Tag Archives: Zen Cart and WordPress Integration

Embedded Blogs | A WordPress & Zen Cart Integration Review

Your Blog IS NOT an Island
(AKA Your Blog is Not a Step-Child)
(AKA Embedded Blogs: Wrong Solution for the Wrong Problem)

I’ve written before about why I believe that embedded blogs are the wrong solution for the wrong problem.. So let’s look at some of the most common supporting statements used by those firmly in the “embedded blogs” camp.

As most folks know, WordPress has long been touted for providing siteowners with a means to EASILY add keyword rich content, which as we know is good for SEO, conversion rates and increasing search engine rankings. However, there are still those who would tout the virtues of implementing “embedded blog” solutions by stating (erroneously) that having a “separate blog” is a BAD thing that you want to avoid at all costs. Here’s some of the most commonly used supporting statements for endorsing a blog embedded inside Zen Cart:

  1. Customers can navigate seamlessly between your store and your blog
  2. Embedding means not having your blog in a separate location
    (saaaaaaaayyy.. doesn’t that KINDA contradict the previous statement??)
  3. Customers are taken away from your Zen Cart site when they click through to your blog
  4. You do not need to create a separate WordPress theme
    (one of my favorites “mis-statements”… more later on this..)
  5. Enjoy all the functionality of WordPress
    (hmmmmmmm.. ALL of it.. really??? even ALL plugins??)
  6. Shopping cart totals and checkout links will show on your site pages including the blog.

These statements on their face are ALL only partially true. Surely they do not tell the WHOLE WordPress and Zen Cart integration story. Truly some of this train of though comes from not letting go of old beliefs. Namely that there is only ONE WAY to skin the WordPress Zen Cart integration cat. (HA!)

Regarding items 1-3:

If your blog and store are in the SAME domain, regardless as to whether Zen Cart is in a subfolder of your WordPress site (http://yoursite.com & http://yoursite.com/shop) or WordPress is in a subfolder of your Zen Cart site http://yoursite.com & http://yoursite.com/blog) your customers are NOT “taken away” from your site when they click through to your blog or store. Your WordPress blog and Zen Cart store are a part of the OVERALL landscape that makes up your site. These elements of your site are not some separate island to be treated like some red-headed step child..

From the customer POV, clicking a link to an article or clicking a link to a product page is all part of the same activity involved with browsing your website as they all reside in the same domain. Trust me they are not saying as they browse your site “Uh oh.. I am in WordPress land now..” or “I am traveling to the land of Zen Cart..”

However, if you do not have LOTS of visual cues to guide your customers when they transition from (lets say) a product page to a blog article, the chances of customers losing interest in or forgetting about making a purchase in the shop increases. Unless you aid them by gently reminding them that they have items in the cart, or show them the way to the products your online store offers for sale — product category links, specials and featured product listings, customer testimonials, product reviews, etc — unless you include product related links somewhere in your blog, your customers WILL forget. Without including product and shopping cart elements inside your blog pages, you increase the chances that your customers will lose interest in, or forget about buying something from your online shop.

Obviously, this is bad for customer conversion. On this same note it is NOT enough to simply add a stale non-dynamic link to the shopping cart inside your blog to “integrate” it with your store.. (more on this follows)

Regarding items 4-5:

The most common reason that folks opt for an embedded blog, has LESS to do with wanting to keep customers engaged and more to do with wanting to avoid having to create a separate WordPress template. It is somewhat of a mis-statement to say that by embedding your blog inside Zen Cart, you do not need to create a WordPress theme. All embedded blog methods require some kind of WordPress theme (even a generic one) to manage the display of your WordPress content even inside of Zen Cart.

However, WordPress themes have come a LOOOOOONG way from 6 years ago when WordPress versions 2.5/2.6 were the new “improved” kids on the block. There are so MANY more options for easily “growing your own” WordPress theme from scratch, downloading one for free (from a REPUTABLE site), or for purchasing a well written WordPress theme (for less than $50). Finally WordPress themselves have improved the HECK out of the default themes that come with WordPress. The stock “Twenty-Something” series of WordPress themes easily allows one to modify the “Twenty-Something” series of themes  with a minimal of skill required for modest changes.

However, if one is familiar with how WordPress and Zen Cart themes/templates are constructed, it is quite easy using WordPress hooks to make direct calls inside a Zen Cart template to whole sections of the WordPress theme (like for example the footer). The mastery of this method makes it possible for WordPress and Zen Cart to “share” a theme. (see http://tablelegworld.com, http://eyeitalia.com, or even http://overthehillweb.com for examples of this method in action)

One final thing on this.. The thing to be aware of is that once WordPress is “embedded” inside Zen Cart, you may find that you will not be able to use some of your favorite WordPress plugins. There are many WordPress plugins that do not behave well within the WordPress on Zen Cart embedded configuration.

