

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Logs Suppliers Upgrade their Online Shop

Friday, 13 August 2010 23:19 by Ben

Invosoft client Logs Direct have recently undergone a number of improvements to their e-commerce system to compliment the company’s new and improved product range.  Logs Direct, based near Lancaster are already UK market leaders for seasoned firewood logs and kiln dried logs. They hope to expand their range with a number of chimineas,  summer offerings and wood coal. Their e-commerce system has been improved, to enhance usability, cope with demand for new forthcoming product ranges, and their ever increasing customer base. 

Further improvements to improve the usability of the website and to upgrade the payments system are to follow shortly.

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Invosoft is "Selected" by leading Property Maintenance Firm

Monday, 1 March 2010 20:46 by lindsey

Invosoft has been commissioned by a leading Cumbrian property maintenance firm, based near Carnforth, Cumbria to create a website following its well publicised merger with a local landscape gardening firm. Together, Select Property Maintenance and A & A Garden Services (going under the banner of Select Property Maintenance) will provide their customers with over 15 years of expertise from an expanding range of craftsmen, all experts in their fields.

The merger is set to create up to 15 new jobs also, and the company is set to deliver a high level of maintenance services to the hospitality, retail and commercial industries as well as private residences.

David Greensmith, director of Select Property Maintenance, said “existing customers of A&A with whom we are merging will now benefit from a wide range of additional services including painting and decorating as well as gas and electrical services.”

Select Property Maintenance website

The website will have detailed listings of the wide range of services Select Property Maintenance now have on offer, which include ground works and construction, interior decorating, kitchen and bathroom installation, an emergency call out service and a carefully designed package of Service Level Agreement tariffs.

The easily navigable website is fully editable via Invosoft’s advanced .NET content management system (CMS). Full Search Engine Optimisation should give this brand new website a great start.

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Self catering in London

Wednesday, 11 November 2009 18:55 by lindsey

I recently had to visit London to see a client. As my meeting was on a Friday, I decided to take my partner (and my Dad) and make a long weekend of it.

In the past, when in London, I have always stayed in hotels, the self catering option is not one that readily springs to mind. I don’t know why but I always associate self catering with quaint isolated country cottages. But there is growing pool of quality self catering in the centre of London and this time, I decided to give it a go.

I got a really good deal at Odessa Wharf, a fantastic riverside apartment. It was only £240 for 3 nights which is less than the three of us would have spent on hotel rooms. 

Self catering London

We got lucky, Odessa Wharf is unbelievable, situated on the riverfront with a balcony that actually extends over the Thames, no really! It is centrally located, yet out of town enough to be very quit and private. Odessa is literally 100 metres from the London river bus – a great way to travel! It was so refreshing to be able to escape the hustle and bustle of central London in the evening, hop on the river bus and escape to the luxury of the flat where we could sit out on the balcony, sip on a glass of wine and listen to the Thames lapping on the shingles below.

Self catering accommodation, in general, can offer excellent value for money. It can work out extremely cheap, especially if you are staying in a large group. Self catering accommodation also provides more control over your finances, with the option of preparing packed lunches, picnics and cooking your own meals. Meal times will also be of your own choosing; there is no need to set the alarm and rush down for an early breakfast, or adhere to the often bland full-board menu options.

Self catering properties provide guests with all the facilities of a genuine home-from-home experience.  Odessa wharf had a fully equipped kitchen, dinning area, lounge space and a private waterside roof terrace with unparalleled views of the London skyline ;-) Self catering is private. Guests do not have to mingle in the lobby as in a hotel. There is usually a living room where everyone can relax in a private, comfortable atmosphere. This is especially welcome when funds are tight, the weather is dreadful and you want to spend a quiet night in. There are no other intrusions or forced interactions. No one will knock on the door and ask to clean your room, or ask you to leave your key when you leave.

Self Catering accommodation in London

When I used to think of self catering, I thought of Aviemore or the Lake District, but fully quipped self catering flats, apartments and houses in London are increasing. There is something out there for everyone and every budget, however, I do recommend a place with a private balcony over the river Thames with uninterrupted views of Canary Wharf :-)

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Holiday Home Marketing Tricks

Thursday, 1 October 2009 18:47 by Brian

There are a few useful tricks we regularly use to market new holiday home sites. Invosoft recently blogged about holiday home SEO and the importance of having your own web presence. However, there are a few specific tricks I have learnt since then that I’d like to bring to your attention.

Find London vacation rentals on FlipKey

Get your past guests to write reviews

These could be on your website but are far more effective on popular travel sites like travelpod.com and ivebeenthere.co.uk. Both sites are really popular, ranked heavily in the search engines and let the reviewer leave live links in back to your site.

