Life as a WordPress and WooCommerce Themer

Rodolfo very kindly asked us to talk to the WooCommerce Dublin meetup in October about Life as a WordPress and WooCommerce Themer. Rodolfo I finally managed to put the slides online – sorry for the delay everyone! If you’re interested in learning more about WooCommerce and your based in or around Dublin you really should try and make it to one of the monthly meetups. The next one is tomorrow night November 11th 2015 and features Ireland’s foremost WooCommerce plugin developer Diego Zanella from Aelia.co

Just to seal the deal for anyone thinking of attending, Realex Payments very kindly sponsor the event and will supply you with plenty of free beer and pizza in addition to learning the secrets to WooCommerce plugin development 🙂

Without further ado, here’s our slides from last month.

How to troubleshoot WordPress problems

It’s easy to forget how amazing WordPress is. The huge ecosystem of themes and plugins allows anybody to get a top class website up and running in not time at all. But what happens when something goes wrong?

Your website is a probably a complex blend of themes, plugins and customizations that you’ve implemented. There’s potentially dozens of people who contribute to your website – either directly or indirectly. It can be incredibly frustrating to navigate the ecosystem when your website is broken. And that frustration can quickly turn into panic when you add eCommerce and lost orders and revenue into the mix.

Today we take a look at how WordPress website owners and WordPress professionals alike can learn to troubleshoot issues when things go wrong in a much more meaningful and constructive way.

Providing world class support is an important part of what we do at CommerceGurus. One of the best ways we can provide support is to try and make our products as bug free and easy to use as possible. Our customer satisfaction ratings and reviews tell us we do a pretty damn good job at this. Our author rating is currently 4.92/5 over on themeforest. While that makes us happy, we continuously strive to do better.

Over time you begin to see the same issues arise time and time again. In fact, the vast majority of recurring issues and bug reports we see from our customers are actually not theme bugs at all.

While the issue may manifest itself as a theme ‘bug’ (e.g. “The Add to Cart button stopped working on my site – please fix it!” or “The Quick View button on my products is showing a javascript error when I click it – the theme is broken!” ), 99/100 times, the theme itself is actually fine and the origin of the issue lies elsewhere.  That becomes immediately apparent with a quick comparison with the main theme demo which will be working just fine – but this doesn’t help the customer resolve their issue.

The art of troubleshooting and debugging WordPress problems is a skill that takes many years to develop. If you’re new to WordPress (and WooCommerce in particular) it can be incredibly frustrating to experience a problem on your website only for a theme developer, a plugin author and/or a hosting company all blame each other for the issue.

Developing the ability to troubleshoot and debug problems with your WordPress website is one of the most important skills you as a WordPress website owner must invest in unless you have delegated this to another WordPress professional that works for you.

Enter The WordPress Troubleshooter

For this reason, we’ve created a simple WordPress Troubleshooter Infographic which we hope will help you develop good troubleshooting habits for your WordPress website when things go wrong. Without further ado, say hello to The WordPress Troubleshooter.

The WordPress Troubleshooter

The WordPress Troubleshooter

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The WordPress Troubleshooter Explained

If we’ve done our job right a good infographic shouldn’t really need an explanation 🙂 In any event, let’s take a walk through the Troubleshooter and delve a little bit deeper on each topic.

Help my site is broken!

We’re starting with the assumption that something on your website is ‘broken’. The first thing to determine is just how severely broken your website is.

Can you see your site?

If you can’t see your website then things are obviously pretty bad! Determining severity helps to quickly narrow down the most appropriate set of next steps.

The White Screen of Death

This is most common issue we get reported to us when someone can’t see their website. Instead of their website they simply see a blank white screen. You don’t see a 404 or a 500 error or a timeout error – just a plain blank white screen. This is incredibly cryptic and unsettling for those who have never experienced it before. Where the hell did my website go?? Fear not, it happens so often that it has been christened the “White Screen of Death” or WSOD which is a not so subtle reference to the old Microsoft Blue Screen of Death or BSOD which MS operating systems were famous for about 10 years ago. In most cases, a WSOD issue can be quickly diagnosed by switching on WP_DEBUG in your wp-config.php file.

To enable WP_DEBUG

Open wp-config.php.

Look for this:

define('WP_DEBUG', false);

Change it to:

define('WP_DEBUG', true);

With a bit of luck, instead of a blank white screen you should now see an error message. This error message could be anything. But if you take the error message and drop it into Google it should help point you in the right direction to resolving the issue quickly. The most common problems see get WSOD reports about are:

  • Memory exhaustion – this is by far the most common reason. In fact if after adding the debug = true code you still see no error message it’s 99% probable to be memory exhaustion.
  • Broken plugins – some plugins are just coded poorly. As you install more and more plugins on your site the probability of one plugin conflicting with another also increases. Sometimes this manifests itself as a php error which will trigger a WSOD.
  • Custom code breaking the theme – you may have added some custom code to your functions.php file to change something on your website and this triggers a WSOD.

The most common issue, Memory exhaustion, happens quite a lot on cheap, poorly performing shared hosting plans offered by the larger web hosting companies like GoDaddy, Bluehost and Hostgator. Your best bet to resolving the issue on those platforms is to get off them asap. Seriously, you won’t regret it. We recommend Siteground – they’re awesome. If you’re stuck on a poorly configured shared host, you can try bumping up the memory. This is really important if you’re running WooCommerce.

