This guide will show you how to set up an ecommerce WordPress website using the WooCommerce plugin.
WordPress was originally created to allow users to create blogs online. It has grown to be a “content management system”, or, in other words, a backend software that can “power any kind of website, including eCommerce websites.
WordPress is not the right platform for everyone. Let’s take a look at some reasons why it might be a good choice.
- You want complete control of your website
- You’ll want to be able to quickly build other parts of your website that aren’t ecommerce (blogs, pages, etc.).
- You don’t need the monthly and transaction fees for an integrated ecommerce platform such as Shopify, BigCommerce.
- Start small, then grow your site as you go (ie: avoid fees).
- Some technical work doesn’t intimidate you – for example, the mere mention of FTP makes you more curious than afraid (note: WordPress was not designed to be simple for newbies but it isn’t a click-and-done software).
- It’s not necessary to have a complex payment processing system in the beginning. You’ll use PayPal, Amazon, or Google Wallet instead of your own server. WooCommerce works fine with SSL. However, it will require the right expertise to properly implement it.
- As you grow, you need a platform that allows you to easily bring developers on a project basis.
WordPress is not a good choice for you if:
- All technical details and hosting needs (especially speed) should be taken care of.
- You plan to have a fully integrated (i.e. non-PayPal), inventory/payments system from the beginning without any developer assistance (i.e. you’ll sell across platforms like eBay/Etsy, and will need inventory numbers automatically updated – WooCommerce is capable of this but it can be difficult).
- You need dedicated customer support that has been paid for
- Instead of a possible developer bill, you want one predictable monthly cost for software.
WordPress might not be a good fit for you. Shopify (see their plans), or BigCommerce (see there plans) are both great options.
Note: I created a quiz that will help you choose the right eCommerce platform, and a WooCommerce review.
Let’s get started with the guide.
How to Get Started – Install WordPress
The first step to using WordPress for eCommerce websites is to install WordPress on your hosting account. This is my step-by-step guide to installing WordPress on a hosting account.
Because ecommerce websites are more complicated than simple blogs, they require more PHP memory than standard WordPress installations. Hosting accounts with thousands of products and thousands of visitors will require more resources.
A shared Linux hosting account is best for small businesses (hundreds or products, few thousand visitors) but it must have at least 64M memory…preferably 256M.
InMotion Hosting (see the plans) and HostGator, (see their plan) are also good options. SiteGround (see their plans) is another option.
You will need a managed WordPress account from either WP Engine or Liquid Web if you are starting a large business (thousands or more products and thousands of visitors), or a VPS hosting account with InMotion.
WordPress eCommerce Options Intro
A “regular” website can be made “ecommerce” by adding three components: product pages, shopping cart and checkout.
A plugin can be used to add eCommerce functionality to WordPress. WordPress plugins are separate software pieces that you can install and activate. They basically increase the functionality of WordPress.
This plugin will allow visitors to create their own product pages. It will also have a shopping cart function that allows them to add products to their carts while they are browsing the site. The plugin will be integrated with a payment system that can accept payments and match these payments with products purchased by visitors. Wow.
There are many plugin options that can turn your WordPress site into an ecommerce site. But WooCommerce is the clear leader by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.
It is a long-term choice for an ecommerce plugin because of its functionality, ease of use, reputation, community, versatility, and reliability.
It’s the most search engine optimization-friendly ecommerce platform I’ve seen. As an SEO Specialist, I have worked on many brands’ platforms. I would love to work with WooCommerce from an SEO perspective. It eliminates most duplicate content, which is a major SEO problem for online shops. Additionally, it has Schema markup.
WooThemes, the company behind it, has been an integral part of the WordPress community for years. Woocommerce was actually acquired by the company that also owns WordPress.com. This is the same company that supports WordPress.org. It’s not likely to disappear anytime soon, since they have open-sourced it.
It offers support and versatility to meet your needs.
