This report is for those MBA students who haven’t taken eCommerce and Web Development course at WT but trying to know more about the course and its usefulness for rest of their career either in eCommerce development or how effectively they can use various social media tools available for effective digital marketing strategy. So, without further delay, let me get you into the details of the course contents and its usefulness.
This course contents cover various topics which help students to understand current web and eCommerce technologies, how to establish a web domain, website hosting options, introduce Content Management Systems, web themes, child themes, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), how to monetize the website, how to make an eCommerce website using various plugins available, web vulnerabilities and web security, finally how to internationalize your website for global audience.
A website from scratch
If you do not already own your domain, there are various domain name registration sites (registrars) that can help you look up for your favorite names. The chances are most of the popular names you come up with are already taken. Don’t worry there are several new top-level domain (TLD) names that are added over the years apart from initial “.com”, “.org” and “.net” TLDs. Now there are over a 1000 TLDs and TLDs that are country-specific if you are looking to serve a particular country audience.
So, go ahead and pick your favorite registrar website and start searching for your name for a website with different TLDs. Most times if a TLD is taken, these websites provide alternative TLD recommendations for the same name you searched for. Once you decide on the name, go ahead and register your website. Typically, you are registering the name for a minimum of a year and above and up to like ten years in advance. Congratulations on owning your first website.
Now, if you go ahead and type your website name in your browser, chances are, you are going to see a freely hosted web page by your registrar, with pretty much their own advertisements. That is because you haven’t hosted anything yet on your new website. If you are looking to host a single custom page, telling your visitors either your website is under construction or with your contact information, you may probably end up getting a free hosted web page from your registrar. But this course is not about a single page hosting. We are going to explore various aspects of website development using Content Management System (CMS).
Before we talk more about CMS, let’s look at what you need to do to have a real website up and running. We need to find a reliable web hosting company. What does it mean? It means, instead of having to go through a hassle of setting up a web server on our own from scratch, we are trying to find a hosting company who provides a Virtual Private Server (VPS) for your website with various other services and support such as security, reliability etc.
There are various companies exist which provide website hosting services these days for as few as five dollars a month to a few hundred dollars a month for high storage and processing needs. Here is a list of popular hosting service providers for you to look at. I chose digitalocean.com for hosting my website gundelli.com. DigitalOcean was a pretty good hosting service provider to start with. They have a huge set of online documentation with user forums that talk about pretty much any issues typical starters face and of course more advanced topics and with recommended fixes. Here is a link to initial web server setup on DigitalOcean using Ubuntu 16.4. If you are not familiar with Ubuntu, don’t worry, it is a free to use open source Linux server and you will learn about it more as you start using it in in the eCommerce course. This initial setup link walks you through step by step instructions on how to download required software and their installation and configuration such as setting up root and other user accounts, setting up privileges, setting up firewalls etc.
Once basic setup and configuration are taken care, the next step is to install and configure a set of required software applications used for hosting your website. Here is a list of software, I used to setup my website gundelli.com. Ubuntu, MySQL, WordPress, myPHPAdmin to start with. I will talk more about some of these in the following sections.
Content Management System
OK, let’s take a little closer look at Content Management System. A CMS is a software program or set of programs for managing web content typically for enterprise needs. There are many CMSs available to use depending upon your choice of development languages and tools. For this eCommerce development course, the preferred CMS was WordPress. WordPress is one of the popular CMS software applications and widely used in web content management. According to Forbes, WordPress powers more than 25% of all websites.
WordPress is an easy to install and configure software which uses PHP as its development language. Don’t worry if you do not know much about PHP. Honestly, I did not know anything about PHP before starting this course. If you are familiar with any scripting language or any high-level language such as C or Java, you are already on your way to start working on PHP. It is an easy to learn and implement a language with a minimum effort if you plan to do development on WordPress. But don’t be scared, if you are not familiar with any of the computer languages, you can still go ahead and use WordPress to get your website up and running. The main aim of WordPress is to give a simple to use interface to set up a powerful website and provide options for extending website functionality if needed.
At a high-level WordPress provides two kinds of contents to publish, a post and a page. A post is something that you would typically use it in blogging. A page is a regular web page where you can add pretty much any content to. WordPress provides a decent web admin interface to create and publish posts or pages.
One of the most important features WordPress provides is a theme. A theme is a template or a visual framework in place, easily interchangeable by other themes. WordPress does come with many free themes to use. Apart from these themes, WordPress user community adds many new themes most of which are free to use. I used a bunch of themes in a span of this course, but here is a screenshot of my current theme called WooCommerce.
