Jun 12 2018
Jun 12

Here at Freelock, we are all in for web development. Truly, what could be more important for our clients in today's climate than a properly functioning and safe website? We are pleased to share that our expertise has paid off as we have been identified again an industry leader by Clutch. 

 

Clutch, a Washington, D.C. based ratings and reviews firm, has released their top 2018 picks of companies along a number of locations and segments. They selected these leaders through both the analysis of their client reviews, primarily obtained through interview-style phone calls, as well as their own ranking system and market research. We could not be happier to have been featured as a top Seattle web, PHP and e-commerce development shop and the number one Drupal developer in the area, as well as #2 web developer in Seattle! 

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The good news from Clutch does not stop there, Freelock has also been profiled on Clutch’s sister site, The Manifest, as one of the top web developers in Seattle! This profile includes an overview of our clients as well as a description of our recent projects.

 

One of our favorite components of a Clutch profile is the ability to see our clients feedback. Our clients have spoken to our success on the front of both customer service as well as overall quality! Check out a few highlights from what they had to say:

 

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“They're an excellent company. They communicate well, they're on top of things, and I've been extremely pleased with their service. Freelock is one of the best external vendors we've ever worked with.”

 

“Their project manager is stellar. He keeps you informed; he’s always on it. I never have to remind them. They usually have to remind me when we need something. I can’t really come up with a complaint.”

 

“I have never been left hanging by Freelock in all the years I’ve worked with them.”

 

“They never built walls and told us we couldn’t have something. They found new ways to do it.”

 

With feedback as good as this, it's no surprise that we have also received a perfect 5-star rating along the metric of willingness to refer! We are very pleased with our inclusion in Clutch’s press release, as well as overall success on Clutch and The Manifest! Make sure to contact us if you are ready to start your next web development project!

Nov 01 2017
Nov 01

In September, Freelock was recognized as a leading web development company in Seattle by Clutch. Not only were we thrilled to be featured in that report and ranked as one of the top three web developers in the area, but we are excited to share that as a result, Clutch interviewed us on our web development expertise.

Clutch is a ratings and reviews platform that connects businesses with developers and agencies that best fit their project needs. In addition to their content focused on company profiles and client reviews, Clutch also produces research on a number of topics, such as website builders and CMS options.

John, our founder and lead developer, provided insights on both Drupal and WordPress, highlighting their similarities and differences. One of the main points we tried to drive home in this interview was that maintenance of a website is essential. You can do this by keeping the content fresh, but even more critical is to ensure your site remains secure. As John mentioned in the interview:

"The whole point of using a CMS like WordPress or Drupal is to make it easy for site owners to keep their content up-to-date...These platforms are used by millions of websites and like any other computer software, they have bugs which can be attacked...I hope people are coming to realize that leaving sites unpatched is like leaving your front door wide open – someone will come in and take over, use the website to attack other websites, consumers, DNS servers, or simply use the site’s resources to mine Bitcoins, and so on. Instead of having a website that supports the business, the website becomes a part of a much bigger problem—it may be controlled by malicious actors who are attacking other people, whether or not it interferes with the business directly."

A second point we wanted to make sure to bring up in the interview was the importance of having a good testing framework. Whatever platform you may be using, it is necessary to perform tests to a copy of the site offline, especially if site uptime is important for leads retention and running a shopping cart. In the interview John said:

“This should be a strong consideration when picking a platform – with Drupal 8’s configuration management and portability, it’s easier to have test copies with Drupal. For smaller companies that can’t do this in house, partnering with a company to provide this service makes a lot of sense.”

Thank you to Clutch for including us in your research, and to everyone using a platform please remember to keep it properly maintained and think about testing frameworks! We really enjoyed sharing our knowledge, go check out the full interview here to learn even more about the decision making process when it comes to choosing a website platform.

Shoot us an email, or give us a ring at 206-577-0540. To check out our Drupal maintenance packages, go here . To check out our WordPress maintenance packages, go here.

