I have read quite a few books from PacktPub as they have range of books on Open Source Content Management Software a subject I am very passionate about. They also have many books on other technologies including many on open source software. I use the open source eCommerce platform Magento at work for clients and for some of my own sites so was very interested when asked to review a new Magento book from PacktPub ‘Magento 1.4 Development Cookbook‘. So as announced on a previous post and following a competition to win a copy of the ebook please see my review below (if you are happy with the style of book these Cookbooks are please feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs and go straight to the review):
Before I get into the book review proper I think it is worth explaining a little a bit about these ‘cookbook’ style and named manuals. Most computer manuals and books do not require you to read through from the first page to the last, after all these are not novels but generally they do build from an introduction and often can require knowledge of a previous section as they build on your knowledge as you go through the book chronologically. Cookbook style manuals on the other hand are just what the name suggests – a list of ‘recipes’ which often so not require you to have read earlier articles to make sense of later articles. Cookbooks are often designed for you to easily dip in and out and get just what you need hopefully following the a tutorial (recipe) in the section to complete the task. This said, it can be important to remember that Cookbooks often require you to have a reasonable knowledge of the subject and its relevant environment or to continue the food/recipe analogy – to follow s Beef Bourguignon recipe you are expected to understand the basics of meat purchase, storage and cooking including how to use your cooker and other utensils.
In the case of Packt’s new book Magento 1.4 Developement Cookbook I think it’s fair to say that to get the most out of it, it is an advantage to be relatively comfortable with Magento, the Linux command line and creating a development environment. This said, this might be just the introduction you need to these subjects and although a stiff learning curve for mere mortals (such as myself) a carefully worded Google search and a bit of spare time can often fill in the gaps. What this book is not is a ‘Beginners Guide to Magento’ mainly because Packt have already published this book here – Magento Beginners Guide. I have read this book and although not as up to date as this cookbook I would still recommend this as the best place to start for anyone getting to grips with Magento for the first time.
A key to getting the right book is often understanding who the book is aimed at and according to the book itself:
If you are a PHP developer or a novice or an experienced software engineer, who is interested in achieving high impact in a fast-paced development environment and want to boost your (PHP/Magento) development skills to the next level, then this book is for you. No prior experience with Magento is required but basic knowledge of PHP is needed.
PHP knowledge is of course useful (all the required code is in the book and available to download) but as I mentioned above I think some knowledge of Linux and CMS’s in general would be advantage and if you have limited experience of Magento, to repeat myself, I would start with Magento Beginners Guide or as this Cookbooks tag line possibly sums it up better this book is ‘Quick answers for Common problems’.
Right the Review of Magento 1.4 Cookbook starts here:
Although this book is designed to ‘dip in and out of’ it does start with a very good guide to setting up a development environment and getting an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) – Netbeans which was used throughout the book although this is not an a beginners guide and I think the assumption is that you some knowledge of similar environments.
Included in the book is a wide variety of articles to take your Magento install to the next level making your eCommerce site more attractive and more functional. Of course, we should never loose site of the aim of any eCommerce site which is too sell and get more customers and sell more to those customers (presuming that is your aim) and for me this book covers some of the main areas which can currently help you achieve this. These areas, in my opinion, being improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) specifically Google (important to all eCommerce businesses but especially important to UK and European Sites where Google is ridiculously dominant), integration to social media/networking services and analytics because – ‘what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done’ possibly a reversal of what Tom Peters may have said – ‘What gets measured, gets done’.
Having a closer look at these three areas:
Search Engine Optimisation for Magento
Google has a massive influence over what gets sold on the internet for many reasons and even small improvements in a sites Google optimisation can have a big effect, in the cookbook Nurul Ferdous writes the articles:
‘Using Google Website Optimizer‘
‘Optimizing Magento store for search engines‘
A whole chapter on ‘Performance Optimisation‘ – site speed has become a key factor to good Google ranking
Social Media and Networks for Magento
We don’t have to look far to see the influence of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter on our lives but for online businesses the importance of online networks can be even more pronounced without going overboard on the ‘Social Shopping’ buzz you do not have to have a million clicks viral campaign to be consistently driving traffic to your website using social sites and getting a serious ‘return on investment’ (ROI). In particular I found the following guides from the book really useful:
‘Integrating WordPress in Magento‘ – Magento may have CMS functionality but WordPress is probably the best blogging software in the world so integrating the best open source eCommerce platform with the best open source blogging platform could certainly give you the best of both worlds.
‘Creating a custom “Twitter handle” field in a registration form’ – Adding ‘Social CRM‘ elements to you customer tracking can be key to modern Contact Management
‘Adding a Facebook ‘Like’ button in product page‘ – apparently (from my own experience) a must have on many consumer eCommerce sites now to tap into the 500 million people recommending products and services to their friends and seeing businesses benefiting from the network effect.
‘Embedding a YouTube video in product details‘ – Peoples expectations of product pages are increasing daily, ASOS the largest UK ‘online only’ fashion retailer now has catwalk videos on all its clothing product pages and consumers appear to love video content, especially in attracting initial interest where it has been said web users are more likely to click a video than any other link or content.
‘Adding an RSS feed (last five tweets!)’
Adding all of this cool functionality as mentioned above is great but if we have no way of tracking the benefits especially making comparisons to changes then we are never really going to know if all our hard work is paying off. This is why analytics are so key and with Google Analytics being free there is no reason why every site should not be using them. Time spent on analysing the ‘numbers’ should result in a serious pay back if you can easily see where the increased sales are coming from (and do more of it) and see the less effective promotions (therefore reducing or stopping them). Again some great articles in this area with:
‘Using Google Analytics for Magento’
‘Adding AdWords tracking code to order confirmation page in Magento’
I have highlighted three particular areas that are covered in the book but of course there are many other guides included from implementing payment solutions like PayPal to a whole chapter on creating your own module. Selfishly it was these three areas I found the most interesting and also the ones that I think are key to taking a Magento eCommerce store to the next level which after all is what this book is all about. To see a list of all the chapters and articles the full table of contents is available to see online and you can even download a sample chapter from the Magento Developers Cookbook. As well as the physical book and a PDF available one of my favourite features of Packt is that they make the code available to download too (once you have registered with them).
Clearly, as explained above, this book is not going to suit everybody but for a someone who is relatively comfortable with Magento and the environment of their own install this book is crammed full of practical ideas that can have a direct effect on sales. While the guide’s are clear and well written some novices may need some further assistance or background information which is often available elsewhere or most probably covered in more depth in one other of Packt’s many books on Magento. Overall I would say this book is easy to dip in and out of and would be a wise investment for anyone looking to add functionality and get the most out of Magento.
For complete transparency I received a free ebook copy of this for book this review and also ran a competition for another free ebook on this site (nothing else) and I was free to write what ever views I wanted whether negative or positive.