Interview with Yannick Gaultier from sh404SEF

sh404SEFThose of you who read this blog regularly know how highly I think of sh404SEF.

Those of you who don’t … its a great SEO tool, one of the most actively developed Joomla components available, costs $0, and has great support from its developer.

I’m delighted then to have the chance to talk with Yannick Gaultier whos runs the sh404SEF project.

1) Hi Yannick. Could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you come to Joomla? What’s your background?

Hi Steve, I am 41, from Bordeaux, France. I have a job unrelated to the web or computers, though my initial training was in “Industrial” computer science in addition to mechanical engineering. 2 years ago, my partner needed a web site for her new business. I was about to go pure HTML when I read about SPIP, a French CMS. Tried that, but ended up doing the site with Mambo, as it was simply much easier to use. I have done only 5-6 sites since then, trying to cover all aspects design and implementation, mostly because I like it, but on each occasion doing it as  professionally  as possible. All sites I have done were for businesses, except for sh404SEF support site.

2) What is the background behind sh404SEF? How did you the project get started?

While doing a site for a winemaker/friend of mine (remember, I live in Bordeaux), I thought i would have SEF URL, to help their ranking. But the site was bi-lingual, and no Joomfish-compatible SEF components was available at the time. So I took what was then (August 2006) Artio first release ( 1.2.4), mostly a rebranded 404SEFx , and made the changes required to handle multi-lingual sites. I posted it somewhere, but did not want to release it publicly as such, for I feared supporting it properly would be too demanding (I was absolutely right on that !). I sent the changes to Artio, and said an established company would better handle this.

Then a few months later, I realised Artio started charging for some extensions, and at the same time some things could be improved. So I started working again on the comp and released it publicly. Over spring 2007, I added features, started a support site, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive reviews and the number of people I have been in touch since then. There are currently more  than 1000 registered users on the forum, which opened on June 1st.

3) What can people do with sh404SEF that they can’t do with Joomla by itself?

I’d say that sh404SEF basic goal is to try improve your Joomla site interface with the rest of the world, mostly from a SEO point of view (no nice design involved here). From now on, this covers 3 areas :

  1. Your site URLs : turn them from…. to . This helps rankings, readability. sh404SEF also reduces duplicate URL to almost none (when same content can be accessed through several URL, something that Joomla likes very much, but Search Engines don’t) by handling Itemids, www vs non-www site URL, 301 redirecting when needed. There is also better SSL handling, and more.
  2. Your site content : title and meta tags, generating meaningful titles, and have control on them, as Joomla is somehow limited in that sector; Last versions also add h1 or h2 tags where it is needed, insert article titles on Read more links, title attributes on links,… These are small things, but they add up to better results I think.
  3. Security : last version has a full layer of security features, to help block common exploits. As every page request goes almost first thing through sh404SEF for decoding, this is a strategic spot to perform security checks, have an anti-flooding system, anti-spam,… This central location allows protecting Joomla itself (which don’t really need it, as it is pretty secure), but also other installed extensions – though this is not saying you should use old, vulnerable extensions.

4) Do you develop any other extensions for Joomla apart from sh404SEF?

I have a handful of other extensions, but unfortunately they have been put aside due to demand in the sh404SEF sector. shHMenu is a horizontal menu module, shSmoothSlideshow was the first Joomla integration of JonDesign’SmoothSlideshow library, shOffline is a small module which puts selected pages of your site offline, rather than the global offline switch available in Joomla, shSSLAnalytics is a Google analytics module with SSL mode detection. I also have made available a custom version of Robert Deutz rd_rss module which preserves links and images, and will send through the feed intro or full text of article (of selected categories).

5) What is your current opinion on Joomla 1.5? Are you waiting for it to become stable or are you staying with Joomla 1.0 for a while longer? Do you see it as big step forward over 1.0?

To be honest, I find the CMS itself is not really different from the 1.0.x series. Actually some things are missing, like Joomfish for instance, and probably some large and important extensions. I don’t expect to make any site with 1.5 in the next 6 months or so (mono-lingualism is a no-go for most of the sites I am involved in). So far I have not seen anything that could actually trigger a switch. Accessibilty could be an incentive, but I think, though I may be wrong, that template overriding is complicated, therefore reducing the number of nice available templates, compared to the easy done 1.0.x templates.

Specifically talking about SEF URL, this is a sector with big improvement in 1.5, and the same for titles and meta. Yet, as you blogged already, there is a SEF component in the work so surely there is room for improvement. I will try to make sh404SEF work on J! 1.5, but I won’t undertake a full rewrite if that’s needed. I have hope, from initial tests, I can make it work in legacy mode. In any case, development on this will only start with a stable version.

6) Do you have any new projects or plans inside or outside of Joomla coming up in 2008?

Nothing specific, though I have not doubt something will come, including in the Joomla area. I’d really like to get sh404SEF stable, and add support for more components, but hopefully that will be taken care of before 2007 ends.

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