Recap: The ultimate Umbraco packages for newbies


Ismail Mayat

Photo by Percipient Studios 

For those who have been following us on social media, you’ll probably know we recently launched our first Umbraco Poland Festival in Kraków.
A selection of Umbraco experts came along to share their thoughts around Umbraco and its ecosystem including one of our very own developers, Ismail Mayat, demonstrating why it genuinely is one of the best open source ASP.NET CMS in the market.

As a Senior Umbraco Developer with over fifteen years’ experience, Ismail is well placed to share a few thoughts on some of the best Umbraco packages and resources available in the community.
So, for those who couldn’t join us and are either new to Umbraco or just want to gain a little insight into Ismail’s favourites, here’s a short overview of his top five!
1. LocalGov Starter Kit by Kevin Jump
What is it: When you install the starter kit, you get a complete, fully responsive local government website. With most council sites you’re not selling products but are offering services, so be it local government bodies, public sector ,or health care everything is standardised around that model, particularly in the UK. So even if you are in a different country with different local government needs, there’s a lot of rich functionality there for you to start with, you’ve just got to apply some basic CSS styling.

Why it’s great: It’s a great way to get started with Umbraco, there are a lot of good practices – from the way Kevin has structured the site, to the way he has created the document types to build the site. You also get access to the source code which makes it a great learning resource tool.

Also the fact that Kevin has worked in the UK public sector for so long has allowed him to understand the key components that make up this style of site and deliver them as one easy to use package for anyone to use.

Who is it good for: Anyone building a large service based website.

2. Usync by Kevin Jump
What is it: In a nutshell, you make some structural changes to your Umbraco site i.e. doctypes, templates, dictionary items etc and the changes are recorded in text based config files. You then take those files and deploy them onto another server. The changes you made are then replayed automatically and recreated on that target server, so rather than you having to manually remember everything you did on a piece of paper and replay, it automates it for you.

Why it’s great: One of the problems we face with Umbraco typically in an agency is that we have a development server where we create templates, document types and functional elements of the site but then when we want to go live or give it to the client, we have to manually recreate all that work onto another server. Not only is this is a pain it’s a waste of time and as we know time is money!

So instead with uSync, as you’re making these changes, uSync is there behind the scenes recording and writing out the core definition files. There is also a content version that works with content changes.

For us at The Cogworks, it’s been particularly useful on all of our Reckitt Benckiser projects where we’re doing a lot of work on a development server, then a staging server, then RBs staging server, then a live production server – basically it’s for lots of work we don’t have to manually repeat. We just do it once, check the files into the repository, and uSync replays everything.

Who is it good for: This is more technical, for techy guys or developers.
3. Similarity by Ismail Mayat
What is it: This package takes content from a current document, from any field you specify - (e.g. title or body content) then it generates a query of keywords to get back similar content items to the one you just viewed. So for large websites where there is a lot of content and you want to suggest similar content it automatically does it for you.

Why it’s great: Effectively it’s content intelligence for your content. The first site we used it on had about 6500 news items. One key feature they wanted was related articles. One way you could do this is have a mind map of the article and everything it relates to. For 5000+ articles that would be a tough task - or - instead using Similarity you can automatically suggest related articles based on similarity searches. In essence you also get an Umbraco macro included so you can use it on a template or in rich text edit fields then it will get a list of nodes similar to the current one you’re viewing, basically completing a lot of the ground work out for you. 

Who is it good for: Those building large content heavy websites.

4. CMSImport ($) by Richard Soeteman
What is it: This one is a paid package (about €99 euros) but what it does is allow you to bulk import content. So instead of editors manually adding or migrating content into a new Umbraco instance, if you have the content sitting in a database or an xml file, you just use the wizard, point it to the file, map the fields and it will input all that content in for you, like an MS Word mail merge.

Why it’s great: It makes the migration process a breeze! We have used it on a number of occasions and it has really helped us speed up the migration process from an old CMS (not necessarily Umbraco) to a new fresh Umbraco instance. On one particular project, we planned the migration task to take 4 days, and it actually took us just over 1 day! So if you want to move content from a third party source (could be Umbraco itself or another CMS or a CSV), you can import it and just suck all that content in.

Sometimes you could also potentially have a client with an existing CMS and the barrier to moving over to Umbraco is that they’ve got all this content and they don’t want to pay for five to six people to cut and paste content in and would prefer to automate it - that’s when it make things simpler. 
Who is it good for: A large site migration where you don’t want to employ multiple editors.

5. Footprint by Novicell
What is it: Behavioural targeting, marketing and foot printing essentially. Basically, you set up segments and they then have different rules depending on query strings (there are other parameters you can setup or even create your own) and actions performed.

One example would be getting segmented content to appear depending on where you’re coming from. How this works is that you set it up so when someone visits your site you get their IP address and from their IP address you can get a rough estimation of their location so you can show different content. For example, in the case of product feed, if I’m based in England and it’s winter I will get jumpers and wooly hats, but if I’m coming to the site from Australia in summer I’ll be viewing shorts and t-shirts.

That’s one way of doing it but it can be set up differently depending on your requirements. Before Footprint you would have to code behavioural targeting yourself within constrained boundaries, however Footprint is generic and very flexible.

Why it’s great: Rather than hand cranking manual code you can create campaigns based on different parameters. You can even write your own rules.

Additionally, when segments fire it starts tracking stats such as - graphs with visitors, number of visitors or actions such as ‘send me an email’ notifications. Plus - it’s also free and reputable, the debut website that used it won an award at Umbraco for ‘best technical build.’

Who is it good for: Those who want to create a rich, intelligent content user experience.