Photo via Visual hunt

Nov 01 2017
Nov 01

The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1981 whose mission is to contribute to American understanding of the political, economic and cultural issues that affect U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is accomplished through three programs: the quarterly journal Middle East Policy (the most influential policy publication on the region); the Capitol Hill Conference Series for policymakers and their staffs offering multiple points of view on complex issues; and our acclaimed national outreach for students, educators and other civic leaders.

Freelock began working on this project in early December 2016 and launched in late April 2017. We first started by scoping out and planning around the client’s main goals with user stories. MEPC needed to upgrade from the no longer supported Drupal 6 version to the newest Drupal 8 version. They also wanted to rethink the architecture of how now only front-end users access their journal essays, but also the editorial process on the back-end.

Freelock’s first sprint started with the content migration from Drupal 6 to Drupal 8, while doing irritative content migrations as the Drupal 8 site was being developed, to keep content fresh for continuous design and development work. We identified the views that needed to be rebuilt to support their content and the highly custom displays, including subscription only teasers and set up of a back-end date system where full journals would be made available, though an internal workflow process.

In addition, they wanted a fresh “look & feel” that was more in line with design trends, get their site mobile-friendly, more prominent media placement throughout the site, and better social media integration. We were able to get them a lot of what they wanted quickly with our Business Site Package. After we focused on the architecture of the site and those primary user stories using an agile approach, we worked with their stakeholders to refine the modern design of their site. Having the basic underlying structure in place, we were able to begin theming in Bootstrap, in a mobile-first approach. We had three design review processes, always considering how users would be funneled through the site to find the information they were seeking. Also important in the design changes, were the capabilities of the functional development of the site, taking into consideration the available budget, development best practices, and practicality of user experience.

This project is a great representation of our experience in Drupal 8 development, design integration and theming, mobile-friendly development, and content migration. We identified parts of their old site that made sense to migrate over to Drupal 8 and those parts that were best handled being rebuilt to support the new Drupal 8 framework and best practices. They are currently on our site maintenance 'Drupal Protection Plan', along with a monthly retainer, which for the first year is included in our Business Site Package. Please feel free to drop us a line!

Feb 23 2017
Feb 23

When thinking about ways to measure your website’s effectiveness, you may also want to think about the metrics you use to gauge the success of the website in accomplishing your business goals. How else do you measure success?

If you’ve determined that your website drives traffic and revenue, especially for e-commerce – congratulations, your metrics are built in! If you use new customer acquisition as a metric for success, then this gets a little bit tricky. If you have many marketing channels, it can be hard to determine how much comes from any single source – but driving traffic to your web site can make it easier to measure the effectiveness of different campaigns. We also use Piwik in-house, which is great traffic analytic software we can plug into your website that’s easy to use, easy to report against and less confusing than Google Analytics.

Organizations may also measure success by establishing that their website provides information to their clients and is easily managed by internal personnel. If this is the case and already happening – perfect! If it isn’t, then with a little bit of planning, we can get this going in as little as 1 day with Drupal. Then, you could have a situation where you are saying to yourself, “We have mountains of data on our website and need an easy way to manage that.” If this is the case, we have some powerful tools for organizing, searching, and managing mountains of content. In the 10s of thousands to 100s of thousands. If you're talking about millions or more, you might need a Big Data solution….

Finally, many organizations rely on strong Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and customer engagement tools to measure success. Corporations are constantly engaging leads, prospects, etc. to increase customer retention, track spending per order, increase new customer referrals, and so much more. Freelock does integrations all the time, but if your needs are modest, Drupal can do this entirely, without the need for another system! However, if you already have a system you are using outside of Drupal, it is quite possible to integrate that system with your website – for instance to report e-commerce sales from the website back to your CRM system.

Many may be cautious when selecting a vendor for work on their website or back-end software systems, and for good reason! We like to ask the question of what characteristics are most important to you when selecting a vendor? If you or your organization is most concerned about the cost, this could be a good and a bad thing. Quite often a prospect client who initially reaches out to us, and who've been concerned with cost, originally used a one person freelance developer before coming to us. The reason why they typically have reached out to us is either the previous developer did a shoddy job, or completely fell off the face of the earth. In either case, this isn’t helpful to a client who has spent thousands of dollars on that poor work. Then, once Freelock takes on the job, we’ll see terrible development practices and hacked modules – all big red flags. We offer great value to our clients, but we’re not low cost. However, we always find a way to work with a client’s budget and work towards those set goals and expectations.