Here is WooThemes sales pitch and overview.
A quick note: You should always look for the catch when something is free. WooThemes is making money by providing WooCommerce extensions for advanced inventory management and direct credit card processing. The free version syncs with PayPal but not directly with your credit card processor. WooThemes sells custom themes. These are welcome but not necessary.
There are many solid alternatives to MarketPress, but I recommend WooCommerce if you want an online store that is responsive, easy-to-use, and compatible with a variety of themes and plugins. This tutorial will be focusing on it.
WooCommerce offers a lot of options and tons of documentation. This is how I install it for clients, with a particular focus on the things that can cause problems for first-timers. Although it may seem daunting, once you understand the structure, it is very simple.
Install your Ecommerce Plugin
Navigate to your WordPress Dashboard, and click Add New Plugin. Simply search for WooCommerce and install WooCommerce by WooThemes.
After activating the plugin, you will be asked to install WooCommerce using a wizard. This wizard will take care of all initial settings. It is worth it.
WooCommerce requires several pages in order to work – such as a Cart page. You can customize one page, the Shop Page. These pages can be installed by the wizard for now.
Next, you will need to enter your currency, location and units. Make sure you note your tax rates. They can be edited and changed later.
Now for Shipping & Tax. This can be changed/customized later in the Settings. You can for now enter general settings to start the store.
Next, you will need to enter Payments. The most difficult part of owning a store is managing payments. You can start your store by registering with PayPal. As you need, you can also explore the settings.
Next, you will need to choose your theme (i.e. your design / layout). There are many design classes in WooCommerce that you need to cover. While you are setting up your products, I recommend that you use the default Storefront theme to be your placeholder. It will be covered in the next sections.
Once WooCommerce has been installed, you can learn more about it by visiting a New Product Page or returning to WordPress Dashboard. You should visit the Create Your First Products page to go through the walkthrough, and review the information required.
Click on “create your very first product” to be taken to a new page. You can explore the Product page to find what you need, but don’t add any new products. A test product is all that is required to check out your theme and design. Next, make sure that your store URL structure and your WordPress Theme are correct. You’ll end up creating a mess later.
Apart from theme compatibility, there are many third-party plugins that can sync with WooCommerce. You should make a note of these options. Consider Analytics, for example.
It would be an understatement to call the ecommerce analytics in Google Analytics extremely useful. However, you won’t be able to take advantage of this unless your analytics tracking is set up correctly.
For your Google Analytics integration, you should use the Google Analytics by MonsterInsights (formerly Yoast). However, we want to take it a step further by marking up your online store with lots of specialized ecommerce tracking (such as passing SKUs and item attributes seamlessly into Analytics).
Go back to Add New plugins, and search WooCommerce Google Analytics Integration. This plugin is also produced by WooThemes and is available for free. Just install and activate. Boom! You’ve added tracking to your $$$$. website. This is also possible for Yoast, and many other plugins.
Once WooCommerce is installed, let’s go to the site structure and then move on to General Settings.
Create Your Online Store Structure
WordPress + WooCommerce has a huge advantage: it allows for efficient setup of URLs, ie, “permanent linking.” Online stores have many ways to display products. It can create ugly and unfriendly URLs that are not search engine friendly for your products or product categories.
It’s not easy to modify a permalink structure once you have it set up. Although the defaults are usually best, I prefer to confirm them before moving on to General settings or any design-related items. Go to the WooCommerce link in your Dashboard -> WooCommerce Settings -> Products.
WooCommerce requires a product archive page to display all of your products and/or categories. It’s similar to your blog page, but with all your latest posts…but with your products.
WooCommerce uses a standard WordPress Page for this archive. It’s by default the Shop page. This name can be edited in Pages -> All pages. You can also create a new webpage. It can be called anything (e.g., “Store”). It can be set as default.
It doesn’t have visitors to see it. Or, you can go to main Settings -> Reading to make it your homepage. It must exist. This is where you can customize it.