Regarding items 6:

When your WordPress blog is integrated into your Zen Cart store using tools like Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen), real time session dependent information IS visible on the blog pages (i.e., shopping cart totals, login info, etc.), which makes it more likely that your customers will return to shopping and complete their purchase after reading your blog.

To Sum It All Up:

Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) make it possible to build a WordPress blog and Zen Cart store that will provide full integration functionality so that wherever your customer’s are within the landscape of your site, they will be able to see & access Zen Cart related links (content) as well as session dependent data anywhere within WordPress and they will be able to see and access WordPress related links (content) anywhere within Zen Cart.

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WordPress is known as one of the best open source content management system (CMS) frameworks for creating blogs while Zen Cart is a one of the best open source e-commerce frameworks to build an online shopping cart. Each has its own outstanding features. However, wouldn’t the combination of these open source powerhouses make a powerful combination?

If you are interested in integrating Zen Cart and WordPress, it’s probably because you want to mention the products from your Zen Cart store in your WordPress blog. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to put links to your product listings into the relevant blog posts and pages AND have those product listings update automatically as your Zen Cart store changes? Wouldn’t it be nice to include some of your blogs most useful widgets in your Zen Cart store without having to fuss with a complicated blog embedding module. Wouldn’t it be nice if session-dependent information like your shopping cart (cart contents, checkout link, or shopping cart link) could be displayed inside WordPress?

We are pleased to announce the release of Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen). We think that these plugins and modules will be VERY useful to your business. In our opinion an automated means to integrate Zen Cart content within WordPress or WordPress content within Zen Cart are MUST HAVE functions for shop-owners to make their WordPress sites into a more effective tool to drive business to their Zen Cart stores.

Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) is series of widgets, shortcodes, and sideboxes that integrate Zen Cart and an associated a WordPress installation. Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) is based on a collaboration between Vinos de Frutas Tropicales and Over the Hill Web ConsultingWordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) is based on a collaboration between Over the Hill Web Consulting and Marian Coleman.

Finally this kind of SEAMLESS integration is possible. Read more here: Zen Cart and WordPress.. together at last the way they should be!

To get Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) for your site today. Go to  »  http://overthehillweb.com/shop/

Please Note: Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) does not integrate the user logins between Zen Cart and WordPress. If your site requires users to login for content or shopping, they will still have to register on both Zen Cart and WordPress. If you desire SSO (single sign-on) for Zen Cart and WordPress, please contact either Vinos de Frutas Tropicales or Over the Hill Web Consulting for a quote.

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Solutions for Better Zen Cart & WordPress Integration

Why Widgets & Sideboxes are a Better Solution than Blog & Shop Embedding for Integration

…embedded blog solutions make Zen Cart/WordPress integration overly complicated mainly because they seek to solve the WRONG problem..

When I was first introduced to WordPress I wanted to try and build a WordPress site linked to a Zen Cart store.

There are “embedded blog” (WordPress on Zen Cart) solutions available which allows a shop owner to “embed” their WordPress blog within their Zen Cart store. However I often wondered why no such solution to embed Zen Cart within WordPress had never been created. When I decided to pursue a “Zen Cart on WordPress “solution (based on a client request/need), I followed the path that had already been established in the world of Zen Cart and WordPress integration solutions. So naturally I initially pursued a solution which “embedded” Zen Cart inside WordPress. After all, that’s how the WordPress on Zen Cart solutions had all worked in the past. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the opposite is what was needed for Zen Cart and WordPress integration? AKA Zen Cart on WordPress.

em·bed (emˈbed) also im·bed (imˈbed)
v. em·bed·ded also im·bed·ded, em·bed·ding also im·bed·ding, em·beds also im·beds

  1. To fix firmly in a surrounding mass: embed a post in concrete; fossils embedded in shale.
  2. To enclose snugly or firmly.
  3. To cause to be an integral part of a surrounding whole: “a minor accuracy embedded in a larger untruth” (Ian Jack).
  4. To assign (a journalist) to travel with a military unit during an armed conflict.
  5. Biology To enclose (a specimen) in a supporting material before sectioning for microscopic examination.

To become embedded: The harpoon struck but did not embed.
One that is embedded, especially a journalist who is assigned to an active military unit.

