So you have chosen WordPress as the platform on which you are going to create your ecommerce website but if you are reading this, then you might be a bit unsure how to get started?
Well don’t worry as we have all been there and in this tutorial, we are going to go over all of the steps to creating an ecommerce website using WordPress and also include some information that others don’t, so let’s get started…
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wordpress.org vs wordpress.com
The first thing we need to clear up is the difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com as seeing two different options for WordPress can be confusing when you are just getting started.
wordpress.org is the self-hosted version of WordPress, where you buy some hosting and then install the open-source version of the WordPress software. This has more of a learning curve but does give quite a few benefits, including:
- You can choose your web host
- More control over customization and optimization
- Access to more plugins and themes
wordpress.com is the hosted version of WordPress, where you pay a monthly subscription fee (there is a free plan with limited features) directly to WordPress and they host your site for you and while this is the easier way to get started, it can become quite limited as to what you can achieve with your website.
We recommend going with the self-hosted wordpress.org option as it provides more options and control when it comes to building a website and it is what we are going to be focused on in this tutorial.
Step 1: Get A Domain Name
The very first step to setting up your WordPress ecommerce store is to get a domain name as this is the address where your store is going to be found and is part of your store’s branding.
When it comes to buying a domain name, we recommend using a domain name provider that is independent to the company that you host your website with as this gives you more control over your site.
There are plenty of companies out there when it comes to buying a domain name, many with attractive offers such as a free domain name or one that costs 99c for the first year but it is best to avoid these as they usually have high renewal or exit fees.
Our favorite company to buy a domain name is Namecheap as they are reasonably priced, are transparent when it comes to renewal and transfer fees and the customer service is very good.
Step 2: Choose a Web Host
Step 2 is to choose a web hosting provider as this is the foundation on which your store is built.
When building an ecommerce website, there are two key factors you want to consider when choosing a web host:
- Speed – a key factor when it comes to ecommerce success as faster sites can generate more sales and have higher conversion rates
- Security – ecommerce sites need to be more secure than blogs or business sites as they often store personal data such as names, addresses, email addresses etc
When it comes to the different types of hosting you can choose from, there are a few options and we have covered the main options below:
1. Shared Hosting
This is the most popular option for brand-new WordPress ecommerce websites as it is the cheapest option and depending on who you choose can start from less than $5 a month.
And while it is ok for when you are just getting started, there can be some issues with shared hosting, such as:
- General servers that are not specifically set up for WordPress
- There can be too many sites running on the same servers, which can cause performance issues
- Uptime and reliability can be an issue
- Potential security risks
And this is why it is advisable to move to better-quality hosting when your site starts to take off.
2. Managed WordPress Hosting
An upgrade on shared hosting is managed WordPress hosting and while it is more expensive, it does offer a few advantages, including:
- Servers set up and optimized for WordPress, meaning sites should be quicker
- There are only WordPress sites on the server
- Usually includes support from staff who understand WordPress and can offer advice and assistance in running your site
- Uptime and reliability are generally better
Depending on the host, these servers may also be more secure as they can put security measures in place specifically for WordPress sites.
When it comes to pricing, it does vary from host to host but somewhere between $20 and $30 a month should get you started with good quality, managed WordPress hosting.
But do your research and make sure that the hosting you are using is managed hosting as there are quite a few cheaper services that claim to offer this but it is really just shared hosting.
3. Managed & PCI Compliant Hosting
The best hosting you can get for a WordPress ecommerce website is managed hosting that is also PCI-compliant as this is designed specifically for ecommerce websites.
Why this is the best option is that not only do you get all the benefits of managed hosting but it will also pass a PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) scan, meaning that the hosting environment is secure as they have to put in place special measures in order to pass these scans.
Once again, there are some cheaper shared hosting plans that loosely claim to be PCI-compliant but proper PCI-compliant hosting is usually one of the more expensive options.
Other Things to Consider
It is very easy to just focus on the type of hosting to use and how much it costs but there are a few other things that you want to consider when choosing a web host, including:
- Performance – not all hosting is the same and some have better performance than others and this is where checking out independent performance testing can be very helpful
- Support Times and Contact Methods – when is support available and how can you contact them, ideally your host should offer live chat, email tickets and phone support
- Server Locations – does the host have a server based in your country? If you are only selling to the country where you live, then you ideally want your site to be hosted there as well
- CDN (Content Delivery Network) – if you plan on selling internationally, does the host include a CDN with their package? Is it a paid extra? or will you have to use a third-party CDN?