How to increase your WordPress Memory

1.) Open wp-config.php

2.) Add the following line:
define('WP_MEMORY_LIMIT', '96M');

I recommend no less than 96M when running WooCommerce.

Is your site offline?

If you’re not seeing a WSOD you are most likely seeing a timeout – something like this:

Don’t immediately assume this is your web hosts fault. It could be your own internet connection. And chances are good that if you’ve got a decent host that this is the case. A really quick way of checking this is to type your domain name into http://isup.me/ – this will tell you if the fault lies with your web host, or if the problem is between your computer and your Internet Service Provider (ISP.). Let’s move on to how we deal with less severe but still critical issues like plugin and theme conflicts.

Troubleshooting WordPress Plugin conflicts

Plugin conflicts are the number one source of support requests for us. By far. If someone could wave a magic wand and introduce proper dependency management in WordPress I think a lot of plugin and theme developers would get a lot more sleep and a lot less stress 🙂 Plugin conflicts happen for lots of reasons – in rare cases they’re unavoidable. But in most cases, it’s down to poorly written plugins that break either other plugins and/or theme functions. On the surface this looks like a theme bug. But most of the time it’s not. But as theme authors we inevitably end up having to triage these problems. As a website owner you can get to the true root cause of the issue and the source of ‘blame’ for the issue by learning how to identify a plugin conflict. These are the steps I usually take:

Deactivate all plugins – this usually resolves the problem straight away – but may also remove the functionality where the problem is manifesting itself.

Reactivate/Check cycle – Assuming this ‘fixes’ your website (i.e. returns it to a more basic version of itself that isn’t broken but is missing key functionality), I then take things very slowly and I precisely enable each plugin one at a time, checking the site each time to see when/if the issue re-emerges. It’s important you only reactivate one plugin at a time, otherwise you might miss which plugin triggers the issue. In most cases, the issue will reveal itself at a certain point in the reactivate/check cycle. At that point you will have at least pinpointed which plugin triggers the break.

It may not actually be that specific plugin that is at fault – but it is definitely the plugin that triggers the problem. At that point, depending on the precise nature of the issue you have a few options. If something stops working like a button/link press action, then this is most likely a javascript error caused by a plugin conflict. You can determine this quickly in Chrome/Firefox by activating Dev Tools. WordPress have a nice (but a little out of date) guide investigating js errors specifically for WordPress. Chrome also have a great more up to date guide. Seriously folks, even if you are not a designer or a developer, it’s really worth learning how to use Dev Tools to troubleshoot plugin conflcts – it can save you a lot of running around chasing theme author, plugin developers and web hosts if you come armed with  precise bug reports.

Bug Report – at this point I would usually report the relevant conflict to the plugin author in question. Sometimes this is very clearly the fault of a specific plugin (e.g. a blatant js bug in a specific plugin file). Sometime it’s less obvious – it could look like jQuery is not loaded or is not being recognized – which would be odd seeing as WordPress loads jQuery by default. It could be the case that some other plugin has unloaded the default version of jQuery and replaced it with their own (Plugin authors – PLEASE stop doing this – it’s NOT cool and against WordPress coding standards) which means their plugin works fine but the theme and WordPress itself stops working. In this scenario it’s very difficult to know unless you’re quite technical who exactly is to blame. The best bet is to try different “blends” or permutations of activated plugins – which can help identify which plugin or plugins are truly at fault for your issue. Assuming you can get a good handle on the point of fault, I then construct a bug report which always includes the following:

  • WordPress version
  • Theme version
  • Plugin version
  • WordPress site url
  • WordPress admin user/pass (if requested)
  • Steps to re-create the issue – describe in as much detail as possible the exact steps you take to see the issue. Don’t assume the theme author or plugin developer will know what you’re talking about. Every WordPress website is a unique little snowflake with it’s own unique blend of plugins.
  • Screenshots (if relevant)
  • Evidence of bug (e.g. PHP error message or js console error message)
  • NOTE: If you’re using WooCommerce the system status report will help you quickly gather the most important information for a bug report.

The more information you can provide first time, the faster the theme author or plugin developer will be in a position to help you.

Theme Bugs

By now, in our experience there’s a very high probability that you’ve found the root cause of your issue. If your issue persists, then it’s time to put the theme under the spotlight! Leave your plugins active this time for this task. Now switch over to one of the default WordPress themes – I usually recommend Twenty Fifteen as it’s the most recent WordPress default theme that rarely has bug reports at this point and has excellent coding standards.

If you switch to Twenty Fifteen and your issue fixes itself then that’s a sure sign that something the theme is doing is causing your issue. It might not be a bug per se – but it’s definitely something the theme author will need to look into. At this point I would follow the same Bug Reporting process detailed earlier – but this time direct it to the theme author. Again, the more precise the bug report – the better.

Prevention is better than cure – take plugin due diligence very seriously

WordPress in wonderful. It’s diverse and enormous ecosystem of themes and plugins allow us to quickly bend and shape WordPress to do almost anything we want it to do. But that wonderful flexibility is also it’s greatest weakness. The more you bend and shape it the more likely you are to run into problems that need troubleshooting.

