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.


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

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

Stop making these basic Facebook mistakes

I’ve been using Facebook for more than a decade and I still see people making these basic mistakes that make Facebook less effective for them.

Facebook mistake

Mistake #1 Using a Profile instead of a Page

When you join Facebook, you should be using your real everyday name so people can find you and become friends. If you did this right, you end up with a number of friends who want to connect with you. They will see what you share in their news feeds. You will see what they share in your news feed.

When you want to add a business venture, or run for office, or promote something that is strongly related to your personal “brand” the best practice is to create a Facebook Page. I have seen numerous people create another Facebook Profile (which is against Facebook’s Community Standards) and then ask their existing friends to friend their new profile.

While a profile is good for communicating with up to 5000 friends, a page can have unlimited likes and followers.

Creating a Facebook page is easy. See “How do I create a Facebook Page?” help at for instructions.

Mistake #2 Not using your real name

I have seen too many people using Facebook with a name they don’t use in real life. Not only does this make it difficult for you to connect with friends, but it is also against Facebook’s policies.

You can add nicknames, maiden names, or professional titles in your About section.

See the “What names are allowed on Facebook?” guidelines at

Mistake #3 Using a shared Facebook profile

Closely related to Mistake # 2, I too often see couples or families sharing a single Facebook profile. Posts on Facebook work best when each individual has their own profile.

Create an individual Facebook account.

Log out of Facebook then use the “How do I create a Facebook account?” instructions at

Mistake #4 Posting to the wrong audience

Sometimes I see friends sharing news or information about an event that they want everyone to know about, but they limit the post to only their friends. Then when their friends try to share the post it is further limited to only their mutual friends.

Choose Public for posts that you want everyone to know about and to spread through your friends’ networks.

See “When I post something, how do I choose who can see it?” instructions at

Need help with Facebook?

We occasionally post items about using social media here and on our Facebook Page., so “Like” or at least “Follow” our page to see these useful articles.

If you are interested in using Facebook more effectively to promote your business or organization, please contact us for help.

Goodbye Google+

Online communities come and go.

Recently Google retired Google+, their fourth attempt at social media networking.

Like I’ve posted before, websites still have a place alongside a social media presence.

The best practice is to have a website where (as long as you keep the domain and hosting) you own the location and can direct traffic from your social media presence to your content. While Google does allow you to “Take Out” and download your content and contacts, you now need to find an alternative location for your interaction with that audience.

The users of Google+ have been moving away for a while, where did your Google+ audience move to?

Moving your website, don’t forget to redirect

It is a new year and so perhaps you have created a new website to promote your business or organization online. [If you haven’t and you should or have made a new year’s resolution to improve your online presence, please contact Vista Interactive for help.]

When you are replacing existing content, then it is a good idea to redirect website traffic from that old content to the new location. Links stay around for ages – in people’s contact lists, in their old emails, social media posts, forums and on websites.

We recently had a former client create a new version of their website on a URL. As standard practice, we redirected all traffic from their old website’s URL using a 301 (permanent) redirect. for the whole site. This would ensure that any old links would take website visitors at least to the new site to the right content if the new site had the same structure.

A Google search for the former customer’s main keywords gave their new site in the top two results and their old site in the next two, so the top four results were going to their new site. Of course, the Google results for the old site still had the old descriptions and old links but these were redirecting to the new site. This should be acceptable but the former customer wanted to remove the old descriptions and asked us to remove the old site completely from Google’s index and park the old domain. We did this and so now a search for their main keywords lists only the new site, but they have lost a couple of top search engine results and potential traffic from people who still have the old links.

Keeping your old domains might be a useful strategy. We changed our name and branding in 2004 from BilgiLink to Vista Interactive, but we still use the old domain for some internal stuff as well as redirecting visitors from this old domain to our current Vista Interactive site.

Why do I need a website? I’m on Social Media

You are busy. You have an active community on a social media network like Facebook and your time is limited. It is easy to Tweet or to post a photo to your Facebook page, but your website has not been updated for so long that you have forgotten how to edit it.

Is it even worth having a website now, when your audience is always on social media? Are websites still relevant?

Some key points to think about before abandoning your website for a social media site:

Durability: Will the social media site stick around?

Remember MySpace? Friendster? Did you ever use Xanga? or Digg? Some of these sites are still around, others are long gone.

See R.I.P. – Top 10 Failed Social Media Sites or the Wikipedia List of defunct social networking websites for lists of dead social media sites.

Reachability: Will your audience see your message?

With social media sites, there is a “firehose” of constant messages and so it is easy for your content to get lost in the rapid stream of updates. Even if you are posting at opportune times, you won’t reach everybody you hope to.

Feedback and analytics (available for most social media sites) can give you a good idea of how well your content is doing.

Findability: How easy is it to find your online presence?

Try a Google search for your brand’s online presence. How many of the results point to your content on social media?

Next, try to find your content using the search feature of a social media channel.

A previous post from this blog appears on the first page of Google results for a search of the title of the post (“what does it cost to make a website and get online”).

Search results for the title of a blog post that was shared on social media

This article has been shared on our Facebook page several times (most recently 2 October via Buffer).

And yet, it does not appear in Facebook’s search results:

Search results for the blog article shared on Facebook

Usability: How easy is it to update your website?

Perhaps the reason your website is out of date is that you don’t have an easy method to keep it up to date. We recommend using a Content Management System like WordPress or TYPO3 that is customised for your situation. Talk to us about how we can help simplify your content