Once you have confirmed that page, click on the link to view your Product Permalinks.
This page will allow you to configure your WordPress permalinks as well as your product URLs. You should have enabled Pretty Permalinks when you first set up WordPress (read how here).
These permalinks can be used to link to any blog post category you might write. They can be customized if desired. If you have a Gloves category but a Gloves category blog, they will both be displayed by default.
Does that make sense? Awesome. The defaults are great, but you can customize them. For aesthetic reasons, I choose the Product option in the Product permalink base.
Your online store is now complete. To create a sample category or product, you can navigate to the Products link on the main WordPress Dashboard.
Find a compatible WordPress theme
Before we move on to General settings, please ensure that your WordPress theme is compatible with WooCommerce.
Plugins are a WordPress refresher. They control the functionality on your website. Themes determine the design and output of your functionality, i.e. what your visitor will see.
WooCommerce plugin adds functionality to themes that are not built for it (especially those with many built-in options). It is important to choose a theme that does not produce ugly and garbled product pages.
You’ll still need a flexible theme that can be modified and designed to give you the website you desire.
There are a few choices that I recommend.
First, you can purchase a WooThemes template. These themes are high-quality (i.e., not free), well made, and sync perfectly with WooCommerce. This is the simplest (especially with integrated support), but it’s also the most expensive. You can see the selection .
A WordPress default theme such as Twenty-Twelve is another option. These themes are well-made and free. You can extend them by installing a Child theme. You probably have one already, but you can get one from Themes ->Add New. This is the most affordable option, but it will require some technical work to achieve the site you desire.
You can also find a WooCommerce-compatible premium theme on a marketplace that uses high-quality standards such as ThemeForest. These themes are very well made and easy to use. However, be sure that you know exactly what you want in a theme. Many people oversell their features. You should still visit ThemeForest to see the full selection. Here are 25 of my favorites.
Fourth, StudioPress offers a Theme Framework called Genesis. This is my favorite way to build websites. Genesis provides critical theme functionality, such as adding content to category pages. It syncs with all plugins and allows you to make design changes without affecting your entire site (especially if you have built-in Child Themes).
Genesis’ sales pitch can be found here. However, it is the best way to create a WordPress website according to my experience. There are many other options, but WooThemes is the best if you need something that can be used immediately.
It is possible to sync Genesis with WooCommerce if you choose Genesis . Here are the steps to sync it.
Go to Genesis, then install your first Child Theme (such as Genesis Sample). Check out the screenshot below.
This is how you will learn PHP programming. Go to Appearance->Editor->In your Child Theme select Theme Functions-> Copy the following code exactly (ie without spaces or additions). Save.
[php]add_theme_support( ‘genesis-connect-woocommerce’ );[/php]
Go to Add New Plugins. Search for GenesisConnect. StudioPress will install and activate it.
You’re done. You can rock out with Genesis.
You can choose Genesis or WooThemes. However, you must install it and activate it in order to ensure WooCommerce works well with it. This will make it easy for customers and your store.
Let’s now dive into…General Settings.
General Store Settings
Navigate to Settings from the Dashboard menu and click on the WooCommerce link.
All default settings are important to be aware of. Most of these settings can be set up in the wizard. However, most default settings are done by WooCommerce. These settings may or not be appropriate for your store. You’ll have to go through each section and subsection in order to verify their accuracy.
WooCommerce has built-in styling to add buttons, borders and other elements. You can either customize them in your style.css file or match them to your site color scheme, and you will have complete control.
WooCommerce also allows you to enable Lightbox. This code allows users to click on product images and view them in a larger, zoomable window. Super-awesome.
Double-check your Product Image settings. Check the size of your product images. Are they square? How do they scale down? WooCommerce lets you set Catalog Images (which are displayed on category pages), Single Product Image (the featured product image on the Product page) and Product Thumbnails which appear below the featured product image on Product pages).
