5 Best Practices To Support Your WooCommerce Shop

Choosing to power your ecommerce shop with WooCommerce is a smart move. Thirty percent of all e-commerce stores are powered by WooCommerce, including some of the world’s big brands like Singer, Weber, and Ghostbed. There’s a good reason for that: WooCommerce provides a higher level of customization than other platforms, which is exactly what brands need.

Customizing your WooCommerce store is easy. You don’t need to be a programmer to perform most modifications. If you’re not familiar with WordPress, the internet is full of tutorials designed to teach you how to do anything.

However, before you dive into implementing those tutorials, there are some best practices to follow to maintain the integrity of your e-commerce site.

1. Plugins aren’t always the best way to add custom features

You may be tempted to install a new plugin for each custom feature you want to add. However, plugins should be reserved for minor changes only. Additionally, WordPress sites with too many plugins tend to perform slower and become a security risk.

The Code Snippets for PHP plugin allows you to add snippets of PHP to your site that you can deactivate at any time. This is a convenient way to add features to your site that you can turn on or off. The Jetpack plugin allows you to edit your CSS. Making these minor changes with a plugin is acceptable, although, if you’re going to implement major changes, you need a child theme.

2. Always use a child theme from the beginning

A child theme is a directory that holds a couple core theme files (styles.css and functions.php). A child theme’s files will override the same file in the parent theme. For instance, any code you add to your styles.css file in your child theme will override the styles defined in the parent theme’s styles.css file.

The override feature is how you can change your site’s style without having to worry about your changes being wiped out in an update. For example, say you want to modify the background color of your theme. Instead of editing the parent theme’s CSS file, you’d activate a child theme and edit the child theme’s CSS file.

However, you define the background color property in your child theme’s CSS file will override the style defined in the parent theme’s CSS file. You don’t need to copy the entire original CSS file to change it – you only need to define the specific elements you want to override the parent theme’s stylesheet. Your child theme’s CSS file might be completely blank, except for a single line of code.

Not using a child theme means you’ve got to work harder to create and maintain your customizations. There’s nothing wrong with customizing your CSS through your theme’s custom dashboard, provided the option exists. In fact, this is a fairly safe method of customizing CSS. However, you should know how to use a child theme just in case you end up using a theme that doesn’t have a styles dashboard.

3. Test your sales and checkout process frequently

Schedule a time to test your sales and checkout process at least once a month. If once a month sounds too frequent, consider that it doesn’t take much to disrupt the checkout process, and not every customer will send you an email if they encounter a problem. Especially if the glitch is small and they’re still able to successfully checkout.

The biggest reason for abandoned shopping carts is a difficult checkout process. According to Forbes, the Baymard Institute reported that 67.91% of people will abandon their shopping cart. Some of the difficulties are within your control. For instance:

  • 56% of consumers said they abandoned their shopping cart due to unexpected costs at the end.
  • 25% said the website navigation was too complicated.
  • 21% said the process took too long.
  • 18% said there were too many payment security checks
  • 16% said the delivery options didn’t work for them.

All of the above factors are within your control to fix.

It’s important to test your entire sales process as a new customer as well as a registered user (if you offer that option). You’ll be able to catch and fix problems quickly.

4. Ensure the continuity of your email marketing messages

You might only have one main email marketing campaign with a set amount of emails you drip-feed to every new subscriber. That’s fairly common, and it’s a great strategy. Just make sure your welcome email is general enough to apply to all of your customers to avoid confusion.

This is especially important when you collect leads from various sources and offers. You don’t want to send everyone an email that says, “thanks for downloading our free ebook” when you’re also collecting leads through a free trial, or another offer.

If you created your email marketing campaign prior to collecting leads through multiple offers, make sure you aren’t thanking leads for signing up for a specific offer. That email will just confuse anyone who came to you through a different offer. It might even make them unsubscribe.

If you can, segment your leads based on what offer they’ve signed up under, and send each group an individual welcome email.