If you’re not so concerned with cost, but your preference is to work with a vendor who has a long history of expertise, Freelock is a great fit. Freelock’s principal, John Locke, has been building websites since 1996, and Freelock has been in business for 15 years. Founded in 2002, we are innovators and leaders in the Drupal development community, we are abreast of cutting edge offerings for the platform, and can offer that breadth of knowledge to our clients in order to meet existing business needs and anticipate future requirements.

Often times, a client needs to be much more specific when looking for a vendor and wants to find one that is most experienced with their preferred content management system (CMS). While Freelock’s currently preferred CMS is Drupal, we’re also steadily taking on more clients with WordPress. Also, over the years, Freelock has worked with Joomla, WordPress, ZenCart, OSCommerce, and many custom PHP and Javascript frameworks. Since 2009, we've worked primarily with Drupal, because it can do what all those other systems can do, and we can get it done at lower cost. But, always remember, software frameworks all have their own tradeoffs, but we have deep experience helping clients choose wisely. It’s important to take these into consideration when deciding on what best works for your specific needs.

If when deciding on a vendor, your project is so large with many moving parts, that you’re really concerned with the size of staff to get you a viable product by the deadlines, then quite honestly you’re in a great situation. While we're a small team, we always deliver. We've rescued countless projects where other teams have failed, and carried them to completion. If you look at our client portfolio, you’ll notice that we work with some very large government and heathcare organizations, to mid-sized non-profits, to small private practices... then everything in the middle. Not 100% of projects have launched on time, but we’re personal, responsive, and always hands-on. Most projects see delays due to a lack of client responsiveness, because hey, vendors do love to get paid – so it doesn’t make much sense to not be responsive! On the other hand, if you choose a name out of a hat, we have a recommendation: Freelock, Freelock, Freelock!

Feel free to contact us here, emailing us directly at [email protected] or call us at (206) 577-0540!

Feb 03 2017
Feb 03

We've worked with many clients over the years, who all have very specific website development needs. While some clients may share common goals, each may approach those business goals in different ways. But, time and time again, we usually start by asking a client in what ways are they measuring their website's effectiveness. In this 4 part series, I'll discuss identifying purpose and overcoming obstacles, complaints of current site capabilities and establishing budget, metrics to success and selecting a vendor, then finally risk tolerance and disaster recovery planning.

We welcome your feedback while reading this series, by leaving a comment on the page, or feel free to contact us here, emailing us directly at [email protected] or call us at (206) 577-0540. Click on the book links below.

Feb 03 2017
Feb 03

One of the first questions we frequently ask our clients is, how would you gauge your website's effectiveness? We ask this because your website should not only reflect your brand, but in many cases, drive part of your revenue. A WordPress site can be a great start for companies that are strictly brand-centric, and will give you a strong web presence. However, if your goal is a website that not only represents your brand, but also comprises a mixture of e-commerce, registration systems, reporting tools, etc., then a WordPress site will not make the grade. Though, Freelock is now offering maintainance and development services for WordPress clients!

The clients who come to us are typically looking for more than a brochure site. They are looking for a strong Content Management System (CMS). They are looking for a website that they will own and will allow them the flexibility to expand on their business or organizational goals. Some of Drupal's capabilities are boundless!

A huge advantage of Drupal is that it's really strong in terms of flexibility, scalability, reliability, security, manageability, its ability to operate across multiple systems, and availability of resources. Drupal definitely is an enterprise-class CMS. Developers can readily integrate it with other applications and Drupal has abundant API support. And, with Drupal 8 released, it's only getting better! Also, one of Drupal 8's goals is to realize that many users are accessing websites through mobile devices, and in response to this demand, they are focusing on mobile-first design.

