We’ve been doing some homework related to new project concepts at My Store Locator Plus, our new SaaS locator service. Our recent studies show that American’s are obsessed with food and booze. And the post office.
In case you haven’t noticed, your Store Locator Plus and My Store Locator Plus apps may be working a little different during the last few weeks of 2016. You didn’t change ANYTHING but suddenly things are not exactly like they were before.
It is a special Christmas gift from Google to all of us.
Sometime in late 2016 Google updated their Google Maps API. We are not sure how many changes went into this release. I must have missed the call from Larry and Sergey this time. However we do know a few things that changed that impact customers.
#1 – Geocoding Requires Accurate Addresses
You better make sure your addresses that are sent to Google are darn-near perfectly formed. No more hiding meta in that address 2 field. If a business does not have a suite named “Attn: Customer Service” as part of their official address don’t put it on there. It very likely will not geocode.
Yes, we know it used to geocode back in September. Sorry, folks. Google changed the rules.
Continue reading Small Google Tweak = Big Changes For Some
Looks like Google is turning the screws a little more on their attempt to squash as much competition in the maps market as possible. Over the past few months they have tweaked their Google Geocoding API algorithms. Each change is going to make it just a little more difficult to get your addresses to return a correct latitude and longitude. It is definitely having an effect on locations people are entering into Store Locator Plus but the truly concerning issue is not with addresses you can fix but how it is going to impact all the odd variations of addresses your customers type in during a search.
As is typical from the Google Maps people, the results from their in-house applications including Google Maps The Website is very different from what non-insiders get. Any application using the Google Maps Geocoding service, whether a $20,000/year OEM license or a few-dollar-or-less-per-month Pay-As-You-Go API key, will see different results. The sad part is that what worked perfectly fine “yesterday” no longer works today.
Several known addresses that were designed to “test the system” suddenly started failing our internal testing over the past few days. After rolling back our software and servers to older releases to ensure we did not introduce a problem we’ve discovered that the change is almost 100% guaranteed to be a change in Google’s Geocoding API algorithms.
Diane Blackwelder CFP ®, Charleston Financial Advisors LLC, 4 N Atlantic Wharf, Charleston SC 29401 USA
Last spring that geocoded perfectly fine. Today it comes back “ZERO_RESULTS” which is Google-speak for “bad address”.
This does not work either:
Diane Blackwelder, Charleston Financial Advisors LLC, 4 N Atlantic Wharf, Charleston SC 29401 USA
Only the 100% proper address works:
Diane Blackwelder c/o Charleston Financial Advisors LLC, 4 N Atlantic Wharf, Charleston SC 29401 USA
Yet on Google Maps ALL 3 of these variations come back with the correct address.
This happens with a number of other addresses as well including this example using Google Maps in Germany with the same type of results:
Hotel Berlin Märkischer, Hof am Tacheles, Linienstraße, 133 Berlin 10115 Germany
While this only impacts a very small percentage of addresses people enter into Store Locator Plus, or just about any other mapping service using Google besides internal Google services like their Places (think Adwords but far more costly), it is still very clear what Google’s long term plans are for businesses using their map services.
Granted, Google can always fall back on the “well, that is technically not the right address” argument but the fact-of-the-matter is that these addresses worked perfectly well before. The same addresses work perfectly well in Google-owned properties TODAY. The addresses do NOT work for any third party applications because someone at Google decided they shouldn’t. Not nice, Google. Not nice. It is increasingly clear that Google intends to slowly strangle all third party mapping-software providers so they can collect all the customers that end up being left behind and throw them into their pay-per-request services.
Looks like we are once again having to seriously consider introducing alternative Geocoding and map image technology solutions. We have been investigating Open Street Map for some time. It looks like 2017 is finally going to see that option come online. It is almost a certainty for our MySLP SaaS service and may be integrated into one of our planned live-service options for our Premier Subscribers.