Sign up for Flipkey.com 

Not only do they have a great review service which allows you to send out review reminders to all your past guests, you get a listing on both FlipKey and TripAdvisor! (the FlipKey page has a link back but the TripAdvisor page doesn’t). There are also a host of cool widgets you can use to promote your listing and reviews (like the one on the right).  The only drawback is it’s a paid for service. However, at a current $1.99/month until December, it’s worth a shot – you never know, you may get a few extra enquiries!

Thanks to Tom Henry of YouPR - journalist-inspired public relations for contributing to this article. 

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Invosoft Launch New Logs Direct E-commerce Site

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 19:14 by Ben

Invosoft have just completed construction of a new e-commerce website for national carbon-neutral fuel supplier, Logs Direct. The North Lancashire based company supply ethical fuel products to the likes of B&Q and the National Trust. They stock a range of softwood and hardwood fuel logs as well as kindlingfirelighters and wood pellet fuels. They are also the main distributors for Blazers, an ethical and effective alternative to wood logs.

Not having a wood burner or multi-fuel stove myself (yet!), it was an area on which I knew little. One thing I do know is that wood burners perform best when burning very dry, seasoned wood. After chatting to Andrew Foulds, Managing Director of Logs Direct, it seems the best wood in terms of performance (heat output, efficiency and value for money) is kiln dried woodKiln-dried logs have a 10% to 15% moisture level which ensures they burn hotter for longer. We spent an afternoon in Andrew’s purpose-built production facility getting to know the products and the one thing that stands out from that day is aroma from the kiln dried stuff – nothing beats the fragrance of a real log fire!

The website is based on the 'dashcommerce' codebase –  kudos to the team there for all thier hard work! We found the platform very easy to customise, in both design and functionality terms.  We, however, added lots of custom features not present in the standard platform, such as our video guides section and delivery calculator based on postcode. The system is feature packed, user-friendly and easy to manage and maintain. You can view the results for yourselves at:

http://www.logsdirect.co.uk

and here are a few tips on using wood burning stoves and selecting the the right firewood.

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SEO and the importance of choosing a domain name for your holiday home website

Sunday, 24 May 2009 20:05 by Ben

One thing that becomes obvious very quickly once you have done a little bit of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is that choosing the right domain name is very important. What is not so clear – to me at least – is how important subtle differences in domain names are and how should one offset a keyword rich name with other factors such as succinctness and brevity?

I have been working recently on a new holiday property website project for a site based in Brixham, Devon. I was unfamiliar with Brixham. It’s a lovely historic resort nestled between the ports of Dartmouth and Paignton on the south coast. We secured 2 great website names for the site. www.brixhamholidayhome.com has more keywords packed into the domain name but www.brixhamhome.co.uk has the advantage of being shorter (and therefore easier to remember and less susceptible to typos) and being a .co.uk, which I personally think for an English holiday home is an advantage.

Bixham harbour South Devon
Brixham harbour at Sunset

In the end, I opted for more keyword-packed www.brixhamholidayhome.com with Brixhamhome.co.uk using a 301 re-direct back to it. Overall, I think having a short name isn’t too important these days as people tend to use search engines exclusively when finding websites, even when they know the domain name. When you are clicking on a link from search results, having a long name isn’t such an issue.

A further point in this particular case is, there is also a very highly ranked popular site www.brixhamholidayhomes.com, and there is a chance we can garner some of their traffic due to a phenomena called ”traffic leakage”. Traffic leakage is where a popular site will loose traffic to a site with a similar name due to people miss-typing it or simply mistaking it for the original site.

To summarise, here are my personal recommendations when choosing a domain name for your holiday let:

  • 1. Generic is best: Convention says that you should choose a name based on your company or brand name. For holiday homes, this is not necessarily the case. Nobody really cares that your property is called “rose cottage” or that you trade under the name “Exclusive Lets ltd.”, what they care about is that you are located in the lake district (or wherever) and that you are a self-catering/holidaylet/holidayhome/vacation rental… In other words, stay generic and try and get your place name in and your property type, it will give you a great head-start in the search engines.

  • 2. Get your location name in: this may be stating the obvious, but when choosing a property, a holiday maker will have already chosen their location so it’s a case of getting noticed amongst your local competition.  And getting your location in the domain name will weight you more favourably in the search engines.

  • 3. Avoid hyphens: Again, this is more of a personal thing, but I believe non-hyphenated names are easier to remember, they are definitely shorter and no modern search engine will have difficulty picking out the relevant words. Just look at our main site www.propertyrentalsoftware.com as a case in point, we actually do very little active SEO on our own site and it has always been near the top for “property rental software” since its creation.