There are some drawbacks to developing in Drupal though, and a big one is the learning curve. But, with new and better development tools being introduced, we're hoping to close the gap and reinforce that there is a reason this CMS is at the forefront of open-source software. So, back to our first question, what IS your website's effectiveness? Here are 10 ways to gauge your website's effectiveness.

First you should ask yourself, what is the main purpose of my website? If the main purpose of your website is strictly to have an online brochure, we'd love to help you with that, but there are many other options, such as WordPress, or software-as-a-service providers like Squarespace.

But, if you need a marketing tool to reach potential customers, or an information portal for your current customers, Drupal has some great options to get your customers straight to what they're looking for. If you're intent is to sell products, events, subscriptions online, or e-commerce, you'll want to pay attention to security, reliability, and maintainability, which is where Drupal shines. Are you looking for a platform for streamlining your internal operations? This is what Drupal does best! It provides a dynamic platform that can keep up with the changes. But, if you don't have a website up yet, but want one, one of our template sites can help you get up and running. Let us get you started on the right foot!

Second, you'll want to ask yourself what your biggest obstacle to growth/success is? If your target market is unaware of your existence, you'll need a strong marketing program, and a site that will let you experiment and capture leads. We can offer recommendations to achieve this strategy. Or, have you found that your current market is saturated, or you need to enter a new market? Well, it sounds like it's time for a strategic retreat! Possibly a new brand presence – and with Drupal you can easily maintain content to show up on multiple versions of the same site.

If you've found that your capacity is limited or you are facing high overhead costs, and there may be ways to automate some internal processes so you can handle more work. We have a platform for streamlining your internal operations. This is what we like to call DevOps. This is a function of our development team and your operational goals. It could also be that you’re facing some stiff competition. So you may want to ask yourself, what can you offer your customers that makes them want to buy from you?! If this is an online component and an obstacle, these are areas where we love to partner with our clients to problem solve and overcome those obstacles.

Thirdly, how can the website help overcome these obstacles you’ve identified? In some cases, simply attracting more traffic through reliable and fresh content can help boost your site traffic. We know how to give you the tools and support to make this easy. Just because a business is running on a WordPress platform, doesn’t mean traffic is magically generated. You still have to create that content to get users to come to your site!

In some cases, overcoming obstacles to growth is an issue of usability. There are ways to improve website usability to increase conversion. An important conversation to have is to discuss what decisions your prospect needs to make to become your customer. In addition, how can your website support those decisions and make it as easy as possible. We are quite opinionated about what works for users and websites and what doesn’t. We are quite focused on user experience, trends and keeping ahead of the curve.

As previously mentioned, automating/streamlining management of the jobs your staff spend a lot of time doing could actually be a way to save you money and free your staff up to do higher value activities. Also, it may be a matter of increasing consistency and quality of your services, in which case potentially building web systems may help make your results repeatable and deliver more value at a lower cost. At the same time, improving communications with your customers and vendors may really hurdle some website obstacles.  Feel free to contact us here, emailing us directly at [email protected] or call us at (206) 577-0540.

Feb 03 2017
Feb 03

Another question we ask our clients is what complaints do you have with your current website and what would you like it to do better? Some clients respond that their website is just plain stale and they’d like something new/modern. Drupal lets you easily change up your entire look on a regular basis, like putting on a fresh outfit!

We’ve also heard that their site keeps getting hacked and they need better security measures. Drupal is as secure a platform as any, but security depends on so much more. We can help! We've rescued dozens of hacked sites, and our paranoid security sensibilities keep you much safer with our maintenance plans. With more SaaS (software as a service) platforms becoming available, we’ve often heard that a potential client is on a SaaS platform and they’d really like to own their own website. This is perhaps the best reason to consider moving to an open source platform like Drupal, so you can own your systems and have complete control over your destiny, at least your IT systems!

Then, a common complaint we hear is that it is difficult to update the content on their site. We feel that if you can update your Facebook, you should be able to update the content on your website. Quite often we’ve inherited websites that were poorly built and confusing on how to manage content. With Drupal 8 released, the UI of creating, editing, and maintaining your website’s content has been completely overhauled with things like in-place editing, and just an overall better administrative user experience. If you’re still on Drupal 6, we recommend it is definitely time for an upgrade!

