WordPress is the most flexible platform for online sales available today.
The open-source nature of WordPress ensures that it is a reliable platform that is not going to disappear one day or go out of business.
Continue reading to learn how to create a WordPress ecommerce website and establish a successful online sales presence.
What Are Ecommerce Platforms?
An ecommerce platform is the content management system used to build and manage an online store.
There are generally two kinds of ecommerce platforms:
- Proprietary SaaS (Software as a Service) Ecommerce Platforms.
- Open-source Ecommerce Platforms (WordPress).
A proprietary SaaS platform handles all of the technology, hosting, and to varying levels, the SEO of the ecommerce store.
The benefit of a proprietary ecommerce platform is not having to think about the technology, which frees the merchant to focus on marketing and sales.
The downside of closed platforms is less control over the SEO and website. A merchant may be unable to add unavailable features on the closed platform.
The SEO capabilities of closed platforms vary, with some offering competent search performance options while others less so.
Rob Snell of GunDogSupply.com said WordPress wasn’t an option in 1997 when he and his brother opened their online store.
He shared that his experience with Yahoo! Stores (Turbify) has been exceedingly positive. Rob noted that paying extra not to have to deal with technology is money well spent for him.
He shared his experience with a SaaS platform:
“When you use a platform built for ecommerce, you get peace of mind, but that comes with a price.
I really don’t mind paying enterprise-level hosting rates to get that level of security, support, and uptime.
I sleep pretty well knowing that the engineers at Turbify (formerly Yahoo! Small Business) are on the job. At the end of the day, I’m a retailer, not a software engineer.”
What Is WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an open-source plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress. It is developed by Automattic, the commercial side of WordPress.
There are two versions of WooCommerce, a free and a paid version.
The free WooCommerce plugin enables everything a small business needs to create a successful ecommerce store.
Payment gateways, configurable shipping options, automatic sales tax calculations, and access to hundreds of free and paid extensions vetted by WooCommerce, are available on the WooCommerce website.
The paid Professional version provides more advanced features that accommodate the complex needs of a larger online business.
The modular nature of WooCommerce means that whatever function is needed can be seamlessly added to the WooCommerce store.
While it’s possible to create an ecommerce site without WooCommerce, it’s generally easier to create a store with WooCommerce than without it.
Katie Keith of Barn2 Plugins explains the benefits of using WooCommerce to create a WordPress ecommerce store:
“WooCommerce is the best path forward because of the size of the community, the number of extensions, and the considerable amount of resources.
WooCommerce is the easiest option because you can take advantage of the wide range of compatible themes and plugins, allowing most store owners to create an ecommerce store to exact requirements without needing to write any custom code.
If anything custom is needed, then it’s easy to find a developer to do it.
WooCommerce is easy to use, and many learning resources and tutorials are available to help you with it.
If you ever want to know how to do anything in WooCommerce, just Google it. You’ll almost certainly find a free tutorial or video to help you!”
Why Choose WooCommerce?
The primary benefits of WooCommerce are the nearly limitless possibilities of what can be created with WordPress, lower costs, and a huge community of developers to support the platform.
The ability to launch an ecommerce site with WordPress depends on the skill and knowledge of the person creating the website, which is why (depending on the scope of the online store) it may be helpful to engage a WordPress developer.
But it’s not always necessary to engage a developer because some web hosts offer a custom point-and-click WordPress feature that makes creating a store as easy as answering questions.
Once the store is up and running, the daily maintenance of the CMS (content management software) itself is relatively trivial.
At the same time, the costs of operating the site can be remarkably low compared to a proprietary ecommerce platform.
Plan For Site Speed Optimization
High Core Web Vitals speeds are within reach of WordPress ecommerce sites. But it’s something that has to be planned for.
Business owners can (and do) leverage the open-source freedom of WordPress to create speedy ecommerce stores.
Adam J. Humphreys of Makin 8 shared his insight:
“WooCommerce is for those with a solid SEO strategy that want to write solid content and bring people to their site with that.
Shopify’s platform for content is satisfactory but not at all designed for a high search performance approach, which is why most of my clients don’t opt for it.
If you don’t want to pay a ridiculous amount for an ecommerce platform then WordPress with Woocommerce is the best place to get started.
Most inexpensive WordPress hosts are enough to get started with a proper CDN like Cloudflare.”
WordPress Ecommerce Hosting
Site speed depends on many factors, but the foundation of a high-performance ecommerce store begins with web hosting.
Choosing the best web hosting for a WordPress ecommerce site is essential.
The following are top considerations for choosing the best hosting for a WordPress ecommerce site.
Shared hosting is basically thousands of websites hosted on a single server (computer), all sharing the resources of that one server.
