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The Future Direction of Store Locator Plus

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.

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Updating To Store Locator Plus 4.4.27? Update Experience Add-On First.

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://www.storelocatorplus.com/ and install the Experience add-on version 4.4.07 or higher.     All of your settings and location data will be retained.

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IMPORTANT: Experience Add On / Store Locator Plus Upgrades

SLP 4.4.14 Info Tab

Store Locator Plus 4.4.17 was released today with several updates to increase performance.  One of the biggest issues was the use of the third party support assistant service, Freemius.    There have been multiple reports of issues communicating with the Freemius servers which is slowing down some customer sites.    Until we can resolve the issue with Freemius that code has been removed from Store Locator Plus.

Experience add-on users MUST UPGRADE to Experience 4.4.03.     The older versions were relying on some WordPress functions that were loaded by Freemius.    That was a bug.  All add-ons , Experience included, should be self-sufficient.   SLP version 4.4.13 and 4.4.14 will cause Experience 4.4.02 or earlier to crash.    SLP 4.4.17 will automatically deactivate Experience if version 4.4.02 or earlier is found on your site.    If you re-activate this and ignore the “upgrade Experience or a fatal error will occur” warning your site will crash.   If that happens you must use cPanel or FTP and remove the ./wp-content/plugins/slp-experience subdirectory.     Login to your account on Store Locator Plus and get the latest version of Experience 4.4.03 or higher, install and activate it.

Other performance features include a faster and simpler “News and Info” reader that uses the built-in WordPress RSS feed processor to get the latest Store Locator Plus news.    You will notice the Info tab has been reworked along with this update.   The How To Use page now includes the news feed on the right side as well as an introductory setting up SLP video.  This will also improve performance during the initial install and during the first visit to the Store Locator Plus Info tab each day.

SLP 4.4.14 Info Tab
SLP 4.4.17 Info Tab