In fact, what you see in this screenshot is a child theme of WooCommerce theme. A child theme is a derived theme from a parent theme, that means, the derived child theme does have all the parent theme’s functionality but provides user to override any of the functionality that needs a change, typically extending the functionality. You may be now wondering why not go ahead and change the parent theme code in the first place instead of extending it. It is a valid question and I asked myself the same question when I first heard about a child theme. Here is a valid reason. Extending a parent theme usually happens using a third-party parent theme and WordPress does give you an option of updating themes when the theme developer uploads a new version of the theme. In such a case, if you changed the original third-party theme, newer changes that you made to the original theme would get wiped off. So, it is always recommended to extend a theme and make changes to the child theme or in other words override the parent theme functionality. A couple of reasons, I personally changed or overridden functionality in my child theme was to change the background color of my web page using Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) settings and to have Google AdSense code snippet for showing ads on my website.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was one of the important components of this eCommerce Development course. Concepts and techniques of SEO are very useful for anyone learning eCommerce development course but SEO on its own is a pretty much a separate course in most cases. I personally felt like, learning two courses at cost of one if you see it in monetary terms. Here is a screenshot of my post on SEO on my website.
SEO is a very important topic to learn along with eCommerce development using WordPress in this course. Think of this situation, you build a great website, but it does not appear in user searches performed on say Google or Bing. What is the use of it? While developing the website or creating its content, it is equally important that you make your content appear on user searches. SEO teaches all the techniques to make this happen. WordPress itself does provide various plugins for SEO functionality. I personally used a plugin called Yoast SEO for all my SEO needs. Here is a screenshot of Yoast SEO dashboard.
SEO plugin is very user-friendly and instants evaluate the web page content and make recommendations to make the content more search friendly. The plugin gives visual indications on how likely your content appears in web searches that other users perform.
Monetization of your Website
Typically, you are not starting a website for free public service. In most cases, you are expecting something out of your website. Why not monetize your website when it is generating a decent number of visitors. There are many techniques that are there to put your website to generate some extra cash or even go full-fledged into it. In one of the above sections, I mentioned about Google AdSense, if you noticed, this was by far a most common way you can monetize your website. What it means is, you simply renting some of the real-estate of your website for third-party ads. Google provides context-based ads on your page that uses may click on. Every click that users click on your website generates a few cents for you. Of course, Google charges its clients more based on a number of clicks an ad generates. I signed up on Google AdSense website to have ads on my website and every time a visitor of my website clicks on an ad, I earn a few pennies. Google pays when this total adds up to a certain amount. People provide useful content on their websites and generate extra income from the ad clicks their website generates.
Another technique I used was to install WooCommerce plugin, which I already introduced in one of the above sections. WooCommerce plugin is ready to use eCommerce plugin, which comes with most of the functionality a modern-day eCommerce website needs. It has features like product catalog, price discounts, applying coupons, cart and check-out functionality. Users can create their web accounts and perform purchases on your website. You have a way to show an item is in stock or out of stock. This plugin covers end to end purchase process helps in inventory management etc. Currently, I have not set up a payment gateway on my website because I am not really selling any real products or services, rather using this WooCommerce plugin to test the various eCommerce features. Most of the WordPress eCommerce websites use this popular WooCommerce plugin for their web presence. Developers of this plugin are pretty active in providing new features and bug fixes all the time. By the way, WordPress plugin library has several other plugins which provide similar functionality.
WordPress being one of the widely used and popular CMS frameworks so do face many security challenges from time to time. If you followed recent news on website hacks, no website is 100% secure but it is the responsibility of the webmasters or owner of the websites to keep their websites up to date with the updates of WordPress and plugins that they use. Typically, if you leave your website untouched for a while with no updates being installed, you are simply exposing your site’s vulnerabilities. Hackers are always looking for those sites which are lagging infrequent updates and try find a back door to hack into. WordPress took a great care of any security vulnerabilities and always provided fixes to its users. So it is the responsibility of the users to keep their WordPress update up to date and also follow closely with on security-related posts from WordPress as well as general news to not put your website at any security risk. Again, WordPress does come with many security-related plugins to help you in this area.
Internationalization usually referred as i18n in the computer industry, is the ability to provide your website content to international users, typically in their local language. If you noticed, some of the websites do provide different language links on their websites, clicking these links converts the web content to that language. Internationalization quickly provides a way to localize. WordPress installation itself provides localization. Apart from that, there are many i18n WordPress plugins that are available to enable the power of internationalization for your website. One of the most commonly used websites, Wikipedia.org has links in various languages to quickly see the content in different a language. Similarly, WordPress does provide a various set of plugins for localization needs.
By any means, this report is not an exhaustive list of what this eCommerce course provides to the students but just a compilation of various aspects that a student can have a better idea on the outline of the course. It is always recommended to check the previous course syllabus on WT website to understand the course content better as the field of technology is ever changing and the possibility of syllabus being changed from time to time. It is also a good idea to speak to students who have already taken this course in the past or finally not a bad idea to reach out to the department or the actual professor who is offering the course for any further details. But, as an MBA student, if you are looking to improve your knowledge in eCommerce or generally in web development, I would highly recommend this course.