5. Choose the right hosting provider

Hosting is cheap these days, but cheap isn’t always the best. For example, if your hosting provider doesn’t offer SSL, you may want to reconsider your host. SSL is vital not just for security, but for SEO as well, since Google now considers SSL a search signal.

Need a host for your WooCommerce site? We can help

If you need a secure and reliable hosting provider for your WooCommerce site, we can help. We’ve got dedicated servers and custom solutions for any e-commerce site, big or small. Connect with us today, and we’ll help you choose the package that’s right for you.

Tips For Building Your Custom PrestaShop Theme

Choosing PrestaShop as a platform for your e-commerce website was a great move. It’s easy for you and your customers to use, supports optimized page speed for SEO, and was professionally designed to handle e-commerce.

PrestaShop installations come with a standard theme you can customize to a degree without knowing any programming, but sometimes that’s not enough. If you’re searching for a fully custom theme, you’ll need a professional developer.

Unlike WordPress, there aren’t as many theme developers for PrestaShop, so it’s difficult to find an abundance of pre-made themes on template websites. You’ll find a few on Template Monster, but if those don’t work, here’s how to get a custom theme that fits your needs:

Know your limitations if you’re a DIY theme developer

Creating a custom PrestaShop theme requires more than cut and paste skills. With some platforms, you can get away with copying files, replacing images, and inserting sections of code. PrestaShop requires a bit more knowledge.

For example, other platforms support mixing PHP with HTML, but PrestaShop uses Smarty tags instead. PrestaShop’s 3-tier architecture makes it easier for graphic designers and HTML integrators to work solely within the /themes folder without having to work around PHP code. Even if you’re new to PrestaShop, if you’ve ever locked yourself out of your admin panel due to a PHP syntax error, you already know the value of Smarty templates.

Although the Smarty 3 template engine was designed to help developers build themes efficiently with little technical knowledge, it’s not something a tech newbie can understand quickly. For example, with other platforms, a beginner can copy and paste snippets of HTML, CSS, PHP, and Javascript in the correct place by following simple instructions. With PrestaShop, template files (.tpl) control the design, and pasting HTML in the wrong place can have dire consequences.

If you’ve got a brilliant idea for a theme but don’t have the experience necessary to bring it to life using best practices, hire a professional theme developer. Cut-and-paste HTML/CSS experience isn’t enough to make a PrestaShop template turn out well.

Learn how to use Smarty templates

If you want to build a PrestaShop theme, but haven’t worked with Smarty templates, it’s worth investing time to learn the system. For the official walkthrough, check out this guide, and don’t be shy about joining the forum for help when you get stuck. Once you learn how to use the Smarty template engine, creating a theme will be easier.

Adhere to best practices especially when you’re new to PrestaShop

Best practices exist for a reason. While there are often multiple ways to accomplish the same task, not all methods will produce a seamless result. When you’re not an experienced developer, you’re probably used to using workarounds, some of which have yet to catch you off guard. You may not notice the effects for days, weeks, or months, but when something falls apart, you’ll wish you had done things differently.

For example, if you’re familiar with WordPress, you know it’s possible to use functions.php for just about anything, including adding Google Analytics code. The problem is, functions.php should only be used to modify theme-related functions. Updates will wipe out your custom code and break your site.

Knowing your way around PHP files isn’t the same as understanding how it’s being used within the context of a platform. Like WordPress, PrestaShop also uses PHP and while core files can be modified, doing so goes against best practices.

This developer points out the importance of creating or modifying a theme correctly from the start. He was hired by a client to fix the mistakes of a former development team. The team knew HTML and CSS but didn’t understand PrestaShop. They modified elements in a way that would have forced the shop owner to manually compare and copy over the new code to core files for every update. The developer also mentions several ways to modify modules, HTML, and CSS without interrupting the upgrade process.

It’s better to build your code into modules so you don’t lose your modifications when you update PrestaShop. Also, SQL queries should never be made from a PHP controller (a .php file in the root directory). Create new methods for existing PrestaShop classes if needed. If you don’t understand what that means, your best option is to hire a professional developer.