It’s really really important to conduct due diligence on every single plugin you install on your WordPress website.  Prevention is better than cure – and generally if you keep the number of plugins down to as small a list as possible and take care to only install well supported, mature plugins from respected plugin developers you’ll run into very few problems that can’t be easily identified. It’s no surprise that the customers who come to us with issues most are generally the ones who install tons of plugins on a whim without really considering if they need them and they end up with tons of conflicts and a significantly slower website than they otherwise would have.

Still can’t pinpoint the issue? Seek Professional Help

If you still haven’t been able to pinpoint the issue at this stage, it’s time to bite the bullet and seek professional help. It’s rare that you see any 2 WordPress installs configured identically. Every WordPress website ends up being a quite unique when you consider:

  • the specific plugins installed – including their specific versions
  • the core configuration files
  • the web hosting configuration including any custom .htaccess rules and php.ini overrides
  • the specific theme activated – and any child theme customizations
  • the underlying core operating system version and PHP/MySql versions
  • the content in your database (yes this can be a point of failure – especially if you have custom Javascript in pages and widgets)

This significantly increases the number of points of failure versus hosted publishing and eCommerce platforms like Squarespace and Shopify. That WordPress ecosystem flexibility and diversity comes at a price folks.

So what do you do? Unless you’re a full stack web developer who understands everything from Linux system administration through to modern responsive css, HTML and Javascript, it’s very very hard to do all of this on your own.

It’s also not your hosts responsibility. A good one (like Siteground) will go above and beyond the call of duty to help you. But when the chips are down it’s not their responsibility. They will only be able to help so much. It’s also not the theme authors responsibility. Sure they’ll help when you identify specific theme bugs (assuming you’ve bought a theme from a reputable theme author!) but it’s not the theme authors job to troubleshoot your specific WordPress instance with all it’s unique points of failure. And it’s not the plugin developers responsibility either. Again the good guys and gals will help when it comes to specific plugin bugs but as we’ve seen, in good plugins these are rarely the cause of your problems.

If you previously hired a WordPress Professional to build your website for you then hopefully you’ve maintained some sort of ongoing maintenance and support relationship with them and you can make all of this their responsibility. If you’re a WordPress Professional, hopefully this Troubleshooter will also help you to improve your troubleshooting skills. Even seasoned WordPress Professionals struggle with this stuff – particularly as it can be incredibly time consuming to trace where the root cause of an issue lies – and gets much much harder with the passage of time due to plugin updates, theme updates, changes made by other third parties, changes to the hosting environment – you get the idea!

If you’re stuck and don’t have access to a WordPress Professional, you’ll be delighted to hear that a lots of WordPress Support Services have started springing up the past few years – who are providing a solution to the “not my problem, talk to the other guy” problem. Here are just a few we recommend:

WP Curve – love these guys – they’ve built a super successful business in no time at all – prices from $79/mo – $199/mo.

WP Site Care – another great business. Prices range from $29/mo – $239/mo.

When you consider how much it would cost you to hire somebody even on a part time basis, these services provide excellent value and peace of mind to help support your website on an ongoing basis.

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Suave WooCommerce Theme Launch – plus Sample Sites

A catchup post this, but back at the end of February we launched Suave – a classy WooCommerce theme. The response has been fantastic with 50, yes 50, five star reviews and an average rating of 4.96 on ThemeForest.

With over 550 sales it’s proving to be a big hit and we’re so excited to see what it’s being used for.

We’ve seen some beautiful implementations so far, here are a couple that really took our fancy.

asoundeffect

A Sound Effect

Asbjoern has done an amazing job with his site, a huge library of independent sound effects at ridiculously good prices.


naturpharma

NaturPharma

A full width implementation with beautiful image choices, and a natural green color scheme which really ties the branding together. The video of a lavender field gently swaying is a great touch at the bottom of the page.


schroll

Schroll Kitzbühel

A gorgeous dark version of the theme is used to sell jewelery and watches. The yellow badge of the logo contrasts nicely with the charcoal grey and the product images still pop impressively throughout.


highres

High Res Media

Outstanding photography in this one, as you’d expect from a site showcasing the skills of a photography and video production company. Based in Arizona in the US, if you’re selling your home these guys are guaranteed to make it look fantastic.


Would you like your Suave implementation to be featured in a follow up post? Just drop us a line 🙂

You can buy Suave from ThemeForest for just $58 with 10 ready made demos so you’ll be up and running in no time.

How much does an eCommerce website cost?

Ah the age old question of cost! It can be quite the mystery as to what the hell an eCommerce website will cost you. Today we take a look at what key factors will influence the cost of your eCommerce website.

It’s about time. Mostly.

The biggest determining factor for how much your eCommerce website will cost is time. How long will the project take? Who needs to be involved? How much does it cost to employ the necessary people for the duration of the project? Answer those questions and you’ve established a huge aspect of eCommerce website costs.

The In House eCommerce Team

If you’re hiring an In House team to build your eCommerce website you’ll probably need a minimum of 3 people (but potentially many more depending on the scale and scope of the project).

