How to Build an Incredible eCommerce Site with WordPress
Here’s something you may already know: More people are shopping online than ever before and eCommerce sales are surging.
What may be less clear, however, is how you can tap into the ongoing eCommerce boom with WordPress and build fast, beautifully designed eCommerce experiences for yourself, your clients, and their customers.
Building an eCommerce site with WordPress (or adding eCommerce functionality to an existing site) comes with additional considerations you may not encounter when creating a static, brochure site.
To help you navigate the process, we’ve compiled a few key areas you can focus on that will set you—and your clients—up for continued success.
Even if your experience with eCommerce is limited, you can apply the following tips to everything from the payment information you accept on your own site to the eCommerce stores you’re building for clients. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Using WooCommerce
- Selecting additional plugins
- Investing in a quality theme
- Focusing on search
- Ongoing testing and tweaking
- Leaning in on performance
Let’s dive in!
Start Using WooCommerce
WooCommerce is the leading WordPress plugin for eCommerce, and it’s now used by more than 25% of the top 1 million eCommerce sites in the world. Much of its popularity stems from the fact that WooCommerce is free and open-source, and it’s renowned for its excellent eCommerce functionality.
Using WooCommerce on your WordPress site(s) is a great way to boost eCommerce capabilities with features like pre-installed payment gateways and easy-to-use-design options for building great-looking storefronts.
Getting started with WooCommerce is easy too, and you can download the plugin and install it yourself, or use a pre-installed solution from a trusted host.
Use Additional Plugins Strategically
While WooCommerce makes a lot of sense for a lot of online stores, other plugins may or may not be the right solution for your eCommerce project.
Using too many plugins can bog down a website, which is never what you want, but it’s especially painful when it leads to abandoned shopping carts and lower conversion rates— some of the most common issues for eCommerce sites with subpar performance.
While there’s no magic number of plugins you should be using, it’s important to select quality plugins that play a specific role in your eCommerce or larger website strategy.
Adding a key feature or integrating with a third-party CRM tool may be something your specific site needs, but it’s important to clarify the value of every plugin you install to ensure you’re not eating up bandwidth unnecessarily.
Performing regular audits on your plugins is another way to make sure you’re not holding onto anything that was installed on your site and is no longer being used or being used inefficiently. It’s also a great way to ensure plugins are well-maintained and regularly updated.
Invest in a Quality Theme
A theme is the foundation of any website, and when it comes to selecting a theme for eCommerce, there are many options to choose from. That said, not all themes are created equal.
If you’re powering your online store with WooCommerce, using a theme that isn’t optimized for it can add unnecessary weight to your site and create slowdowns. Other themes, which try to pack in too much functionality or aren’t well-supported, can create major problems for you down the road.
Investing in a quality theme might mean paying for one of the many premium eCommerce themes available today. Or, it can mean investing time into searching the thousands of themes that are available for free and highly capable of supporting powerful eCommerce experiences.
WP Engine customers have access to a suite of Genesis-built StudioPress themes, which include eCommerce-specific themes that improve performance across desktop and mobile while providing a solid foundation for any online store.
Focus on Search
The search functionality you provide to site users may be more important than you realize.
More than 40% of online shoppers use search as they look for products and they’re twice as likely to buy when they find what they’re looking for.
Adding to WordPress’ relatively limited default search capabilities can present a significant boost for many eCommerce stores, and site owners and developers have a number of options at their disposal when looking for ways to enhance the search functionality of their online stores.
ElasticPress is a great example of this type of added functionality as it augments store search with features like auto-suggestions and custom, weighted search results. By helping more shoppers find what they’re looking for faster, this type of search optimization can lift conversion rates and cart values, resulting in growing eCommerce revenue.
While ElasticPress is available as a standalone integration, it also powers the enhanced search functionality for WP Engine’s eCommerce hosting plans, which provide an out-of-the-box eCommerce approach that combines WooCommerce, Instant Store Search, and best-in-class plugins and themes with industry-leading performance.
Ongoing Testing and Tweaking
Because eCommerce sites (should) encourage numerous opportunities for customer interaction—from product searches to checkout and payment—it’s important that you keep a close eye on site and individual page performance even after you’ve launched your site.
Ensuring that pages load fast and that users can easily interact with various features across the site doesn’t only provide customers with a smoother shopping experience, it now affects your site’s ranking in Google search results.
With the rollout of Google’s page experience update centered around Core Web Vitals, you can optimize your eCommerce site for higher conversions and better page rankings using three key metrics that represent distinct aspects of the user experience:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when a page first starts loading.
- First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.
There are numerous tools for measuring and improving Core Web Vitals including Google Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights, or the Chrome User Experience Report, which collects anonymized, real user data for each of the above metrics (and more).
While there are a wide array of alternative metrics and measurements you can use to improve site performance, what’s most important is that you continue to monitor and test your site while making improvements along the way.
For freelancers or agency designers, ongoing performance optimization can be a great way to provide clients with added value after an initial project has been completed. It’s also an excellent opportunity for you to create monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
Lean in on Site Performance
WordPress offers a ton of options and flexibility when it comes to designing a great-looking, highly functional eCommerce site. But if that site is hosted with a discount or generic provider, your hard work may be hampered by performance issues that are turning potential customers away.
More than half of consumers will leave an eCommerce site for a similar competitor if they’re frustrated with their user experience. On the flip side, faster site speed has consistently been tied to increased conversion rates and a better online customer experience.
While all of the tips included in this article will help you build faster, more effective eCommerce experiences, they’ll also be mostly nullified if your site is hosted on subpar infrastructure.
The main takeaway? Don’t skimp on performance when building an eCommerce site. The additional resources it takes to ensure optimal uptime and faster load speeds are worth their weight in gold when it comes to an online store, and cutting corners here can seriously limit the impact of your eCommerce efforts in