The benefit of shared hosting is its incredibly low cost.
The downside is that inexpensive shared hosting is notoriously underpowered for intensive applications such as ecommerce. Consequently, low-cost shared hosting should generally be avoided.
Virtual Private Servers
Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a type of shared hosting but with very few sites sharing the resources. A VPS is a relatively affordable option for fast performance.
A major consideration for a VPS is that it requires familiarity with server control panels, which adds an additional layer of technology to deal with.
Managed Dedicated Servers
A managed dedicated server is a server that is operated by a single customer.
Managed means that the web host takes care of the server hardware, updates the software, maintains backups, and in general, removes a layer of technical overhead.
An unmanaged server is one where the customer handles the software.
Both kinds of dedicated servers provide high-speed performance.
Managed WordPress Hosting
A popular option is to use a managed WordPress web hosting platform.
Managed WordPress hosting offers the convenience of not having to deal with the underlying technology.
A major benefit of managed WordPress hosting is that they provide a fast and secure WordPress environment that is optimized for site speed out of the box.
There can be limitations to what plugins can be used, such as caching plugins, because they tend to use too many resources. But the managed web hosts offer their own optimized replacements at the server level.
Many managed WordPress hosts offer built-in site performance benefits such as caching and Content Delivery Networks (CDN).
Thus, with a managed WordPress web host, one can achieve the speed and security benefits of a closed SaaS system but with the freedom and generally lower costs of an open-sourced system.
It’s a great choice because it solves the problem of site speed at the hosting level, is secure, and the hosts offer service specific to the needs of WordPress websites.
Popular Managed WordPress Hosts To Consider
The following are examples of popular managed WordPress web hosts.
- WP Engine.
Click And Build WordPress Hosting
Bluehost is an interesting choice because they offer a straightforward click-and-build approach to WordPress ecommerce websites that can rival any of the closed-source ecommerce platforms.
The Bluehost fill-in-the-blanks style approach to WordPress ecommerce handles payments, inventory management, and all other aspects of ecommerce.
Bluehost offers the freedom to easily build an online WordPress store with the flexibility to implement a solid SEO strategy.
It offers all of the conveniences of a proprietary SaaS ecommerce solution but with WordPress.
What Are WordPress Plugins And WooCommerce Extensions?
WordPress and WooCommerce can be upgraded with additional functionalities using plugins and extensions.
- The WordPress core is extended with plugins. Changes made with WordPress plugins affect the entire website.
- WooCommerce is upgraded with extensions as well as plugins. WooCommerce extensions only apply to the WooCommerce part of the website. But there are also plugins in the WordPress plugin repository that are specific to ecommerce (with or without WooCommerce) and plugins specifically for WooCommerce.
Adding a new feature related to ecommerce is done through WooCommerce extensions available on the WooCommerce website and through plugins available in the WordPress plugin repository.
WooCommerce extensions can generally be grouped into four essential functionalities:
- Shipping and tracking.
- Inventory management.
There are multiple ways to browse for WooCommerce extensions, such as by functionality and collections.
WooCommerce offers a collection of recommended extensions called WooCommerce Essentials.
WooCommerce Essentials are extensions chosen by WooCommerce to form the foundation for launching a successful ecommerce website.
Some of the essential functionalities are:
- Product Display and Sales Add-ons.
- Coupons, Gift Cards.
- Google Marketing Integrations.
- Automations (like abandoned cart reminders).
How To Choose WordPress And WooCommerce Plugins And Extensions
WooCommerce developer James Kemp, the founder of IconicWP, shared his insights on extending WordPress ecommerce stores:
“Make sure every plugin and extension you choose serves a purpose.
Does it increase the average order value?
Does it ensure more customers complete their checkout?
Does it improve the user experience?”
Dorron Shapow of 100PercentOrganicSEO.com shares what store owners need to focus on when deciding what plugins they’ll need.
“In my experience, site owners seem to lose sight of the user experience.
How an ecommerce store is structured and what the user flow is like from different touch points of entry should be considered before a single pixel is on the screen.
So the most common mistake I see is not thinking like a site visitor.
For example, site visitors that are cash in hand and only want a few things may convert into a sale because of competitive pricing, fast or free shipping, and a quick and easy checkout.
For them, it’s important always to be three clicks away from a complete transaction.
Not everyone needs to be pushed or have to swat pop-ups and bells and whistles.
And that’s going to influence the choices of plugins needed.”
Examples Of Ecommerce Extensions And Plugins
Chuck Price of Measurable SEO shared a list of recommended ecommerce plugins and extensions:
- Advanced Order Export For WooCommerce.
- Booster for WooCommerce.
- Braintree for WooCommerce Payment Gateway.
- Contact Form 7.