While budget is always a touchy subject to discuss with clients, it is very important to have realistic expectations when establishing a budget for your website. So, we frequently ask what sort of ongoing budget is available for the web site, to cover operational costs, security, reliability, and improvements? This is especially true for things related to your big opportunities. We generally advise for e-commerce spending between 1% and 10% of revenue -- for other sites, this varies based on the relative value to the organization and maturity of the site. If the website is instrumental to your business growth and you already devote 10% of company revenue to the website, we think you’re in excellent shape! Our general rule of thumb is that a site is never done – even after launch. If you’re constantly keeping ahead of the game, you’ll be in much better standing in the longterm.

We also have clients that come to us who feel that their website is important to their organization, but they are at the low-end and only devote 1% of their revenue to website improvements. We still feel that having a budgeted dollar amount can be a huge help in prioritizing what must be done, and identifying low-hanging fruit opportunities to improve. These can quite often be simple one-off improvements that can greatly help front or back-end usability. Or, even ways to improve on your site to increase marketing campaigns to help increase revenue/donations. Then, if you simply feel your site has gone stale and you need some advise, please talk to us, as we always enjoy consulting on the best steps forward to bring you into the 21st century!

Feel free to contact us here, emailing us directly at [email protected] or call us at (206) 577-0540!

Dec 14 2015
Dec 14

I'm sure many of you reading this may have heard that Drupal 8 has been released, may have even received some marketing emails. John Locke, our founder and pricipal, put out a newsletter recently about the newly released Drupal 8. Since Drupal 6 will only be supported for 3 months, our recommendation to our Drupal 6 clients is that they do upgrade, since developers will stop supporting and updating their Drupal 6 modules sometime in mid-February.

While it is not absolutely necessary that you upgrade to Drupal 8 (your website won't just suddenly stop working and the sky isn't falling), security updates won't be released, which means that the Drupal community isn't looking at Drupal 6 vulnerabilities, which in turn, means that your site could potentially be vulnerable to attacks.

We have already migrated data over for another client, from D6 to D8, and this has seemed relatively smooth (though still a few unknowns, but their site is very complex). Our plan is to do this part for all of our D6 clients. By doing a dry run, we can then get a list of what gets migrated, and what does not get migrated (a full list of modules in use and whether or not there's a known upgrade path). This way we can estimate how smoothly the migration and upgrade should go (since D6-D8 migrations have a much cleaner path than previous version upgrades in the past).

However, we're still assuming that it's going to take several hours to do a theme rebuild, which is going to be necessary for most of our clients' sites, but this really depends on how much functionality (code) is built into the theme, rather than most functionality in individual modules. If there is a lot of code in the theme, and if you choose to do an upgrade, Freelock could do many improvements in the theme, and get things out of the theme and into stock Drupal functionality, which is much more stable.

Here is a list of our Drupal 8 migration plan for each of our clients:

  1. Dry run migration, get a list of successful migrations and "unable to complete" migrations

  2. Go through the "unable to complete" migrations and analyze whether we can drop this functionality, rebuild, or create a migration, and apply a time estimate

  3. Provide an estimate on theme rebuild

  4. Provide an estimate on views to rebuild

  5. Review any custom modules/functionality to determine porting and/or replacement cost/effort


We're planning to do this analysis for all our current D6 customers, but if you're not currently a client with us and interested in a version upgrade, please feel free to drop us a line here! In addition, we are currently offering a free dry run of what that migration path looks like for your site, with a purchase of a Freelock Drupal Site Assessment.

We look forward to hearing from anyone that is interested and we'd be more than happy to discuss what an upgrade means to you. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions and happy holidays!

- Don and the Freelock team

Sep 30 2015
Sep 30

Drupal 8 has only 4 critical issues before getting released out of beta! Fingers crossed for a release this week!

The major issues that remain are: 

Taking into account the non-"href" attribute values and the SafeMarkup issues that have already been reviewed by the community, really that only leaves us with three issues. We are SO close, my friends!