When people ask why we spent so much time and money building a SaaS service for maps, this is one reason why. It is much easier for us to help our customers have a superior experience for their end users when we can setup, testing and activate alternatives in one step. With per-website installations of Store Locator Plus on 20,000+ servers in 128 different countries providing the same type of pro-active response is impossible. We don’t have any control over what those webmaster are doing and not all of them are tech-savvy.
Sure, buy-and-own options like Store Locator Plus can be cost effective but if you’re business relies on your locator having a managed service makes a lot more sense.
Go ahead and sign up for our Early Access Program to the My Store Locator Plus service.
We are currently in the very early stages of development; what we call our “alpha release”. It is far from being the final product but it IS functional and has been tested on various web technologies to see how well it can bring the Store Locator Plus service to non-WordPress sites.
We are now opening up our private invite to the Alpha Release of My Store Locator Plus. The select few users that are granted access will help guide us in the features and overall user experience that will make it into our initial public launch coming in early 2017.
In June 2016 Google decided to extend their reach into tracking everything-and-anything online by requiring ALL Google Maps products and services to start registering their websites with Google. We’ve updated our Getting Started With Store Locator Plus documentation and videos to include the Google Maps API registration process. If you have any questions please contact us via the forums or by email.
You can get detailed instructions via the Getting Started article on our docs site.
- Install the Store Locator Plus plugin.
- Get your Google API Key.
- Save it via the Store Locator Plus General /Server tab.
- Add a location.
- Add a WordPress page with the [slplus] shortcode on it.
Store Locator Plus 4.5.08 was released today with several notable updates.
Disabled Add Ons
One of the most prominent “features” users are noticing is that their older add ons are being automatically disabled if they are not compatible with the latest Store Locator Plus release. Having your add on disabled is preferable, at least for most site admins, than crashing your WordPress site. So far in ALL cases the disabled add on has a NEWER VERSION available. Login to your account at StoreLocatorPlus.com to download the latest version of your add on.
You can find the list of versions on the StoreLocatorPlus.com website.
Data I/O Performance
Changes in the extended data manager reduces the data I/O requests through WordPress by at least one, if not a few, data reads for every page load. For sites with heavy traffic this can be a notable performance improvement on page load times.
Complex Data Query Support
Version 4.5.08 of the location query engine has been updated to allow “stacked” queries. Stacked queries make it possible to perform complex location inquiries that were not possible with a single data request. For example “show all locations with no territory assigned that are within X miles of a user PLUS all locations with a territory that covers the user’s location”. This change will allow future Store Locator Plus releases and the forthcoming My Store Locator Plus service to perform very creative location searches in real time.
WooThemes has updated WooCommerce and their flagship (their words, not mine) theme Storefront many times in the past few months. The most recent changes have improved some things in our shopping experience on the Store Locator Plus site. Some of the changes, however, have broken fundamental elements of the Store Locator Plus storefront. We are working on patching things like the Downloads Page for Premier Subscription holders and have found a number of smaller glitches with subscriptions that we are chasing down. Unfortunately we are spending a lot more time chasing down WooThemes issues this week than we would like. We’d much rather be improving Store Locator Plus than figuring out what WooThemes did that “improved” their product while breaking our site.
If anyone has a clue as to why Groups by ITThinx, WooCommerce, and WooThemes Storefront would stop playing nicely with each other, please shoot us a message.
Come to think of it, this isn’t much different than spending much of the past 3 weeks trying to figure out why WPML’s “well it works for everyone else” mantra doesn’t apply to gettext() in SLP. Maybe it is just us, but we sure hope that is not the case. In the meantime we appreciate your patience as we try to coax the code in our products and the products of those other “WP shops” into behaving.
In the meantime please feel free to post in the forums or shoot us an email at support@ if you have any pressing issues.
I am reworking the WPML compatibility in the base plugin this week, June 13 – Jun 17 2016. It is proving to be a little more challenging than simply “using gettext with proper text domains” and setting up a proper wpml-xml.config file as per the WPML documentation. I’ve managed to get some of the pieces working in 4.5.07-beta-01 but need people to help test in their environment.