Understand PrestaShop’s theme development fundamentals

Unless you’re a PrestaShop pro, you’ll want to review the official theme development documentation before making any changes. PrestaShop uses several things you may not be familiar with: Smarty templates, Bootstrap, Sass, and Compass.

If you’re unfamiliar with Bootstrap, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with it to get the best results with your theme. Bootstrap is an integral part of PrestaShop. Creating a new back office requires using Bootstrap, but creating a new front office doesn’t. Bootstrap is well integrated into PrestaShop, so not using it (even for a front office) means missing out on functionality.

Tips for outsourcing theme development to a pro

When you’re not ready to dive into theme development, hiring a pro is the right move. Search for templates you like, and be prepared to discuss those elements with your developer.

When viewing other templates for reference, be sure to look for more than aesthetics. Pay attention to what side the widgets are on, how the drop-down navigation functions, and where the layout has designated spots for ads.

Most of all, don’t expect your theme to be perfect. A developer does their best to capture your vision, but there will always be aspects of the design that aren’t perfect. Through rounds of development you can get close, but be prepared to accept some limitations.

While your new theme is being developed, don’t forget to choose a host. With an e-commerce shop, you need a host to facilitate secure transactions using SSL, and proper load balancing to make sure your site doesn’t crash. Contact Skylands today for boutique hosting tailored to meet your specific business needs.

Successful E-commerce Is About Applying Marketing Psychology In A Digital Environment

In many ways, running a business online is no different than operating out of a brick-and-mortar store. The same basic principles of business apply, especially marketing psychology. You could pick up any classic marketing book written before the internet and apply the advice to your e-commerce business. Psychology doesn’t change.

What makes e-commerce different is the digital environment where the exchange of information and communication takes place. In a brick-and-mortar store, some people will make a purchase even if you didn’t acknowledge them when they walked in the door. The rules of engagement in a digital environment are different: building rapport from the first moment is not optional.

On the technical side, you’ve probably implemented essential strategies like load balancing, automated backups, and SSL encryption. Think of the following tips not as strategies, but marketing tactics. Every tactic is rooted in marketing psychology and understanding that psychology is the key to executing it correctly.

Master the psychology of digital delivery

As an e-commerce business owner, you need to master the art of digital distribution. That includes more than just supplying links to digital downloads. Everything you deliver to the customer, including your email communications and your sales pitch, takes place in a digital environment where people don’t want to be bothered. You have to deliver your message in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive.

For example, when greeting a customer in person, you have the luxury of using body language – like a smile – to initiate contact from a distance. Customers expect to be greeted by staff and aren’t usually bothered by it.

In a digital environment, it’s not so easy. Visitors want to be left alone, and unless you can capture their attention with something they’re interested in, delivering your message could be received as a disruption.

Depending on the message you want to deliver, you can’t be too pushy to get someone’s attention. For instance, many visitors are tired of popups and consider them an intrusion. Instead of capturing attention, a popup might cost you a sale.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use popups. It means you need to intentionally design your popups. It’s all about psychology.

Engineer your popups intentionally

An article written by Derek from social triggers addresses the popup issue in a video describing why you should be using popups, even though most people find them annoying. Popups work when done correctly, and the article itself is a good example of a correctly engineered popup.

While viewing the article, move your mouse to the top of your browser window to trigger the popup. Notice several aspects of the design differ from the traditional “give me your email” popups. First, the headline isn’t a graphic, it’s bold, readable, plain text. Next, the description is brief and contained within two short lines. Last, the popup doesn’t immediately ask you for your email address. It asks you to accept or reject the free eBook.

Clicking on the “GIMME THE FREE EBOOK” button brings up the familiar email signup form. Why the extra click? Psychologically, when a visitor makes that first click, they’re committing to the download. That simple step makes them more likely to actually read the download.

Mitigate the biggest obstacle to delivering your message: lack of attention

Attempting to deliver a message in a digital environment presents a handful of obstacles you need to mitigate before you’ll be able to capture attention.

EyeQuant points out that the internet “presents its users with an unquantifiable measure of content for potential browsing behavior.” The problem, they say, is that attempting to multi-task to absorb this information has resulted in the rewiring of our neural nets. This rewiring causes us to read faster and less thoroughly the moment we go online.