- Backup Options – how often is your site backed up and where are the backups stored? This is important should anything happen to your site and you need to restore it
It is also worth checking out user reviews on places such as Trustpilot, Capterra as well as Facebook and Google as reviews from genuine users can be very helpful and see if there are any recurring comments or observations, good or bad.
Choosing a host can be stressful and that is why, if possible it is best to pay for your hosting on a monthly basis to start with so if you are not happy with your host, you can move your site elsewhere just be aware that it usually costs more if you pay monthly.
Step 3: Install WordPress
Step 3 is to get WordPress installed on your site and it depends on the host you are using as to how much of this you need to do yourself.
There are 3 main steps that you need to do in order the get WordPress properly installed on your site:
- Point your domain name to your host – go into the dashboard of the company from whom you purchased your domain name and change the DNS to your host’s servers
- Install an SSL Certificate – before installing WordPress, install an SSL certificate on your domain name
- Install WordPress – once the SSL is active, install the WordPress software on one of the https versions of your domain, it is up to you whether you use the www. or non www. version of your domain name
Some hosts will do this for you as part of their sign-up/onboarding process but with others, you need to do it all yourself.
Whichever way WordPress is installed, you should see the padlock icon in the address bar of your browser when you are in the WordPress admin dashboard or visit the front end of your site, which is what you want for your store and avoids the very offputting ‘site not secure’ message.
Step 4: Setup WordPress
Step 4 is to get WordPress setup so that you have a good base on which to start building your online store.
This step involves working through the WordPress setting to make sure that they are all configured correctly and this includes setting up your users and setting your permalink structure.
But this is the stage where you want to address some of the areas where the core WordPress system is lacking a bit and there are two types of plugin that we think are essential:
- A Security Plugin – due to WordPress being open-source, there are some areas where it isn’t great and it is your job as the website owner to ensure your site is secure (your web host will take care of server-side security), fortunately, there are some great security plugins, including:
- All In One WP Security & Firewall
- Wordfence Security
- iThemes Security
- Bulletproof Security
- An Optimization Plugin – while WordPress loads quite quickly after first being installed, when you start adding plugins, themes, images etc, it can slow down quite a bit and this is why you want to install an optimization plugin, such as:
- Litespeed Cache – a great free plugin for web hosts using Litespeed servers
- WP Rocket – a paid plugin but highly recommended amongst WordPress users
- Perfmatters – a paid plugin that allows for more specific page and code optimization
- Autoptimize – a free plugin that allows users to optimize their site’s code
- WP Fastest Cache – a free (with paid option) plugin that offers caching and basic code optimization
With these two plugins installed and configured, you have a more secure and faster-loading site that is ready for you to start building your store.
Step 5: Choose an Ecommerce Plugin
Step 5 is to choose an Ecommerce Plugin for your store as WordPress doesn’t come with this functionality as standard.
One thing that most guides don’t cover is the different types of ecommerce plugins that are available for WordPress and we have broken them down into two main categories below:
The most popular type of WordPress ecommerce plugins are self-hosted and they work in a more ‘traditional’ way by using the WordPress infrastructure to add product, checkout and account pages to your site.
There are a few options to choose from, with the most popular being:
One of the main reasons why these are popular options is that the core plugin is free to use and in the case of WooCommerce and EDD, there are a community of third-party developers who create plugins to add additional functionality along with themes that integrate with these plugins.
But there are some drawbacks with these plugins:
- Bloat – due to the amount of code these plugins can add to your site, it can slow them down and you will in most cases need to go through and re-optimize your site
- Security – as all of the checkout pages and customer information are stored on your site, you have to ensure that your site is secure from both a website and server perspective
- Updates – this is an issue with most WordPress plugins but as you might need multiple plugins for your store (especially for WooCommerce), updates can be a headache if there are conflicts with other plugins or themes
It is for these reasons that many WordPress site owners are exploring the second type of plugin.
Using a headless ecommerce allows WordPress site owners to combine the security of a fully-hosted ecommerce platform with the control and flexibility that WordPress allows as it works in the following way:
Your WordPress site (blog posts, pages etc) is stored on your web host’s servers and your online store (product pages, checkout etc) is hosted on your ecommerce partner’s servers but they are all served up on the front end of your site at the same time in a seamless combination of the two.