Although the image setup can be a little complicated, WooCommerce provides excellent documentation that I would have read before uploading many thousands of photos. If your dimensions are not correct, you can still go to the same screen to resize your image.
The rest of the Settings are easy to understand, or provide excellent documentation. It is important to pay attention and make use of every option that WooCommerce offers. You won’t often have as many options if you choose a platform solution. Other self-hosted ecommerce platforms, such as Magento, are not nearly as user-friendly.
You can customize the experience for every customer by going through the settings.
WooCommerce offers a few additional tabs that you should know when setting up an online store.
The System Status section is the first. Here you will find all the technical information that is stored in memory with version number.
You can also reset your entire store by going to the Tools tab. Although you may never use it, it is useful to know where it is.
The second is WooCommerce extensions. This is where magic happens.
WooCommerce has a huge advantage, as I mentioned in the Into to Options. There is a large community of developers and apps that can seamlessly integrate with the software.
A developer is usually needed to create a solution to a problem in an eCommerce store. This would take hours of development and cost $$$.
WooCommerce gives you access to many extensions. You simply need to “plugin the plugin” to make WooCommerce even more powerful. While most extensions cost money, they work much faster than custom solutions and are generally cheaper.
Check out the WooCommerce Extensions Marketplace. These extensions are very easy to add and you can manage them from this tab.
Now your WordPress ecommerce store has been set up. Next, let’s look at what your online store is actually used for – your products.
Create Product Pages
The theme is what will design and look like your product pages. Here’s how you can understand everything that goes into product pages. This is an example of a product page using the default setup and the default Twenty Twelve theme.
It is easy to customize and has all the essentials. Schema is used to mark up all attributes, which aids in search engine optimization.
Reviews will be displayed below the product description if they are available.
Here is a complete capture of WordPress’ backend that generates this page. Pay attention to where the content is pulled from (e.g. Main Content vs. Brief Description).
Here are some features you should be aware of:
- You can also add product categories to the product page.
- Product tags – additional product categorization, but it doesn’t have to be a product (like colors)
- Pictures that appear as thumbnails in the product page’s Product Gallery. When the customer clicks on them they turn into the “big” featured picture
- Product Image – Set the main image
The Product Data widget is the heart of the product page. Here you can set your product type and price as well as shipping. It’s a powerhouse, I swear. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do all kinds of cool stuff and sell almost any product you can think of.
WooThemes offers a lot of documentation about products here. The most confusing part is what I will highlight. A simple product is one that has no options or changes and is not part of a group. It is a simple, single product. It’s like a book.
You can group products to make it part of a larger collection. You could, for example, post a dining set with the tables, chairs, and other accessories in one grouped product…even though these would still be simple products.
Variable products allow you to add attributes to a product such as small, medium, large, or blue-green, red. This allows you to sell one product and allow your customers to choose the variation that interests them.
External Products allows you to list products and sell them off your website with your retail partners.
You can also customize the Shipping and Inventory options.
You can organize your products from the product page. However, you can also organize them from the Products menu.
You can also create subcategory pages from the category-level pages. Shipping classes, which I haven’t touched on, are pretty self-explanatory and allow you to tailor your shipping rates and policies based on distance, bulk, weight, etc.
A quick aside: If your theme allows you to add content to your category pages, this can be a great opportunity for your search engine optimization strategies.
If you find this guide overwhelming and think a hosted eCommerce platform might be a better fit for your business, I recommend Shopify (see review here) or BigCommerce(see review here). Both are excellent options for hosting a platform.
If you like the look and feel that WooCommerce offers and think it would be a good fit to your online store, you can follow this guide to setting up WordPress. Then, you can get started installing WooCommerce. You can also check out my SEO for WordPress, How to Bulk Upload Anything to WordPress (great to have thousands of products), as well as my WooCommerce themes.