Essentially, we’ve hard-wired ourselves to have short attention spans when we browse the internet. This short attention span makes us easily distracted.

Your visitors are distracted at every turn by advertisements, buy buttons, share buttons, hyperlinks, and other cues directing them to read content or click. This is in addition to their browser tabs with open chats, social media accounts, and email notification. If you want a visitor’s attention, a simple and clear message written by an expert copywriter will do it.

Eliminate all barriers to the sale or conversion

Webmasters and business owners create barriers to conversions all the time without realizing it. Requiring people to sign up for an account before they can complete their purchase is a barrier. Requiring someone to turn off their ad blocker before they can view your content is a barrier. Requiring a visitor to give you their email address to access your videos is a barrier.

Even when a visitor willingly complies with these barriers, it still makes the visitor’s process arduous. The more barriers you put up, the less likely they are to return.

This goes along with the previous tip about mitigating all obstacles, with one difference. Barriers are often invisible and can be mistaken as part of the sales process. For instance, your web form might ask several questions that seem vital but are actually barriers because they aren’t necessary. For example, most businesses don’t need a visitor’s birthdate or age. Your web form also shouldn’t ask visitors how they found you. That information should be tracked invisibly.

Keep it simple and smooth

The simpler your checkout process, the better. Users should be able to click their way through with ease. A smooth checkout process will help you retain more of your customers.

You should also be upselling your customers, but not too much. One suggestion is enough during the checkout process. Don’t ask your customers to consider a string of products right before they’re ready to pay. On the other hand, not upselling at all is leaving money on the table.

As Neil Patel writes, “We shouldn’t view upselling as a dirty word, or some underhanded technique to filch extra cash from gullible customers. Upselling is a win-win. Customers get better stuff. You get more cash. And here’s the kicker: The customer is going to stay around longer.”

In the end, running a successful e-commerce business relies on your ability to implement marketing psychology in a digital environment. If you haven’t picked up any good marketing books lately, check out the best sellers list on Amazon’s marketing section and start studying.

Optimize Your Magento Website: 7 Tips For Peak Performance

If you’ve chosen Magento to run your eCommerce website, you’re in good company. Many of the world’s top brands like Canon, Jazzercise, and Burger King use Magento.

Magento is the preferred platform for eCommerce websites for good reason. It’s customizable, SEO-friendly, and themes are widely available. Content can be added easily, and there’s extensive support available.

The same can be said of WordPress. However, WordPress is only capable of supporting basic eCommerce functions through third-party plugins. In other words, you need to load down your server with multiple plugins (and compromise security) just to get a fraction of the functionality built directly into Magento.

Although Magento is a great platform, you may have noticed a dip in your site’s performance. That’s because Magento is resource-intensive. Magento has over 2 million XML configurations and more than 4 million lines of code.

If your Magento site is slow, you don’t need to switch platforms. You just need to make some adjustments to get your Magento site running at peak performance:

1. Don’t load external JavaScript files from slow domains

Linking to an external JavaScript file on a slow-loading domain will impair the speed of your website. Instead, download the file and host it on your own server, or use a reliable CDN service.

To solve this problem, many people put all JavaScript at the bottom of their pages to ensure the page loads quickly for the visitor. However, if your site requires the JavaScript to load first, and you’re hosting the file, you can use the ‘async’ attribute.

The ‘async’ attribute is new to HTML5 and is supported fully by Chrome, Safari, and Opera. This Boolean attribute tells the browser to execute the script asynchronously with the rest of the page. The page elements will continue to load while the script loads and your visitors won’t know the difference.

2. Leverage the Magento Compiler

Magento is built in PHP. When your site needs to execute multiple PHP files, it takes longer when they’re not in the same directory. Magento comes with a compiler that will compile scattered PHP files into a single folder.

To access the compiler, log into your admin panel and navigate to System > Tools > Compilation. From there, click on “Run Compilation Process” to execute the command.

Here’s a guide with screenshots from TemplateMonster to help you merge PHP, CSS, and JavaScript files, as well as optimize your database.