  • eCommerce Project Manager (PM) – a jack of all eCommerce trades. This person ensures the project gets done on time and within your budget. They will often also be Lead QA, Lead BA, Content writer and will often get their hands dirty with code if required/allowed. On bigger project the PM will recruit and manage individuals for these specific disciplines.
  • Lead Developer – the main person responsible for producing the code – either 100% bespoke (not recommended for about 80% of projects) or on top of an existing eCommerce software platform (see below). On bigger projects there could be at least 2 or 3 additional developers led by the Lead Developer.
  • Lead Designer – in this definition the Lead Designer is the person taking the initial early Visual Design/branding stage straight through to the low level HTML/CSS/JS. On larger projects it’s likely that you would have a number of frontend developers who are solely responsible for frontend engineering.

So you’re looking at a team of a minimum of 3. But very quickly you could require a team of 9-10 people if your project scope requires it. So how much does that cost? The job market for people with eCommerce expertise in 2015 is about as red hot as it’s been in 15 years so you’re probably looking at an average of $100,000 per person per annum.

So a team of 3 will cost you in the region of $300,000 per annum. A team of 10? In the region of $1 million per annum. WHAT? Yip, good eCommerce people ain’t cheap folks 🙂

Your mileage may vary depending on your location in the world but $100,000 per person as an average all things considered including healthcare costs, employer taxes, office/hardware etc. is pretty reasonable. If you’re based in San Francisco or New York it’s definitely considered cheap!

There’s been a pretty seismic shift happening in the web agency world of late where large well known agencies have been gobbled up by big organisations who now believe it’s not smart to rely on an external agency for what is now a critical part of running any business with big ambitions in 2015 – design and software engineering excellence. But for many businesses their scale and revenue cannot justify the investment an in house team requires.

My recommendation would be that a full eCommerce In House team should only be considered for businesses who are turning over in excess of $3m per annum.

Why $3m? At that point you can hire a team of 3-4 people and your costs will be in the region of 10% of turnover. Before reaching this point my recommendation would be to rely mostly on external agencies as they should be able to provide many of the benefits of an in house team at a lower price point. (NOTE: We’re specifically talking about an eCommerce team here – NOT the entire team required to run your eCommerce website. You’ll also need to think about the people you need to manage order fulfilment, shipping, accounting, stock etc. but that’s for another day!)

The one person I would not outsource to an agency from day one is the person responsible for the commercial success of your eCommerce website. This could be you! As you grow, this is going to be an eCommerce manager who will most likely manage your agency/freelance team and eventually your in house eCommerce team.

So your maturity as an eCommerce business is vital to determining how best to go about building an eCommerce website.

The stages of eCommerce maturity

The first thing to consider is where you are at in terms of your own eCommerce experience. We’re not talking necessarily just about technical skills here. We’re talking about your own personal experience when it comes to owning and operating eCommerce ventures. This is incredibly important when it comes to determining the costs associated with building you an eCommerce website.

Why? A wide range of skills are required to run a successful eCommerce operation; world class sales and marketing expertise, top class branding and packaging, a 6th sense for customer price sensitivity, excellent customer service and fluency in digital marketing and how eCommerce management systems work.

For those who’ve never run an eCommerce website before, this list can seem intimidating. Well it should be! Running a successful eCommerce operation is not easy and it takes time to acquire these skills. If you’ve gained them already through running your own eCommerce websites or by working for another eCommerce website you’ll already be ahead of the game when it comes to talking to building a new eCommerce website.

If you’re entering into the eCommerce world without experience in these areas, be prepared to spend a lot of time learning the ropes. If you’re considering working with an agency to build your eCommerce website, a good one will want to know what level of eCommerce fluency and expertise you have as this incredibly important to almost every aspect of building the website. Typically if you’ve less eCommerce fluency things can take a lot longer as there will be a steep learning curve for you during the project. The agency will also most likely have to factor in a longer lead time for training and post project completion support as you get to grips with running an eCommerce website.

For those who have extensive eCommerce experience it’s usually possible to get to the root of exactly what is required much quicker which can help reduce the time required to complete the project – thereby reducing overall project costs. We can determine your eCommerce maturity be using the following framework.

eCommerce Maturity Framework (EMF)

This maturity framework is really just a high falutin way of establishing where in the grand scheme of things your eCommerce business is. Are you a multi million dollar eCommerce operation with a big team in place who are looking to increase conversions by 5% per annum? Or are you a one man operation who can just about turn on a computer who wants to start selling your beloved hand painted sea horses online? These are 2 very different types of situations requiring very different approaches.

eCommerce Maturity Framework

eCommerce Maturity Framework (EMF)

  • Small – You’re probably just getting going. You may be a one or two man operation. You probably don’t know a lot about eCommerce. You can benefit a lot from the guidance of an external agency. Your budget (or lack thereof) also prohibit you from building an in house team.
  • Medium – You’re a pretty successful eCommerce operation with revenues in excess of $1m per annum. You’ve developed some pretty sharp eCommerce skills to get to this level but you still need the assistance of an external agency to help drive your business forward.
  • Large – You’re an eCommerce business turning over in excess of $5m per annum. You’ve reached a point where it now starts to make sense to build an eCommerce team internally. You can still keep working with an agency if you wish (particularly for one off specialist projects), but you should definitely give consideration to building a team in house.
  • Enterprise – You’re an eCommerce juggernaut with revenues in excess of $10m per annum. You NEED an in house team just to keep up. You’ll likely have a ton of projects that you need to execute on an ongoing basis to continue to grow the business. At this level, an in house team is a necessity to realize long term benefits of having a team of people focused just on your business.

