WordPress is the world’s most popular website builder and is estimated to power 43% of all the websites in the world!
And due to this popularity, it is understandable that many businesses want to use WordPress to build an ecommerce website but how do you go about doing this?
Well, that is what we are going to show you in the guide but we are not going to do the generic install WordPress, install and set up WooCommerce blah blah blah…
Instead, we going to give you a complete guide to all of the options that are available so that you can make the right decision for your WordPress store.
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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
And it is the version of WordPress that we are going to be focusing on in this guide.
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.
Step 1: WordPress Ecommerce Web Hosting
In order to get your WordPress ecommerce store started, you need to first get some hosting as this is the foundation of your website and there are a few options you can consider.
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 2: Setting Up WordPress for Ecommerce
Before you can begin setting up your store, you first need to get WordPress itself installed and configured.
Some hosts will do steps 2 & 3 mentioned below for you, making the process much simpler but with others, you will need to do it yourself and to do it properly, you need to do the following:
- 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
By following this process, 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.
Due to how popular WordPress is, there are plugins for everything and anything but there are two types of plugins that every WordPress site should have in our opinion:
1. Security Plugin
It is your host’s job to make sure that your servers are secure but it is your job as the site owner to make sure that your site is secure and WordPress isn’t the most secure as standard.
This is why you need a security plugin on your site so that you can make it more difficult for the internet’s more undesirable users to gain access to your site.
When it comes to plugins, there are a few to choose from with popular ones being:
- All In One WP Security & Firewall (our recommended choice)
- Wordfence Security
- iThemes Security
- Bulletproof Security
Any of these plugins will allow you to secure your WordPress site with a range of different tools, we just preferred All In One WP Security & Firewall when we tried them out.
Now you can never guarantee that they won’t get through your security but the more difficult you make it, the more likely they are to go elsewhere.
2. Optimization Plugin
Just like with security, WordPress isn’t the best when it comes to performance in its standard form and this is why Optimization plugins fall into the essential category for us.
But before you go installing any old optimization plugin on your site, it is best to check with your hosting company to see if there are any plugins that they recommend using as they may have found one that works better with their hosting environment than others but some of the popular ones include:
- 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
When it comes to optimizing your site, it isn’t as easy as clicking a few buttons and everything is fast and works perfectly.
Install a Theme
An important part of setting up your WordPress site is to install a theme and as with the plugins, there are thousands to choose from and finding the right one can be challenging.
Now unfortunately, not all themes are created equal and some 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
If you are using WooCommerce for your ecommerce, then you would also need a theme that is WooCommerce compatible but more and more developers are including this as standard.
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 3: Choose a WordPress Ecommerce Plugin
One thing that most guides don’t cover is the number of ecommerce plugins that are available when it comes to using WordPress for building an online store and they generally fall into one of two categories:
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.
Headless Ecommerce Plugins
These don’t have the best sounding name but the way they work is pretty impressive as the simple premise is…
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.
This gives a lot of advantages over the ‘traditional’ ecommerce plugins that were mentioned above as they can:
- Load quicker due to less bloat on your WordPress site
- Be more secure as the transactions are all carried out on their servers
- Offer more flexibility in terms of theme selection and design
In a lot of cases, you can also use headless ecommerce plugins to sell via multiple channels using the same setup, which can be great for generating more sales and there are a few options when it comes to headless ecommerce plugins, including:
They all operate in slightly different ways in terms of what you can do from your WordPress backend but all allow you to add an online store to your WordPress site, with Ecwid and SureCart also offering a free plan.
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, mainly Bigcommerce, you need to manage your products, orders etc via their dashboard
You could also consider using a Buy Button, such as the one from Shopify but these are usually very limited in terms of features and are only really suitable for stores with a small number of products.
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.
Setting Up Your Plugin
How you set up your plugin is going to depend on which one you are using as they will have their own unique processes but fortunately, there is plenty of information out there such as our guide to setting Ecwid on WordPress and our step-by-step WooCommerce tutorial, which cover setting these up in detail.
Step 4: Maintaining Your WordPress Site
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.
As we stated at the start, this wasn’t going to be a generic, cookie-cutter guide to setting up a WordPress ecommerce website using WooCommerce as we already have a WooCommerce tutorial.
Instead, we wanted to provide you with all the information so that you can make an informed decision as to which are going to be the best options for your online store as they all have different requirements.
At EcommerceGold, we do a lot with WordPress (the site is built on it!) and have built numerous sites, including ecommerce stores since we got started with it in 2015 and we wanted to provide the info we wish we had been given as it would have made life a lot easier!