3. Scan for malware and unauthorized .htaccess files

You should always have a program that actively scans your website for malware. If your site gets hacked, you may not notice for a long time. Depending on the hack, it could be impossible to manually clean. Some hacks can severely affect site performance.

Hackers that gain access to your site will upload their own .htaccess files that grant permissions you don’t want them to have. They’ll also upload PHP files with malicious code to your top and sometimes second level directories. They upload as many files as they can in hopes that you won’t find all of them.

Sometimes hackers will insert malicious code into existing, legitimate PHP files like header.php and your index file.

These PHP files can go undetected for long periods of time until someone reports your site as the source of a phishing scam, and your host suspends your account. It’s not personal. Hackers use other people’s websites to sell credit card data and login credentials. If web hosts don’t shut it down, they can be held liable.

4. Keep unnecessary content out of URLs

Mostly for SEO purposes, you want to limit the number of words that end up part of your URLs.

You can do this by accessing your admin panel and navigating to: System > Configuration > Web. Under “URL Options” look for the setting “Add Store Code to URLs” and change this option to “no.”

The other adjustment to make within this section is to find “Search Engine Optimization” and set your “Server URL Rewrite” to “yes.” This will prevent “index.php” from being inserted into your URLs.

5. Create the right type and length of content

A big part of site performance happens on the user side. How your site content performs for your users is critical to your success.

Make sure the content you create meets user expectations in terms of readability, relevance, and length. If your website sells t-shirts, visitors don’t want to read a novel. If your website sells technology that requires some understanding, your visitors will expect to be educated.

6. Optimize images

Professional graphic designers know all the tricks to optimize images. If you don’t design graphics for a living (and even if you do) a PNG & JPG optimization tool will be your best friend.

Even if you’ve gotten really good at using Photoshop, chances are, your images can still be optimized further. However, optimizing images requires more than just compressing files.

Any images you publish on your website should be sized to the exact dimensions you want to be displayed on the page. Thumbnails that display full-sized images when clicked should be separate images. Avoid displaying the full-sized image by defining the size of the image inline. When your full-sized image is 500kb, forcing it to display smaller as a thumbnail via HTML still requires browsers to load the whole 500kb image.

7. Consider a clustered hosting environment

Your eCommerce success depends on your ability to generate conversions through customer satisfaction. Your site’s performance plays a huge role in that process.

If you’re running your eCommerce store with Magento and you’re experiencing downtime or slow page load times, you might want to consider upgrading your hosting to a Magento cluster.

A Magento cluster utilizes the resources and support of multiple servers and eliminates single points of failure. This results in more uptime and pages that load 5x faster on average.

To learn more about Magento clustering, contact us and we’ll help you determine if it’s right for your business.

8 UX Fixes To Reduce Abandoned Magento Shopping Carts

You’ve created a beautiful eCommerce website with a brilliant product your visitors fall in love with. You’ve done everything right – your sales copy is well written and convincing, and it encourages visitors to add products to their cart. However, when you look at your stats, you’ve got a high rate of abandoned shopping carts. Why? What went wrong?

If this is your experience, you’re not alone. Thousands of eCommerce websites experience a sharp drop-off during the first step of the checkout process. According to KissMetrics, this drop-off is caused by disconnects in the user experience.

Here’s what you can do to improve your user experience and encourage customers to complete their purchase:

1. Minimize clickable options (like full navigation)

Consistent navigation throughout all your web pages provides a seamless user experience. However, as with sales pages, full navigation becomes a distraction during the checkout process.

Your visitors may not be looking for a way out, but when they notice clickable options, they may want to explore. When a visitor leaves the checkout process to wander around, they’re more likely to abandon your website entirely.

Unfortunately, even when a wandering visitor comes back later to complete their purchase, their exit still registers as an abandoned shopping cart.

The checkout process should support the visitor’s commitment to buy from start to finish. It should keep the visitor engaged in the checkout process.

The process should keep your visitors moving toward entering their payment information without any distractions along the way. Any options to make changes (like adding items or changing quantities) should be made possible within the shopping cart, so there’s no reason to provide full site navigation during the checkout process.