Using the EMF to help make decisions about how to build your eCommerce website

Simply put, you can use the EMF to assist you make decisions about when is the right time to build an in house team. It doesn’t make financial sense in general to build an in house team for SMALL and MEDIUM sized eCommerce websites. But once you go beyond $5m per annum it starts to look like a more compelling option. LARGE and ENTERPRISE eCommerce websites are in a enviable position where they can start to build a team to work on long term, visionary projects that require significant investment that’s just not possible for smaller operations. In this situation you will want to build that kind of expertise in house as it becomes a source of sustained competitive advantage in your business in the long run.

So what about Small and Medium sized eCommerce websites?

So you’ve determined you not ready for an in house team just yet. What are your options? The good news is that you have tons of them – if anything, too many! Here’s what I would recommend.

Newbie eCommerce Website

For anybody who is a newbie to eCommerce your objective should be to spend as little as possible in the beginning. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of eCommerce entrepreneurs will fail. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It may mean though that you will attempt this eCommerce thing a few times with different ideas and products in different markets before you start to build some traction.

For Newbies, CommerceGurus Recommends: Shopify

Shopify is about as simple as it gets. You don’t need to worry about your own hosting or servers. You won’t have to worry about software and server upgrades, server security, ssl certificates, order emails and so on. Shopify take care of all of this for you.

Shopify pricing

Shopify pricing

From as little at $14.99 per month you can be up and running with your own eCommerce website in a matter of minutes. That’s hard to beat! What’s more, Shopify is designed to scale with you as you move up through the different stages of the EMF. There are many enterprise eCommerce websites with sales in the millions that continue to use Shopify. If you have no existing website (and associated hosting costs) then Shopify is a no brainer, particularly if you don’t want to go down that road at all. On top of your monthly costs, you are also likely to spend money on how your eCommerce website looks (which is what is known as Shopify Themes). Themes typically costs between $100 and $200 for Shopify.

Shopify Costs for a Newbie eCommerce website (per annum)

  • Starter Package on Shopify: $179.88 per annum (14.99 * 12)
  • Shopify Theme: $200
  • Domain Registration: $15 per annum

Total: $394.88 

So for under $200 per annum and a one off $200 for your theme you’re getting a world class eCommerce platform.

Custom Shopify Theme Design

As you get more and more traction you may wish to consider creating a custom theme for your store. A custom theme will differentiate your store from others that use your previous “off the rack” Shopify theme. A custom Shopify theme will cost considerably more than the off the rack one you might have previously purchased. Custom theme design prices will be based primarily on 3 factors:

  • The complexity of the design you wish to implement.
  • The scope of the project.
  • The expertise of the agency/freelancer you choose.

The third variable, agency expertise, is perhaps the most important. Typically a well known, experienced Shopify expert who create custom theme designs full time and who is based in a Western country is going to cost considerably more than a new expert based in a developing economy. You will need to choose an Shopify Design expert that’s right for your project. A good indicative cost for a custom Shopify theme would be in the region of $2,000 – $5,000 for a small eCommerce website. Prices for medium, large and enterprise eCommerce websites can be significantly higher (e.g. $20,000 – $50,000).

So if Shopify is so damn amazing why isn’t every eCommerce website in the world just using that you may ask? Shopify is what is called a Software as a Service (SASS) product meaning that you do not have direct control over the software – which is fine and dandy – as long as the software provides all the functionality that your business needs. For most conventional eCommerce businesses, Shopify should be more than sufficient. But for those that need something that Shopify doesn’t provide what alternative options exist?

For intermediates and experts, CommerceGurus recommends: WooCommerce

Regular readers of this blog will know we are especially fond of WooCommerce. In a few short years WooCommerce has become one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world. If you already have a WordPress site in place and have experience managing websites running WordPress, WooCommerce is an excellent starting for both Small and Medium eCommerce websites with intermediate and expert eCommerce fluency. If you’re a small, newbie eCommerce website with little or no prior WordPress eCommerce you would be better sticking with Shopify unless you’re prepared to spend a good bit of time and money to figure out how to use WordPress, setup your own hosting, payment gateway and so on which can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. (HINT: DON’T go down this road if you’re just looking to get something up and running quickly).

But if you’ve already figured out WordPress you’re in a great position to jump into WooCommerce quickly.

WooCommerce costs for a typical intermediate/expert website (per annum)

So your annual costs for running a typical WooCommerce powered eCommerce website will be between $735 and $2000. This is a bit higher than the entry level Shopify plan (although the entry level Shopify plan is quite restrictive for all but the simplest eCommerce websites). When you go the self hosted route you will have a multitude of costs which you’re most likely paying to different providers.

Even if you already have WordPress hosting, it may not be suitable for running an eCommerce website. You’ll also have a myriad of additional costs for things like SSL certificates that Shopify would previously have looked after for you. You will also most likely need some commercial WooCommerce plugins which will vary in price (there are also plenty of excellent free WooCommerce plugins but we’re focusing on costs for now). A typical WooCommerce plugin will cost between $50 – $200.

