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 ūüôā 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 – 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 ūüôā 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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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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā 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 Рit covers WordPress in general as well as WooCommerce Рgo 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¬†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 so that the rest of us can enjoy the kind of speed that has. Speed is important for any website. But especially so for eCommerce websites.



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 ūüôā 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:


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.






Why so serious? 10 examples of crafting a humorous identity

It has become more and more of a challenge for companies to form a distinctive voice online amongst competitors and peers.

Frequently they are turning to humor, employing wit and surprise to engage with customers and shedding a stuffier image in favor of one which is more human.

It helps increase a customer’s relationship with the brand and can make your site more memorable compared to the rest.

From smart copy to small details here are 10 examples of companies and individuals employing humor online.

1. PayPal


With good copy, personalized language and a concentration on “you” PayPal does a good job of connecting with the user while the photo employed presents a humorous tone.

2. RJ Metrics

RJ Metrics

Some firms do a good job of displaying their staff personalities. On RJ Metric’s about page, rolling over an image reveals a funny face.


Mint 404 has a clever 404 page. The concept is simple but they make sure to direct you to potential solutions underneath.

4. Louis CK

Louis CK

If you forget your password you’re presented with a message in a typically Louis CK sarcastic tone. Obviously we wouldn’t recommend you call your users idiots, Louis gets away with it though.

5. Mailchimp

Mailchimp username

If you enter a username that already exists Mailchimp suggests that you might have an evil twin.

6. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerrys

Ben & Jerry’s brought some humor when tweeting about the legalization of marijuana in the State of Colorado.

 7. Projecteo


When shipping to a UK address Projecteo presents an “English gentleman” style prose for the heading.


On adjusting the slider setting on the monkey icon gets happier as the value rises.

9. Zapier


Zapier’s sign up form uses humorous placeholders on the first and last name fields.

10. Modcloth


This page is not only cute, but it has a strong call to action and can direct you to all of the best places to find the clothes you’re looking for on Modcloth’s site.


4 Great Customer Service Ideas

eCommerce is one of the most unforgiving areas if you fail to meet basic requirements and customer service is high on the list. How many times has a story gone viral after a customer interaction goes horribly wrong?

But lets focus on the positive. Stories abound on the insane lengths the retailer go to for their customers. Examples include:

  • A 10 hour customer service call to resolve an issue
  • Sending flowers to a woman who ordered 6 different pairs of shoes due to medical issues
  • Overnighting¬†a free pair of shoes for the best man who had¬†arrived at a¬†wedding shoeless.

Now zappos is an enormous business, with a turnover in excess of $2.2 billion. What about small businesses, what can you do to improve customer support?

1. Fast email response times

Email Response

Many large companies are painfully slow at responding to customer emails. For an eCommerce site slow responses equal frustrated users and a cancellation of orders.

Since small merchants cannot afford a call center they rely on email as the primary form of communication. This is fine as long as the response is rapid.

Draft an internal response rate time for your company. For some medium sized businesses it might be ten minutes for others an hour. Review monthly your response rates and if you’re hitting the target set.

Consider having an email tab open all day, when a query comes in treat it like an alarm and deal with the problem right away.

2. Consider live chat

Live Chat

Live chat is an increasingly popular method for customer engagement, the overall experience is quick and simple. Customers can enter order numbers into the chat box and continue to browse the store while speaking to the representative.

It provides immediate access to help and means you can resolve problems far quicker than conventional email.

We’ve even added the ¬†Screens Live Chat Plugin¬†(see pic above) to our Captiva WooCommerce theme so you can see we hold this form of customer interaction in very high regard.

3. Really good FAQs

Zappos breaks the questions down into convenient headings.

Zappos breaks the questions down into convenient headings.

You can prevent a host of issues by spending time on a really strong questions and answers page. Firstly, it reduces the load on your support team. A good FAQ page can solve a host of simple question asked by customers daily such as:

  • What is your returns policy?
  • What are the delivery costs?
  • Do you deliver internationally?
  • Do you offer overnight delivery?
  • What is the after sales service?
  • Is there a warranty included?

Also, an oft overlooked aspect is that a strong FAQ page can provide rich SEO content that is unique to your store.

Make sure that it’s easy to access these FAQs from every¬†product page – the answers may be crucial before the all important ‘Buy Now’ button is clicked.

4. Treat good customers well

American Airlines sometimes include a discount code after booking

Another simple technique that works well for small online retailers is the idea of treating loyal or new customers well. Zappos for example often upgrades frequent customers to next day shipping.

Including a discount code in the confirmation email that can be used on subsequent visits rewards first time users and encourages them to visit again.

(Main image ref: The Connected Company)

5 Fundamentals to a Great eCommerce Site.

So you’re thinking about launching an online business. You’ve seen others do it and you’re wondering about what you need to do to make your store a success.

Well we’ve compiled these five key fundamentals on what makes a good online store a great one. Let’s get started!

1. Keep things simple.

Complexity hurts conversions. Use straightforward language when describing your key categories. Hollister for example¬†used to use “dudes” and “bettys” as their main navigation labels. This has been since changed to guys and girls.