  • 4. Go for a .co.uk: I know I did not do this in the above example but brixhamholidayhome.co.uk was already taken. Where possible, try and get all the TLD’s (top level domains) available for your chosen domain. This will avoid others picking up the alternatives and loosing traffic to name leakage (see the begining of this article). For example, invosoft.co.uk, invosoft.cominvosoft.net…but if you are a based in the UK, make the .co.uk your main domain and use 301 re-directs on the others to point back to the .co.uk. As well as identifying yourself as a UK based company/property you will be weighted more highly in the UK specific search engines google.co.uk, yahoo.co.uk, etc. If your holiday lets are not in the UK, I would use the .com as it’s pretty much ubiquitous.

Again, this is a somewhat personal opinion and there are many differing views when it comes to SEO, so I would love to hear yours!

Employee time tracking

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2009 budget is a blow for holiday home owners

Saturday, 25 April 2009 15:33 by Ben

This week’s budget has left holiday home owners worst off than most.

In a week in which most people were left hurting financially, the government dealt holiday home owners an extra blow.

Currently, you can offset running expenses on your holiday property, but more importantly, if the property makes a paper loss, you can offset this against your overall income thus reducing your tax bill. From April 2010 onward, Rental Owners will no longer be able to offset loses from their holiday home against their general tax bill.


Cartoon by Dave Brown of the Independant

Capital gains tax relief has also been removed.  Currently, if you invest in a holiday home after selling assets, you can defer paying any capital gains tax on those assets, it is what’s know as 'business asset roll-over relief'.

Luckily, the changes to capital gains tax will not be retrospective, so anyone who deferred paying capital gains tax buy buying a holiday property will still be able to defer payment until the holiday home is sold.

There is also some consolation for those owning holiday properties outside the UK but within the EU. They will enjoy the tax-breaks enjoyed by those owning properties in the UK, but only but only until the end of the current tax year when, as described above, it will be abolished for everyone.

You can view the view the current tax breaks available to holiday let owners on the DirectGov website here.

Click here to view our other guides on letting your your holiday property.

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Expect a bumper summer in the Lakes and across Britain for 2009!

Friday, 17 April 2009 16:02 by Brian

Living in Lancaster, in the North West of England is great. One of the finest aspects is the proximity to the English Lake District; it’s less than half an hour’s drive from the Southern Lakes. The  Lake District is a great place to escape to, and when the weather is clement, I will often head up there on a weekend, sometimes leaving straight after work on a Friday.

I did my first such trip two weeks ago, one that I did many times last year, camping wild near Easdale Tarn above Grasmere. It was the first time there was enough daylight to make the trip viable after a full days work, the clocks only having gone forward the previous week.

I hiked up from Grasmere with everything I needed on my back - at what in previous years had been a tranquil wild camping spot - ready for some solitude, peace and quiet only to find six other people had the same idea as me! Bearing in mind this is the beginning of April and the first time this trip has been possible. I’ve never seen that many tents wild camping in one spot in the Lakes before. And by the time morning came, there were a total of five tents, eight people and two dogs.

Walking near Grasmere in Englands Lake District

The next day, the streets were absolutely flooded with people in Grasmere, Windermere and Ambleside. By all accounts the following Bank Holiday Easter weekend was even busier. It was plain to me, that on Easter weekend, which is traditional one in which we witness all the major international airports bursting at the seams, people were deciding to spend their time and money in the UK. This got me thinking about shifting trends in tourism during a recession and how it’s a good sign for holiday home owners in the UK.

If we combine the recession with a diminishing pound (against both the euro and the dollar) then it comes as no surprise that British families are spending their leisure time closer to home. I did some research and found some official figures to back up my anecdotal assessment:

  • Cumbria Tourism confirmed there was a busy Easter period last week with Lake District tourism information centres reporting a 45% increase in footfall over the same period in 2008.

  • Recent history shows that a busy Easter period leads to a bumper summer for the hospitality industry especially hotels, B&B’s and self-catering accommodation.

  • In the previous year, the worst hit retailer s have been the top and bottom end of the Lake District tourism industry, including hotels and B&B’s but a good recovery is expected, along with self-catering and holiday-home accommodation providers benefitting from the forthcoming influx of visitors.

  • Financial injections have also been announced to boost the tourist industry, with Cumbria Tourism benefitting from over £5 million made available from the Northwest Regional Development Agency. Creating “high-quality, high-value visitor experiences” is a main concern, as is capitalising on the “increasing trend to holiday at home”. Some of the regions first areas to benefit from this grant are the refurbishments of the Tourist Information Centres and National Park Centres of Ullswater, Bowness, Hawkshead and Keswick.

All this is great news for the local holiday home industry, especially in Lancashire and Cumbria. Expect a bumper summer in the Lakes and across Britain for 2009!

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