Store Locator Plus 4.5.07 requires the newer version of WPML not the classic release. Newer versions, WPML 3.2 and higher as far as I understand it, use a revised hooks-and-filters system. For performance reasons I’ve dropped the classic icl* functions in older versions of WPML.
You can get the latest version of Store Locator Plus by “purchasing” the free Store Locator Plus Prerelease.
You will need to have a licensed functional copy of WPML, preferably the latest 3.4.X release.
Contact support via the contact us page for help getting the prerelease of Store Locator Plus or to provide feedback on your testing.
All feedback and input is welcome.
Ever since WordPress 4.5 rolled off the press there have been numerous complaints about websites breaking. Numerous reports are coming into our Store Locator Plus forums and support email telling us “our map broke when they updated our website”. The problem? jQuery. To be more specific the problem is not jQuery but how some plugins and themes implement jQuery in WordPress.
WordPress 4.5 started shipping jQuery version 1.12.3 as the “official” version of jQuery being used with WordPress core. jQuery 1.12 has more stringent controls than previous versions. The most obvious, jQuery 1.12 no longer “hides” some of the syntax errors that lay dormant in plugin code. If there is malformed or incorrect syntax, jQuery 1.12 will complain. Your browser will most likely stop executing ALL scripts from that point forward. As you can imagine, this causes things, like themes and plugins to break.
Store Locator Plus 4.4.36 has an adjustment for zoom controls that addresses a change in the Google Maps API.
If you’ve been following the recent changes to the Store Locator Plus website and product offerings you have likely noticed a change in general strategy and direction with respect to the add-on options. The over-arching theme is to have fewer add ons with more features.
In the past the decision was made to keep premium options as affordable as possible and allow an ala-carte approach. As the product has grown the options have become numerous. Having many smaller add-ons allowed people to pick-and-choose what they wanted to keep costs down. That option has come with a number of downsides that have slowly grown to outweigh the benefits. Therefore a new method of providing grouped add-ons with locator-specific features will be the way ahead for the following reasons:
- For new customers it is a challenge to figure out exactly what combination of a dozen add-on offerings will help them achieve their goal of building the best locator experience for their business or customers.
- For existing customers it is a chore to keep up with a half-dozen Store Locator Plus add-ons they may have installed and to ensure the add-ons are updated to the latest release. Despite the built-in update notifications they go unnoticed unless they are logged into the WP admin site, which many do not do once they have a site working the way they want it to.
- For our support team checking for the myriad of combinations of plugins installed and various versions and how they affect each other is a challenge.
- The R&D overhead of managing dozens of code repositories is an even larger challenge, especially with a new team of developers coming on board.
- Documenting all the add-on packs and options is a full-time endeavor for a part-time support person.
The New Add Ons
Going forward we need to reduce the footprint of the options if we intend to keep Store Locator Plus current and a viable option for the WordPress community. Therefore, SLP has decided to go in a new direction and offer a few premium plugins that augment the Store Locator Plus product. This solution will simplify the development process, improve stability, make it easier for customers to pick the one-or-two options they need to build the perfect locator for their business or customer, and make it easier to keep up with the updates for both the developers and customers.
Moving to a few larger plugins will address many of the aforementioned issues.
At the end of this year there will be 4 plugins that are “mainstream”:
- Store Locator Plus
- Experience : User experience options – replacing Enhanced Map/Enhanced Search/Enhanced Results + Widgets
- Power : Functionality options that effect Imports, SEO, and categorization – replacing Pro, Tagalong, Pages, Directory Builder, and Contact Extender
- Premier : Advanced features and 3rd party integration features as well as enhancements to all of the above
Benefits Of Fewer Options
Customers can easily find which add-on has the feature set they need. Existing customers will be able to purchase an upgrade and replace several add- ons with a single add-on and reduce WordPress site overhead in the process; new features not found in stand-alone Legacy add-ons. As the new add ons become the norm our support staff will be more efficient at answering questions, providing solutions, or addressing issues. The reduction in overhead on documentation, testing, compatibility checks, and update notices will allow our R&D team to focus on code improvements for stability and adding advanced features.
