Building a user-focussed website application in TYPO3

A long term customer had been using custom Perl software with their TYPO3-powered website. Several Perl generated HTML pages were embedded in their TYPO3 website to capture input from forms and generate license numbers and provide access to downloads of their nutrition calculation software for dietitians and health professionals.

The Perl software was not easy to maintain and during our investigation of the data we found problems with the data storage and hacking attempts. While this software automated some processes, there was still significant manual processing required by our client’s admin team and they wanted to change some of these processes and workflow.

At the same time, their website was using a old version of TYPO3 which was no longer supported and was also difficult to use. The design was not compatible with modern devices and screen sizes.

Screenshot of the old website from an iPhone
Screenshot of the new website from an iPhone

We worked with the client to upgrade their TYPO3 website to the latest version with a responsive design and develop a new user-focussed system for managing licenses and downloads that was fully integrated in TYPO3 with a custom TYPO3 extension .

Upgrade process

Typically when we upgrade a customer’s TYPO3 website, we duplicate their existing site and then apply the upgrades for each newer version of TYPO3, often stepping from 4.5 to 6.2, 7.6, 8.7, and then arriving at the latest release of 9.5. Each upgrade step requires updates to extensions and sometimes design template changes. On sites with many extensions there are sometimes compatibility issues.

In this case, we did not need the previous design and the website was using very few extensions so we could jump directly from version 4.5 to 9.5 by generating an export of only the content from the original website and importing it into a new TYPO3 9.5 installation. The customer needed to review all of their content anyway and so this was a good opportunity to restructure the website and improve on the placement of the content and navigation.

New features

To make the website more useful to our client’s users, the main feature we added was a personalized section of the website using TYPO3’s built-in front end user features. We added a few extensions. One to manage front end users and let them register their own accounts, another to secure downloads and restrict access to specific user groups and another that allows our client to send direct email newsletters to their users.

Pages with Usergroup Access Rights set in the TYPO3 page tree
Access tab of the Page properties in TYPO3 for the above page

All pages and content in a TYPO3 website can be public or restricted to groups of users and so we were able to customize the content and deliver it to only those who had access. In our case, after registration, new users of the website can download a demo version of the nutrition information system software. If these users then go on to purchase a student or full version of the software then they get access to downloads and content related to that version of the software. Our client can send a custom newsletter to student users inviting them to seminars about using the software or to upgrade to the full version.

Custom extension

To complete the features for the users to manage their licenses and software downloads, we wrote a custom TYPO3 extension to replace the Perl software and integrate with the TYPO3 front end user features.

The Perl software was storing user and license information in a flat file. A relational database is more useful for storing information and offers better structure and retrieval of data. Therefore our solution uses tables in the TYPO3 database for the website, and we extended existing tables and added a new table for licensing data.

The licensing part of the this extension produces a license number for the user calculated from the software version and a key generated by their installation of the nutrition information system software and stores this in the database.

User mini profile and license information. From here, the user can edit their profile or update their license if they are reinstalling the software .

Data import

Our client had over 12000 existing users of their software and so their data needed to be imported into the TYPO3 database. We first examined the data in a spreadsheet and tidied it to prevent errors, removing duplicate information and invalid dates. [The Perl software had been wrongly generating invalid dates when the license expired 3 years after a leap day.] We could then map the data in the spreadsheet columns to the columns in the TYPO3 database and import the records.

Results

The new, easier-to-use design and the user focussed features have made the website more useful for our client’s customers. This is reflected in the analytics which show that there has been an increase in the number of both new users and returning users to the website and the amount of time these users are spending on the website. Past analytics show that there are busy periods for the website at different times of the year and some of this increase in website traffic can be attributed to our client’s marketing push, but there is a marked increase compared with the same time period last year.

Google Analytics comparing users from when the new version of the website went live with the same time period of the previous year.

You can view our client’s new version of their website at https://bebis.com.tr.

If you need a TYPO3 upgrade or a custom TYPO3 extension for your website, please contact us.

Before/After TYPO3 Upgrade Case Study

A long term customer, Cumhuriyet Anaokulu, a German/Turkish preschool in Izmir had been promoting their school using one of our EkspressWeb TYPO3 starter websites. As technology improved and with more people using mobile devices to view websites, they needed an upgraded design to reach these people as well as an upgraded version of the TYPO3 CMS framework.

Infrastructure

TYPO3 is continuously developed and while EkspressWeb was built on version 4.5, the current version at the time of the upgrade was 8.7. Work is currently being done on TYPO3 version 10 with an expected LTS release in April 2020. See the TYPO3 roadmap for more information.

As we do with most live websites, we duplicated the original website to a development subdomain and applied the TYPO3 core updates (4.5 to 6.2 to 7.6 to 8.7). In addition to the core updates, many of the extensions were also updated to their latest versions.

Content

TYPO3 is good at separating content from design and so with the exception of some custom content elements for layout, the customer was able to reuse all of their existing content.

Design

The original design templates made navigating and reading the content on mobile devices difficult. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool was helpful in highlighting the major problems with the original design. Most of these were solved with the TYPO3 Bootstrap package extension and customizations of this to maintain the style of the original site with a fresh look.

Before

Original site, based on EkspressWeb starter package

More views of the old website can be found on the Wayback Machine.

After

Upgraded site with fresh design, based on Bootstrap package
Mobile navigation was almost impossible on the original site. Now there is a dynamic menu with access to all pages.
The site is now easily readable on tablet devices.

Development

The website uses standard TYPO3 extensions for delivering the content and no custom software development was required for this project.

Results

You can view the current Cumhuriyet Anaokulu website at https://www.cumhuriyetanaokulu.org/startseite/

For help on upgrading your TYPO3 website, please contact us.

Why does a TYPO3 developer use WordPress?

Having developed websites with TYPO3 since 2005, why would I want to use WordPress for blogging?

TYPO3 is an enterprise content management system – it should easily handle something as simple as a blog. TYPO3 can, but when you are busy building websites for others it can be a challenge to find the time and resources to build your own things in any technology.

Here’s some reasons for making this in WordPress:

  1. WordPress is popular and simple to use.
  2. WordPress is fast to get blogging.┬áTYPO3 does not yet have many high quality packages that provide the same “minutes out of the box and you can use it experience”.
  3. Many of our customers want WordPress or are already using it. If we use the same tools we can better support them.
  4. Using different tools can create a cross-pollination of ideas. There are many features of TYPO3 and WordPress that could be improved on by learning from other content management systems.
  5. WordPress like TYPO3 is Open Source so I can have full access to fix any problems in the software myself.