2. Ask for payment information in the right order

If you haven’t provided the customer with shipping options and a grand total, it’s not time to ask for their billing information. Customers want to know their total before entering their billing address and credit card number. You can write copy that informs visitors their card won’t be billed until they finalize their order on the next page, but they’re still going to be nervous about hitting that “next” button.

3. Use a progress indicator

How many steps are in your checkout process? Three? Ten? Even if your process is short, it’s a good idea to add a progress indicator to the top of the page. Visitors like to know where they are in the checkout process, so they know there’s an end in sight.

Your shopping cart theme probably comes with a progress indicator already, but if not, it’s easy to add one. To add a progress indicator, you need a set of graphics that represent each step, with a transparent background. Any graphic designer with basic skills can create these for you. For example, if your checkout process has three steps, you need a set of three images – one for each step.

One thing a progress indicator can’t do is make an exceptionally long checkout process seem shorter. If your checkout process has more than five steps, it’s probably too long.

To shorten the process, see if you can combine steps. For example, if a customer needs to submit their billing address in one step, then submit their credit card information in the next step, see if it’s possible to combine those into one. What the customer inputs won’t change, but the perception of one less step will make them happy.

4. Allow guest checkouts

The checkout process is an opportunity to gather email addresses from your visitors, but don’t force everyone to create an account to complete their purchase. Most people have more accounts than they can even remember. The need to sign up for one more user account can make a visitor bounce and buy from a competitor.

The Baymard Institute discovered 37% of people abandon a shopping cart when the site asks them to create an account. Forcing users to create an account is a barrier that prevents conversions.

If you’re worried about not capturing email addresses, there’s little to be concerned about. Most email marketing systems – especially high-end systems like Infusionsoft – can be integrated to grab email addresses from the checkout process.

5.  Design your shopping cart to match your website

Consistent design between your website and your Magento shopping cart goes a long way to support conversions. Consistency in design tells people they’re in the right place. Some people hire a professional design and development team, so the shopping cart looks exactly like their website.

Thankfully, it’s easy to customize a Magento shopping cart design, even if you can’t hire a professional development team. You can customize some elements yourself by logging into your shopping cart and clicking on “settings.” From there, you want to click the link titled “design setting.” Here, you can change the default colors and images and add a custom background or header graphic.

6.  Present upsells sparingly

An upsell is perceived as a step in the checkout process. If your checkout process is short, upsells will make it appear longer. One upsell screen might be appropriate; however, two will make visitors bounce. Screens asking visitors if they’re “sure” they don’t want the upsell they just rejected are even worse.

7.  Make sure dynamically displayed currency is correct

When you want to display prices dynamically according to the visitor’s geographical location, it’s important to know for certain the currency displayed is correct. Many countries use the US dollar as a standard form of currency, and yet some currency plugins display the country’s old, antiquated form of currency instead.

Visitors will notice this mistake, and if they can’t select their preferred currency, they’ll bounce.

For example, some currency plugins are programmed to display prices in the Cambodian Riel. If you’ve never been to Cambodia, this seems logical. However, the US dollar is Cambodia’s second official currency. ATM machines dispense both currencies, but most residents rely on the US dollar for everyday purchases. They’re not used to seeing small purchases displayed in Riel.

If your currency plugin allows you to assign currencies to particular regions, this is an easy fix.

Remember, the US dollar is the most widely used currency in the world, and people are used to seeing prices in USD. If you’re not certain currencies are correct, it’s better to leave your prices in USD.

8.  Speed up your page load time with LiteMage

Speed is everything. If your website loads slowly, visitors will bounce.

If your eCommerce website is doing well, but your Magento website is loading slowly, you probably need a load balancer. Magento is a wonderful CMS, though it can be demanding of server resources resulting in site performance issues that can cost you conversions.

At Skylands Networks, we use LiteMage to help Magento stores run up to 5x faster, reducing server load and increasing site performance. Contact us today to find out how we can create a custom solution for your eCommerce website.