These changes will make it far easier to ensure cross-option compatibility. For example: Our code logic will know which Pages settings are going to include options for X,Y, and Z while Tagalong has A, B, C and how they work together. This makes the code more efficient; often using less memory and faster execution of processes while contributing to a more stable environment.
As Power, Experience, and Premier mature they will continue to reduce the calls needed to the WordPress database (Experience turned 24+ data requests into 3 for faster startup), reduce the WordPress code stack, and as a result utilize less memory per website visitor. All these things are minor incremental improvements to the speed at which the locator product works. Faster locator = faster page load times. Faster page load times = less lost visitors & better SEO page ranking.
Going Forward With The New Add Ons
As for upgrading to the new add ons, we are working hard to ensure the settings from the products (add-ons) it replaces are kept intact. Most settings appear to come over properly, but again with all the combinations of how plugin X impacts Y it is very challenging to get all combinations to update perfectly without an occasional glitch. It should be a relatively painless process. Our goal is for NOTHING to change, but with 15,000+ active installs on a bazillion combinations of WordPress added to some misbehaving themes/plugins/servers that is not always possible without a few hiccups. The nice thing about the new add ons is that going forward you will only need to worry about keeping 4 SLP plugins updated at any given time.
The Experience add-on is already available and is out “in the wild” on a number of sites. The Power add on is coming with an anticipated release date of March 31st, 2016. Premier is available to all Premier subscription holders and will continue to get all-new functionality as requested by our Premier members and will automatically receive the Experience and Power replacements (as long as the Premier subscription is active).
If you have purchased one of the ala-carte add-on offerings recently you can obtain a discount if you decide to replace them with either the Experience or Power add-on. Purchases need to have been made within the past 45 days.
If you choose not to replace your add-ons with Experience or Power they will continue to work with Store Locator Plus 4.4. We plan to keep legacy add- ons compatible with Store Locator Plus for as long as possible, however there are architecture changes planned for Store Locator Plus 4.5 and 4.6 that will remove years-old functions and features from the base plugin in order to improve performance and stability and stay current with the Word Press updates. Some older legacy add- ons may lose some options or stop working as the base plugin is cleaned up.
A Whole New Offering
You may be wondering why so many changes. Why the focus on simplifying the code and improving performance? Why is overhead such a big issue? The answer is two-fold.
First, we want Store Locator Plus to be a good “citizen” in your WordPress install. We want to ensure outdated code is removed for security purposes. We also want to use as little memory as possible and to make the database processing as fast as possible. This all leads to a better experience. On websites with tens-of-thousands of visitors viewing their locator pages every day this makes a big difference in the user experience.
Second, we are building a locator service that will be handling tens-of-thousands if not hundreds-of-thousands of visitors per day We are in the very early stages of building a full SaaS offering built on the WordPress + Store Locator Plus framework. Our intention is to bring the full feature set of Store Locator Plus to non-WordPress websites.
My Store Locator Plus, our future SaaS offering, will run a fully managed locator for everyone. WordPress users included, if they opt for the SaaS service over the “buy it and own it” model we employ today. Users of the SaaS service no longer need to worry about keeping the locator software updated or ensuring it does not break their custom work or settings. We’ll be handling the upgrades after full regression testing has been performed. MySLP will ensure your location data is always backed up and that new locations are quickly goecoded and ready to deploy.
As we work toward a high performance locator offering via the My Store Locator Plus SaaS product, the main plugin will continue to be refined. The user experience, performance, and feature set will continue to evolve as we work toward building a world-class locator offering at an affordable price.
We hope you are as enthused about our plans for 2016 as we are. As always, we appreciate your patronage and your support.
Some users may end up with a white-screen on their admin pages if they update to SLP 4.4.27 and skipped the Experience 4.4.06 or 4.4.07 updates that were released over the past 3 weeks. If this happens after you upgrade to SLP 4.4.27, remove the ./plugins/slp-experience directory from your WordPress install. Download the latest Experience .zip file from your account at https://wordpress.storelocatorplus.com/ and install the Experience add-on version 4.4.07 or higher. All of your settings and location data will be retained.