The navigation labels on Hollister now are limited to just¬†guys, girls, jeans and clearance. It’s key that they are one or at most two word labels with no ambiguity about where they lead to.¬†These open up on hover to reveal subcategories but by containing them within important top level labels it lends to a much cleaner, easier to navigate site.


Hollister – it’s for beautiful¬†people

2. Use great product descriptions.

We’ve already written about how important good product descriptions¬†are to a store’s success but it’s a point worth reiterating.

The UK retailer, John Lewis does this particularly well, breaking up the technical descriptions of items such as the TV below into bite sized, descriptive morsels; Vivid display, Football mode etc. It allows for easy scanning of the page to pick out the key features.

Further down there are more technical details including delivery and returns information so you never have to leave that page.

John Lewis

John Lewis

3. Make it fast. Really fast.

We’ve talked before about optimizing images in WooCommerce to improve sales. Speed is incredibly important when selling, even a delay of a few seconds can cause customers to lose patience and abandon the process.

In addition, Google has in recent years put more and more value on fast loading websites so there are massive implications for your SEO rankings.

Some wonderful research from KissMetrics has highlighted the value of a speedy site to improve conversions.

Every Second Counts

Every Second Counts

In future blog posts we’ll be describing in detail how you can choose a super-fast host, and use a variety of caching plugins to shave seconds of your site’s loading time.

4. Work on your Search.

An oft forgotten area of the online shopping experience is that of search. A fast, precise and forgiving search tool can lead to increased conversions and happier customers.

It would be very useful to take a close look at your traffic logs and study the search terms people are entering. Are they misspelling a common item? Is the search smart enough to redirect them to the right place?

With this in mind, you can create and refine an auto-suggest system. Perhaps you need more obvious tags and the categorization of your items could be reviewed.

It’s always a good idea to look at the big players in this area. Ebay’s search is as expected, excellent.

eBay's Search Tool

eBay’s Search Tool

It helps a user spell any awkward words and you can click on suggested link before you have finished typing (I’m curious already what refrigiwear could¬†entail).

By keeping a close look at your search logs you can garner an insight into what your customers are looking for and perhaps cannot find. A search for a cronut on a bakery website would surely have elicited no results up to very recently but might have hinted at potential demand.

5. Test and test again

A little secret that the big players use is a system called A/B Testing – this allows a store to present say two different options to each half of their visitors.

Would an orange button convert better than a green one? Would a left sidebar be more obvious to the user than a right one? We can hypothenise on which might be better from a design standpoint but by installing some basic A/B we can quickly find out and discover the metrics.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing. Image Credit from Optimizely.

A/B Testing is a very valuable tool for store owners to improve conversions. The advantages are enormous and we’ll delve deeper into this area in future posts.

Problems with eCommerce design: the lack of product information

It’s probably the biggest issue out there. You can go into¬†a bricks-and-mortar store, pick up an item, feel it, open it, gauge the weight, the texture, the shape. You can read the labels, the manufacturer information, talk to a store owner about it.

Let’s compare that experience to what happens online. How many times has there been just a line or two of text? No detailed description? No guidelines for storage or for washing if the item is a piece of clothing?

So do something about it!

Go through your site, product by product and improve the descriptions. It won’t be easy or fast especially if you sell many items but over time you’ll see the rewards. Here are some of the details you can add:

  • Measurements: Width, height, length – overall dimensions.
  • Make sure all color and size variations are clearly displayed.
  • A size chart: Does the fit match global sizes or¬†does it differ?
  • Care instructions: How to store it properly or what temperature to wash it in.
  • More information about the brand or the designer.
  • Links to¬†press cuttings or reviews of the item. Don’t just take our word for it!
  • Is there a virtuous side to the brand? Does a percentage of the profits go to charity or good causes?

Study the language you use

Be sure and write according to your audience. Avoid overly technical phrases in the product description and use more descriptive terminology. You can always¬†have more specific information¬†in a ‘Technical Details’ tab for example.

Let’s look at how you can put¬†more descriptive language into action.

Say you have an eCommerce store selling laptops. On one you mention the processor and graphics card in bullet points:

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650M

But how does this differ to other graphics chips? Is it right for me?

  • NVIDIA GeForce FTX 650M – Ideal for gaming, video editing and Photoshop

But what if¬†all those product details just don’t apply to me?

Granted we don’t all sell designer t-shirts or hipster coffee beans excreted from a Kopi Luwak so how do you improve copy if you sell say hardwood floors or seeds for the garden?

The key is to write around the customer.

For hardwood floors think about the busy professional who doesn’t have time to keep their home¬†clean. Proclaim the advantages of being able to run a mop once a week around it compared to other flooring. Think of the family with kids that have less to worry about from dusty carpets.

For the seed company think of the environmentalists who would like to grow their own organic fruit and vegetables. Think of the flowery window boxes on display in downtown apartments.

Once you take a step back and think about the people using your products you should be buzzing with ideas on how to improve your store’s copy.