As I began to explore this, I was shocked that what  I got back from most developers and Zen Cart gurus was a LOT of resistance. I was told that what I was asking for was “impossible” — “hard” — “not necessary” or simply not doable at all.. Most of the responses went something like this: “I don’t think it can be done easily as you are trying to merge two very different codesets”

Along the way I was frequently asked, “WHY are you doing this?”. My basic answer remains pretty much the same as when I first tried walking down this path two years ago. I have never been happy with the available options for WordPress e-commerce plugins. While that landscape is changing with the introduction of  The Cart Press, WooCommerce and now Ready E-Commerce, these plugins in my opinion still fall a little short in that these plugins still do not match all the features found in other standalone e-commerce frameworks such as Zen Cart, osCommerce, Presta Cart, and even Magento..

Based on my 15+ years of experience as a software solutions Business Analyst, I KNEW that Zen Cart & WordPress integration was totally attainable. However, with all the resistance I was getting whenever I would inquire about or express my interest in Zen Cart & WordPress integration, I began to ask different questions. I began to question if the traditional approach and assumptions surrounding Zen Cart & WordPress integration were indeed correct. Here’s what I found:

Upon hearing that there was an osCommerce plugin for WordPress, I was excited. Since Zen Cart is a fork of osCommerce, I took a look at this plugin to see if I could gain insight on how to accomplish the same thing with Zen Cart. The WP Online Store plugin support forum SAYS you can install any osCommerce add-on module, and upon further research I verified that yes that is true.. BUT a closer look revealed that you may need some knowledge of PHP to modify your favorite osCommerce module so that it works inside the WordPress framework.

Eventually updates to PHP, WordPress, and the version of  osCommerce used for the osCommerce for WordPress plugin KILLED the plugin.

NOTICE: As from Summer 2014 this plugin will no longer be supported.
Changes in the latest version of PHP, which was being rolled out across many servers, meant that there would have to be a major re-write to most of the files within the WP Online Store Plugin. The developers could no longer afford to update and support this free plugin.

I don’t know about you, but for the shop owners in the dubious position of having to migrate a site built around a now VERY dead plugin seems like a lot of work JUST to avoid creating matching themes/templates. Not to mention the risk of lost sales because a shopowners embedded solution is interfering with some aspect of their site. (you know interfering with something  like SALES!!)

After spending a LOT of time reviewing solutions to embedded blogs inside Zen Cart and looking at WordPress plugins to embed the osCommerce framework inside WordPress, I began to realize that many folks (including myself) walked down this “embedded blog” road simply to avoid having to deal with WordPress and Zen Cart themes/templates. There seems to be this perception that creating a WordPress theme to match one’s Zen Cart store is “hard” or “too much work” or that creating a Zen Cart template was also too much work or too hard.. I believed this too initially, but I eventually realized that blog or store embedding JUST to avoid having to create a matching theme/template was a lot of work for VERY little gain..

At the end of the day I realized what my clients REALLY needed was to be able to display Zen Cart products and a live shopping cart in their WordPress site, and vice versa without all of the headaches that go into maintaining an embedded solution.. It takes LESS time for me to create a WordPress theme and matching Zen Cart template than it does to deal with every single issue that rears it’s ugly head to make sure my embedded solution doesn’t wreak havoc on my site because it doesn’t play nice with some plugins/modules.. Plus, there are plenty of NICE template and theme options (free and commercial) for both Zen Cart and WordPress out there which makes all the fuss over themeing and templating a NON-ISSUE.

My clients know that they don’t need the WHOLE store displayed inside WordPress, but they do need their PRODUCT LISTINGS, PRODUCT CATEGORIES, and LIVE SHOPPING CART TOTALS displayed inside WordPress.. They don’t need their WHOLE blog displayed inside of Zen Cart, but they DO need links to their RECENT POSTS/PAGES, TAG CLOUD, and BLOG CATEGORIES displayed inside their Zen Cart stores.

My conclusion??

I realized that embedded solutions make Zen Cart & WordPress integration overly complicated mainly because they seek to solve the WRONG problem.

Unlike embedding plugins/modules, Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) allows siteowners to use the FULL power of WordPress and the FULL power of Zen Cart. This means that shopowners will be able to use any plugin/module for Zen Cart or WordPress without limits or conflicts (like having to implement some gnarly code just to get their Zen Cart module to work inside WordPress).

To get Zen Cart® for WordPress (zen4wp) & WordPress for Zen Cart® (wp4zen) for your site today go to  »  http://overthehillweb.com/shop/

Author: C Jones

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