- Conversios.io – All-in-one Google Analytics, Pixels and Product Feed Manager for WooCommerce.
- Multistep Product Configurator for WooCommerce.
- PW WooCommerce Gift Cards Pro.
- Woo Custom Related Products.
- Woo Invoices.
- WooCommerce Bulk Price Update.
- WooCommerce Google Analytics Integration.
- WooCommerce Side Cart.
- WooCommerce Single Product Page Builder.
- WooCommerce TM Extra Product Options.
- WooCommerce Tree Table Rate Shipping.
Dorron Shapow recommends the following WordPress plugins:
- An SEO plugin (I prefer Rank Math because it offers more free functionality and built-in schema).
- Payment gateway integration.
- Analytics Integration and dashboard.
- A CRM for newsletters.
- Website security plugin.
- A page builder I prefer: Elementor.
- Shipping integration and tracking.
- Contact form plugin.
- WooCommerce Email Customizer.
- WP optmize cacheing plugin.
- Optional chat functionality.
- A backup plugin with daily backups.
James Kemp recommends:
- Flux Checkout (ensures checkout process is optimized for conversions).
- RankMath for SEO.
WordPress Ecommerce Website Mistakes To Avoid
Among the top mistakes an ecommerce site can make is to pile on so much functionality that conversions begin to suffer.
Plugins and Extensions work by downloading extra code and scripts to the shopper’s browser.
The more code and scripts downloaded, the longer it takes for a webpage to function, which slows down the shopping experience.
A smart developer can overcome these issues by doing things such as only downloading what each page needs.
For example, there is no reason to download scripts and fonts related to a contact form if there is no contact form on that webpage.
Unfortunately, an old coding practice of adding scripts to every page is still widespread in the software development world, so make sure that every extension or plugin is absolutely necessary.
Chuck Price notes that many mistakes common to any WordPress site are common for WooCommerce sites.
“Probably the same mistakes as any WordPress site can hinder a WooCommerce store:
Not keeping plugins up to date.
Forms don’t work
Vulnerable to security threats
Dorron Shapow focuses on the user experience to avoid mistakes that hurt sales:
“A failure to find the right balance of design, user experience, and SEO.
What sometimes shocks clients is telling them that an ecommerce site should have little to do with the merchant and more to do with the customer.
The website is for them.”
Before Going Live With The Online Store
No matter how much thought is devoted to how a site should work, it’s almost inevitable that customers will encounter unforeseen problems.
That’s why I recommend making it easy for site visitors to contact you to provide feedback about the site. It can be through email, chat or text, or all three.
Customer feedback is super important to understand what works and what does not.
Another tactic for ironing out user experience bugs is a free user experience analytics offered by Microsoft called Clarity.
Clarity helps site publishers understand how far users are scrolling on a page, identifies what parts of a webpage are frustrating, which pages work best, and even offers machine learning AI to make improvement suggestions.
Some mistakenly compare Clarity to Google Analytics, but there is no comparison between them because they each do different things.
- Clarity tracks the site visitor user experience on individual webpages, showing how users interact with a webpage.
- Google Analytics is useful for tracking site visitors to gain insights into conversions relative to ads or individual webpages.
It may be useful to use Clarity to gain insights into site performance during at least the first three to six months after the website goes live.
What to do before and after the site is live?
James Kemp of IconicWP offers five considerations:
“Is your store easy to navigate? Can customers easily find their way through your store right up to the purchase confirmation page?
Is your store optimized for search engines? Don’t go overboard with optimizations – ensure you’re using an SEO plugin like Toast or RankMath to help people find you in search results.
Have you tested your payment gateway and purchase flow?
There’s nothing worse than going live and finding out your influx of potential customers can’t checkout!
Have you optimized your checkout? Use a WooCommerce extension (like Iconic’s Flux Checkout) to ensure your checkout process is refined and optimized for conversions.
How will you promote your store? It’s unlikely you’ll be able to launch and expect traffic without further effort. You’ll want to consider paid advertising on Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms, ongoing content marketing on your website via a blog, and being active and valuable in relevant online communities.”
WordPress Is A Top Choice For Ecommerce
WordPress is a stable platform for creating an ecommerce store, offering virtually unlimited options for almost any need.
According to BuiltWith.com, WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce platform.
Katie Keith of Barn2Plugins shared why WordPress is so popular:
“The huge community around WooCommerce means that there are more extensions available to add extra features than any other platform.
There’s also a vast community of WooCommerce experts who you can hire to build and support your store.
You won’t find a wide range of professionals with any other platform.”
Those are great reasons to feel confident in investing in a WordPress ecommerce website for your business.
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Featured image: Shutterstock/Lysenko Andrii