In our experience it’s common that a typical WooCommerce website might end up using between 5 and 10 commercial plugins. Each of these plugins will typically have an initial cost plus a renewal an annual fee for future upgrades and support. (Find out where to find the best WooCommerce plugins).

Custom WooCommerce Themes

Just like with Shopify, there is a massive ecosystem of WooCommerce experts creating a wide range of WooCommerce themes and plugins. In fact it is this ecosystem which makes WooCommerce so compelling. Chances are there will be a plugin out there for the majority of use cases that you as an eCommerce website owner might think of. And if there’s not, you can either build it yourself or hire a WooCommerce expert to build it for you. This removal of constraints is a key differentiator from Shopify. If the nature of your eCommerce business requires something a bit different from the general shopping cart experience, it could be that WooCommerce gives you a platform that you can shape to meet your needs.

What does a custom WooCommerce theme cost?

In our experience, when we create a custom WooCommerce theme for a client, we’re generally doing a lot more than creating just the theme. We’re usually leading an eCommerce implementation project from start to finish. In this scenario, you’re typically talking about the following:

  • Requirements Gathering/Discovery – this starts with establishing your eCommerce maturity using the EMF framework we revealed earlier. We then move on to define the goals of the project, including defining the scope, features and deadlines for delivery. For larger projects this will extend to creating high fidelity prototypes of all aspects of how the shopping experience will work. When we work with SMALL eCommerce websites, this is typically a 3-5 day exercise. With MEDIUM and LARGE eCommerce websites, this is typically a 15-20 day exercise. For ENTERPRISE eCommerce websites this process can take 2-4 months to complete.
  • Design – The Design Process typically splits out into 2 distinct sub phases.
    • Visual Design – The client and the designer work together to agree the overall visual design concepts for the new eCommerce website. Traditionally, client concepts were created as pixel perfect concepts in Photoshop and refined ad infinitum based on scope constraints to signoff. Nowadays it’s much more common to design within the browser to produce rapid HTML prototypes to fully consider the multitude of different types of browsing devices.
    • Frontend engineering – Once the Visual Design has been agreed, the frontend build is completed. This used to be a reasonably straightforward task. With the evolution and advancement of frontend frameworks, responsive design,  javascript frameworks, pre-compilers and linters, the frontend engineering phase has become critical to delivering highly innovative and engaging eCommerce user experiences.
  • Development – The development process will typically involve the following:
    • Install and configure WooCommerce
    • Install and configure all required WooCommerce and WordPress plugins
    • Implement any custom features and functionality as per the agreed project scope
    • Developer QA and Testing
  • Testing
    • Beta release and UAT test cycle
    • Performance testing
    • Cross browser testing
    • Code Freeze
  • Handover and Training – it’s at this point that once the code is frozen, all products and associated content are loaded for production use. Typically for SMALL eCommerce websites, we expect and recommend the customer do this. Typically this is possible for smaller eCommerce websites as there might only be a handful of products.
  • The cost of imagery – this one is not to be underestimated. We talked before about the importance of your product imagery on eCommerce websites. If you don’t already have great product imagery, you might need to set aside a separate budget for product photography ($500 – $2,000 would be typical for a small eCommerce website with a limited product range).

A typical budget for a WooCommerce custom eCommerce project would be between $10,000 and $20,000 for SMALL to MEDIUM eCommerce websites. Scope and eCommerce maturity will significantly influence which end of the scale a project will fall into.

How much for Large and Enterprise Websites?

As you can see, there are a ton of things to consider just for Small and Medium sized eCommerce website – never mind the larger ones 🙂 We think that deserves a blog post of it’s own which we’ll be working on very soon so make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be notified when it’s published.

Further reading!

WPBeginner has a great guide covering How Much a WordPress website costs in 2017 – it covers WordPress in general as well as WooCommerce – go check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turbocharge your WooCommerce store load times

Today we take a look at some of the most effective ways to speed up your WooCommerce powered store.

Let me get straight to the point. For most people, WordPress is slow. And WooCommerce is even slower. Why is that? A few reasons:

  1. Lack of caching in core – by default, WordPress reads all content from the database. Same goes for WooCommerce. You mighn’t notice this too much when you just have a small blog with a couple of posts. But throw in WooCommerce and a couple of hundred products and you’ll start to see things slow down.
  2. Underpowered, shitty shared hosting – we’re on a bit of a mission to get WooCommerce store owners to stop using shitty shared hosting providers for their WooCommerce stores. You get what you pay for – and you’ll really feel the pinch if you skimp on hosting when it comes to eCommerce.
  3. Bloated WordPress installs with tons of plugins and bloated themes – It’s not really the number of plugins that’s the problem. It’s more store owners and WordPress users in general feeling like it’s ok to just install any old plugin without realizing that it could be a complete dog, full of bugs, poorly written and causing performance bottlenecks on your website. You need to develop a really good sense for detecting if a plugin is impacting on the performance of your website. Know your average load times and know them well. When you install a new plugin see if it makes any difference to your load times. Same goes for themes. A lot of themes are not very well coded when it comes to WordPress standards and can cause significant performance issues for your website.