When it comes to headless ecommerce, there are a couple of different options, including:
This form of WordPress ecommerce does have a couple of advantages over the ‘traditional’ plugins that were mentioned above as they can:
- Be more secure as the transactions are all carried out on their servers (nearly all headless options are PCI Level 1 compliant)
- Have a good selection of features that are built-in
- Be used with pretty much any theme
But as with the ‘traditional’ plugins, there are a couple of drawbacks with headless options, including:
- Cost – you may need to pay a monthly subscription cost to use the service
- Two Dashboards – this doesn’t apply to all headless options but with some, such as Shoprocket and Shopify, you need to manage your products, orders etc via their dashboard
What is the Best WordPress Plugin for Ecommerce?
The simple answer is that there isn’t an overall best ecommerce plugin and they all have their own pros and cons and it will generally come down to your requirements, such as:
- Which one you prefer using
To help you decide with one is going to be best for your website but as this is a guide, we will give our opinion and we do favor Ecwid though as it offers a secure checkout, great integration, an easy-to-use interface, comes with a lot of useful features and only requires one plugin.
Step 6: Configure Your Ecommerce Plugin
Step 6 is to get the ecommerce aspect of your store setup, whether this is a plugin or an embed.
Whichever option you choose for adding ecommerce functionality to your WordPress site, you are going to need to get it configured so that you can actually start selling through your store and this will include things like:
- Setting up your payment gateway/s
- Adding shipping methods
- Set any taxes that are applicable
Once you have got the basic settings done, you can then begin to start adding products to your store so that you have something that you can list on your site.
Once all this is done, you can then begin adding the ecommerce related pages to your site and how this is done will depend on the plugin or platform that you are using as they all have their own unique process but fortunately, there is plenty of information out there such as our:
Step 7: Choose a WordPress Theme
Step 7 is to choose a theme for your site and your options will depend on the plugin that you are using.
We left choosing a theme until this point because the options available to you will depend on the plugin you are using for your store as WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads both need themes that integrate with the plugin.
For other plugins like Ecwid or embedable options like Shoprocket or Shopify, they can be used with any theme, which opens up the number of options that are available.
But unfortunately, not all themes are created equal and while there are some excellent themes out there, there are also some that have pretty poor coding which can have a negative impact on your site and that is why we recommend:
- Choosing a theme from an established and reputable developer
- Use a theme that has a good number of installs and reviews
- A theme that is focused on performance, both desktop and mobile
You can also choose themes that are specifically designed for ecommerce but from our experience, we found themes that were designed for general use, such as:
- Neve by Themeisle
- WP Astra
- Ocean WP
Offered a good selection of features and customization options and they all have free versions which are great when you are just getting started.
Step 8: Launch Your Ecommerce Store
Step 8 is testing and getting your store ready to launch and this is a very important step.
Before you launch your store, you want to test it to make sure that everything is working properly as it is best to try and find any issues yourself rather than testing it with paying customers and this will include things like:
- Placing a test order to make sure your checkout and payment gateway/s are working
- Processing the order
- Canceling and refunding the order
- Making sure your contact options are working
To help you from overlooking some things when you are getting ready to launch, it can be helpful to have a checklist to work through (we give you a free one for signing up to our newsletter, which you can do at the bottom of the page).
Once you are happy that everything is working properly, it can be helpful to get a third-party such as a friend or family who is used to buying online to check through your site and make a test order to see if they notice any issues.
If they are as happy as you are, then you are probably ready to launch and you want to make sure:
- Your payment gateway is live and not in test mode
- Remove any coming soon or maintenance pages so that people can access your site
Now comes the fun part of marketing your store to get traffic and sales!
Step 9: Maintaining Your WordPress Site
The final step is maintaining your store and this is going to be on-going due to WordPress being a self-hosted platform.
There is no getting around the fact that WordPress can be frustrating when it comes to maintenance as there are seemingly constant updates for:
- The core WordPress software
And while it can be tempting to just click update with your live site and hope for the best, this isn’t the best way of doing things as updates can cause conflicts that cause things to stop working or break your site completely.
It is for this reason that you want to create a staging version of your site, which is basically a copy of your live site and you can test out updates to make sure that they are working properly before rolling them out on your main site.
Creating a staging site does depend on the web host you are using as some may have an option in the hosting dashboard or you may have to manually create a sub-domain and set up the staging site yourself.
It is best to check with your host first to see what they offer/recommend for creating a staging site.
Creating an ecommerce website using WordPress is a multi-stage process and if this is your first time building an online store, it does have a steeper learning curve than setting up a fully-hosted ecommerce platform.
But by going through the process step-by-step and being willing to put in the time to learn how to use WordPress properly, it can be a good base for a successful store and we hope that this guide has been a good starting point.