At Freelock, we have already been working on some of our internal Drupal 8 sites and prepping them as great platforms for our clients. But, as many with sites, those sites have to work with our clients' day-to-day operations, which we call DevOps.

Being extremely involved with our clients, and as a project manager playing in Drupal CMS, I am always excited to hear about the new developments in our clients' operations and their complimentary technology. So many times I have seen clients who are set on WordPress or another SAAS, just then to be blown away by the capabilities of Drupal. 

At Freelock, we still understand and advocate why a certain client should move over to a different CMS. Many times I have thought: You need a brochure site? WP is the CMS for you! We work with non-profits that need control/reporting of their donation systems, or clients who own county/national/international-wide websites that need full control over their systems. In these respects, they want something that they OWN, that they can TRUST, and a platform that is truly a powerful CMS. The security and dev community are always the reliable with Drupal, not to mention it's a fantastic framework that has taken years to develop.... Drupal is my top recommendation.

I can speak for me and all of our developers at Freelock, we are excited! We are so close to blasting open the dev world and expanding on the capabilities as a community. Countdown to D8! #2015PNWDrupalSummit

Apr 14 2015
Apr 14

We recently had a new client contact us and ask if we could move their sites over to Pantheon so they could do some in-house development work. Of course we can do that for you! We recommended doing a Site Assessment for them, just to make sure we know what we're dealing with. Our Site Assessment gives us a good understanding of the state of a client's current site.

It is not only in Freelock's best interest, but the client's as well, to know what we're getting into before we can even set reasonable expectations of what it will take to change. So, we typically start out with the assessment and review before doing any work on a new site.

But, our client was hesitant to purchase the Site Assessment, which would not only be helpful for their IT staff, but also extremely beneficial to their upper management. So, we began the process of flying blind with the site migration. Then, all of a sudden, we ended up running into so many critical problems, that we were surprised their website had been so neglected in the first place!

It turns out that our client's site had been hacked. While it had been patched for the "Drupalgeddon" Drupal core security patch of October 2014, we found malicious code embedded in the Drupal core. This underscores the importance of regular site maintenance, which Freelock offers to over 30 of our clients.

It also turns out that we were not dealing with one "domain access" site as we had been told, but really 3 "multi-sites" under a single shared code base, a configuration Pantheon explicitly does not support. So, in addition to finding malicious code on all of their sites, we found that the project involved not setting up 2 sites in Pantheon, but 4!

We ended up cleaning the core hacks we found... but at this point we still don't know if the hacker left any back doors on our client's sites that might allow them future access. We stressed the importance to analyze all of their sites, to be able to give them an answer, with any confidence, on whether they are still vulnerable or not. Unfortunately, we still have not heard back....

With a site assessment we dig deep into the site to detect whether or not it has been hacked, including scanning the database for executable code, comparing all module code against known good copies, and evaluating whether the environment is set up to properly withstand attacks.

We see this time and time again. A client comes to us either in an emergency, or wanting some specific one-off job done (which we love taking care of!!), but they don't want to put the time in to investigate the root cause of the problems with their site, or use the budget to apply permanent fixes for those problems. Having a good understanding of the current state of your site, and mitigating for those risks ahead of time, will save a lot of time and energy in the long run for clients whose lifeblood are their websites.

We've found that some of our most successful clients know exactly what is under the hood of their websites, engage development personnel often, keep their websites up-to-date, and constantly reinvest a percentage of their website revenue (generally 1-10%) to keep their site fresh and responsive. Sometimes this takes in-house personnel who are exceptional at development, or in our case, creating a longterm partnership with us to help you achieve your business goals through building and refining your website presence. We encourage you to contact us and build a longterm partnership to help you realize your website's potential!

About Drupal Sun

Drupal Sun is an Evolving Web project. It allows you to:

  • Do full-text search on all the articles in Drupal Planet (thanks to Apache Solr)
  • Facet based on tags, author, or feed
  • Flip through articles quickly (with j/k or arrow keys) to find what you're interested in
  • View the entire article text inline, or in the context of the site where it was created

See the blog post at Evolving Web

Evolving Web