It’s important to remember that WordPress itself can be made to run very very fast. Heck WordPress.com gets approx. 131 MILLION unique visitors per month which makes it one of the most visited websites on the planet. The problem is that the default experience for most people is not this superfast traffic devouring machine. It’s a slow, easily broken mess. Managed WordPress hosting goes some way to helping solve this problem. Managed hosting services are putting in place hosting infrastructure similar to that used by WordPress.com so that the rest of us can enjoy the kind of speed that WordPress.com has. Speed is important for any website. But especially so for eCommerce websites.

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Speed is one of the most important aspects of a highly successful eCommerce website. Think about it. When was the last time anyone complained that placing an order on Amazon was slow? Pretty much never. In fact, if anything, it’s almost too damn easy and quick to place an Amazon order 🙂 Studies have shown that if you’re site is loading any longer than 4 seconds, you’re losing orders and lots of them. Once load times go up to 10 seconds, you’re losing well over 90% of your traffic. If you’re losing this much traffic, think about what that is doing to your conversion rate. For many, the simple act of getting a decent web host can significantly increase conversion rates, simply because you’ve made it easier and quicker for customers to complete orders! So let’s assume you sort the hosting issue, what else can you do to turbocharge your WooCommerce site?

Minify all the CSS

If you’re using one of our WooCommerce themes, we’re already minifying Javascript by default for speed optimization. But if you’re looking to shave some additional time off your page load you need to install BWP Minify. Better WordPress Minify is one of the better WordPress minification plugins available.

Configuring BWP Minify for the Captiva theme

Just to take the example of how we tune our demo speed with BWP Minify.

  • Open BWP Minify -> General Options.
  • Deselect “Minify JS files automatically” – by default Captiva minifies all js files that can be minified. If you leave JS minification active in BWP Minify this may cause your site to malfunction.
  • Select “Minify CSS files automatically?”

Here’s a screengrab of our General Options config:

bwp_settings

Click to view larger version of settings page.

 

  • Go to -> Manage enqueued files
  • Scroll down to “Managed enqueued CSS files”
  • Add a full list of CSS handlers to not be minified under the “Styles to NOT minify”
    • admin-bar
    • dashicons
    • layerslider-group-css
    • cap-captiva
    • js_composer_front
    • background-style
    • aio-tooltip
    • cap-responsive
    • ultimate-headings-style
    • stats-counter-style
    • info-box-style
    • timecircle
  • Doing so will ensure your site continues to load correctly after minification is complete.
  • And you’re DONE!

I’ve seen minification alone knock 5-6 seconds of page load speed for some websites. So go forth and minify! We’ll be back soon with more tips on how to turbocharge your WooCommerce website.

 

 

 

 

 

WooCommerce most popular eCommerce platform in October 2014

You can see some pretty interesting eCommerce data with builtwith.com regarding platforms and their level of growth, month by month.

I’ve graphed WooCommerce and compared with Magento and Shopify as of October the 6th, 2014:

builtwith-oct6

In just 6 months, from March 2014, another 121,801 WooCommerce sites have been indexed which is a staggering number. This is no doubt fuelled by the popularity of WordPress which is believed to power more than 12 million sites worldwide.

The global list of eCommerce platforms looks like this:

builtwith-top-oct6

 

Where to find the best WooCommerce extensions

The core WooCommerce plugin is pretty awesome as a kick ass eCommerce platform for most store owners. But chances are you’ll find it lacking something you need sooner rather than later. Today we take a look at the best places to find the best WooCommerce extensions for your online store.

WooThemes Extension directory

It’s no surprise that the absolute best place to find a vast collection of WooCommerce extensions is over at WooThemes.

As of October 3rd 2014, WooThemes has approximately 313 extensions available! In addition to cranking out their own extensions on a regular basis, the Woo folks also partner with some of the best WooCommerce developers to release tons of new extensions for seemingly every possible use case. What I also like most about this official extension ecosystem is that every extension has been well tested with the latest and greatest versions of WooCommerce and every extension goes through extensive testing by the WooThemes team before being released.

Codecanyon WooCommerce Listing

The second most popular source of WooCommerce extensions has to be the Codecanyon WooCommerce category. Codecanyon reports that there are over 420 plugins available at the time of writing. Some of the plugins available on Codecanyon are amongst the most popular WooCommerce extensions on the market including:

Table Rate Shipping for WooCommerce

WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates

Fancy Product Designer

While Codecanyon houses more WooCommerce extensions, quality and support can sometimes be a concern. My recommendation to any store owner would be to carefully research any prospective purchase on Codecanyon to ensure the plugin author is active, provides support and keeps the plugin up to date with the latest versions of WooCommerce.

WordPress plugin directory

Last but not least if the official WordPress plugin directory. A simple search for WooCommerce reveals over 1,000 plugins report some form of compatibility with WooCommerce. While this doesn’t translate directly to WooCommerce specific extensions it’s an indication of the breadth of plugins available via the official WordPress plugin repository for WooCommerce.

 

WooCommerce 2.2 Feature – Automatic Refunds

The latest version of WooCommerce, version 2.2 mostly changed things under the hood – feature-wise there wasn’t a whole lot added. One interesting new addition though is the option to provide automatic refunds.

Patrick Rauland, a developer who works on WooCommerce explains how it works here:

Common WooCommerce mistakes

Today we take a look at some of the most common mistakes we see store owners make with WooCommerce time and time again.

WooCommerce is so easy to get setup and running that it’s easy to assume that all you need to do is install the plugin, configure your store, add your products and you’re done. Simples right. Well kinda – but not quite. Let’s make something clear – WooCommerce is just a tool, admittedly a very good tool, but still just a tool, designed to help you sell online. As a store owner you have a responsibility both to yourself as the business owner and to your customers to ensure your store is a well oiled machine that keeps ticking over. Installing the plugin is not enough. Here are some of the biggest mistakes we see time and time again in helping WooCommerce store owners get the most out of WooCommerce.

1.) Running out of date copies of WooCommerce.

WooCommerce has a very active release cycle and is updated very regularly. If you’re running and old version of WooCommerce you should really slap yourself on the wrist and update as soon as possible. Security should be very high up your list of priorities when running an eCommerce business. If you’re running old versions of WooCommerce (and WordPress for that matter) you’re leaving yourself and your store vulnerable to all sorts of attacks. A bad security incident may kill your business overnight. There are some legitimate reasons for running old versions of WooCommerce – particularly when it comes to the use of third party plugins and themes. But here’s the thing – if a theme or plugin developer doesn’t update their software to support the latest WooCommerce versions and ensure compatibility with major releases within a short time after release, chances are you don’t want to be using that WooCommerce theme or plugin anyway. The best WooCommerce developers will normally be compatible with major releases even before they are officially released. So if you’re holding off on a big WooCommerce update because your plugins aren’t supported you’ve probably got bigger problems. If you’re just too afraid to make the update read on for more.

2.) Updating WooCommerce on your live store without testing on staging

WordPress fosters a culture of real time updates to plugins via the very easy to use Plugin management system. It’s almost too easy to update plugins in a live environment. But let’s remind ourselves again – you’re using WordPress and WooCommerce to support a business – not a blog or a simple brochure based website. Never, ever update major WooCommerce releases on your live site before first testing thoroughly on a staging site. Yes, this means more work. Yes this will take longer. I know. It’s a royal pain in the ass. But if you’re serious about eCommerce it needs to be done. I’ve seen too many people update WooCommerce in real time and then lose thousands in orders because they didn’t test on staging first. Trust me if you don’t do this chances are high that at some point you will regret it.

3.) Not running a staging site

Closely related to number 2, a staging site has saved my ass so many times it’s not even funny. I wouldn’t contemplate building any eCommerce business without a minimum of 1 staging instance. (and many times a second instance for development tests). WordPress unfortunately doesn’t provide us with a method for creating staging sites out of the box but as WordPress has matured over the past few years many tools have emerged to make it pretty straightforward to do this.

The DIY way – an excellent post from WPBeginner.

WPEngine comes with staging builtin.

The powerhouse of WordPress staging platforms – RAMP.

My personal favourite for most WooCommerce store owners operating small eCommerce stores is to host your store on Siteground and use their staging platform.

4.) Not testing new plugins on staging first

So what’s the benefit of this staging version of your site? Well now you get to dive in and start doing all those updates you’ve been putting off on a near live copy of your store with real data and products. Treat the update process as if it was your live site and give it a seriously good test after every update – both to WordPress itself, WooCommerce and all your plugins. Once you’re 100% happy that your staging site is working correctly go ahead and apply your updates to live. The benefit of having your staging site is that if everything is NOT working correctly, you can now take the time to resolve your issues in a controlled and calm manner, rather than running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what the hell has gone wrong.

5.) Not running backups

This one is unforgivable. If you’re running an eCommerce business security and backups MUST be top of your list of operational procedures. I don’t care how do you ’em but you should be backing up daily and retaining backups for at least 7 days. Too many people still run WordPress and WooCommerce without backups and they’re running successful stores with thousands of customers. All it takes is one bad security incident to wipe out a business like that. That’s frightening. You’ll find tons of WordPress backup options online but the only one I recommend to customers is VaultPress. It’s an Automattic product that works at scale and works all the time. Plans start at $5 per month which is a steal for what you get.

New Google Analytics eCommerce plugin from Yoast

The team over at Yoast launched a new Google Analytics eCommerce plugin last week. If you’re serious about tracking your sales with WooCommerce in Google Analytics this is a must have new plugin.

We’ve posted before about how to setup Google Analytics for eCommerce tracking with WooCommerce. Well the very smart folks over at Yoast recently launched a new plugin that extends their open source Google Analytics plugin. If you’ve not yet installed the awesome free plugin you’ll need to get that up and running first (which is really simple to do).

What does this new plugin do?

First of all, the installation process is a breeze – just buy, upload and activate the plugin and you’re done! If you’ve spent time configuring eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics with WooCommerce you’ll realize how cool that is. The plugin takes advantage of a new Google collections API that allows the plugin to send calls directly to the Analytics API from the server side instead of purely relying in Javascript which makes the process of tracking eCommerce conversions much more reliable. I’ve seen in the past on high volume sites that the numbers don’t always add up in Google Analytics when compared to order numbers in WooCommerce and this is generally down to the odd server error which means the JS conversion tracker doesn’t fire. This plugin will resolve that which should make the numbers in Analytics much more accurate.

It’s great to see the Yoast team creating these cool little addons for WooCommerce and I hope to see more clever WooCommerce plugins from the folks over there in next few months. You can get the new plugin from $49 for a single site license today.