By Pete Bingham
In today’s digital landscape, having an easy-to-use website is a must for businesses. A Content Management System (CMS) plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining your website, enabling users to create, edit, and manage content without (hopefully) requiring extensive technical knowledge.
However, once you add eCommerce into the mix along come more options, more functionality, and a considerable learning curve, making choosing the right platform a daunting task. Here are some essential points to consider to guide you through this decision-making process.
Firstly, you need to get to know the various big players in the eCommerce market. Understanding their main strengths and weaknesses should make narrowing down your choice a little simpler, so let’s take a look:
WooCommerce is a powerful and widely-used eCommerce plugin for the WordPress CMS. It effectively transforms a standard WordPress website into a fully functional online store, allowing users to sell products and services directly from their website.
As WordPress powers over 40% of all websites on the internet, WooCommerce is the obvious eCommerce companion platform and has become a go-to solution for businesses of all sizes looking to establish an online shop.
Shopify is another popular eCommerce platform that allows individuals and businesses to create and manage their online stores. Just like WooCommerce, Shopify can either be plugged into an existing site or set up as a standalone eCommerce CMS, you can even use Shopify on a WordPress site. It comes with a comprehensive set of tools and features that make setting up your eCommerce website simple and straightforward .
Shopify makes up just over 20% of the eCommerce market share and is steadily growing in popularity. With a simple setup process, full customer support, and lots of customisation options, Shopify is a great choice for any size online store.
Once upon a time, Magento was the king of eCommerce and for good reason; it was flexible, extremely feature-rich, and was built with SEO best practices in mind. It was, however, a complex CMS to learn and required developer support and expertise, and as a result wasn’t an ideal choice for smaller businesses.
Since Adobe acquired Magento in 2018, there have been lots of exciting new features and user-focused improvements, with a renewed focus on innovation and integration within the eCommerce ecosystem. It may just be the choice for the new creator generation.
Now that we’ve looked at the most popular eCommerce platforms we can start to drill down and ask the sort of questions that might help you decide. Whether it’s budget, technical skills, SEO or another factor that determines your decision, let’s help figure out the best option for you…
Begin by defining the specific requirements of your website project. Consider factors like your scalability needs, will you need any particular e-commerce functionalities. Identifying any unique considerations for your eCommerce website should happen before you jump in.
Also, consider both your team’s technical ability and their capacity; do you have the in-house skills and time to devote to a more bespoke project, or is more standard functionality more realistic? Defining your project’s requirements, and how they will work best with your team, is a crucial step that mustn’t be rushed or underestimated.
If you have a well established site in place, bolting on an eCommerce platform isn’t always straightforward, it really depends on what your current site is built on. For example, WooCommerce will only work on WordPress sites, whereas Shopify and Magento are, in theory, able to plug into most setups – whether this gives you the solution you need is another question.
Perhaps there is something tying you to a current CMS, such as the use of a specific plugin, or your team’s familiarity with its usage? Again, speaking to your team might make this decision a no-brainer.
A user-friendly CMS can significantly reduce the learning curve for your team, and whilst you’d hope all the eCommerce platforms are built with ease-of-use in mind, some (like Magento for example) can require a more advanced technical skillset. The obvious rewards for having a higher technical barrier, however, are advanced functionality, increased customisability and as close-to a tailor-made experience as is possible.
Some time should be taken to evaluate the user interface, content creation process, and overall ease of use. Are the content editing tools intuitive or will it require a level of technical skill you don’t have in your team? Never underestimate the importance of web developers when it comes to eCommerce sites, our own developers are constantly busy and in high demand. As the complexity of a platform increases so does your potential reliance on developers.
Further to this point, look at the level of support each CMS offers. For example, WooCommerce and WordPress are mainly community-based, and as such, there’s a lot of information out there, but can often require a bit of technical knowledge and time to sift through the advice. Shopify on the other hand has dedicated customer support, but the solutions may depend on what plan you are on.
Again, this can come down to the technical capabilities of your team, but WooCommerce and Shopify in particular have lots of customisable options straight out of the box. Themes control much of the styling, but with just a little design flair you can get something that looks more bespoke, or on-brand.
In addition, all the main eCommerce platforms come with plenty of free (and paid) plugins to get extra functionality out of your eCommerce site. So knowing the scope of your project is key here, but also knowing there is a chance to scale, upgrade and bolt on additional features and integrations down the line is equally reassuring.
Knowing the SEO limitations of a CMS, and how they might affect your website’s ability to rank, drive traffic, and so on, is just as crucial as any of the other factors we’ve mentioned so far. When it comes to choosing an SEO-friendly CMS for your eCommerce website, there’s definitely been a lot of frustration within the SEO community when it comes to certain platforms.
For example, if you’d have asked an SEO specialist a few years ago, they might have dismissed Shopify as being far too restrictive; it just wasn’t possible to undertake the same level of eCommerce SEO customisation that other platforms, like WordPress, could provide.
Some historic Shopify SEO issues include not being able to edit your robots.txt, having a built-in url structure you can’t change, and a whole host of duplicate content problems.
Whilst there has been a significant improvement across all platforms, most SEO specialists would probably still choose WordPress.
Picking the right eCommerce platform requires plenty of research. It is vital that you know the scope of your site, the limitations of your team and how you want to scale your business.
Conversely, choosing the wrong platform could be a major drain on finances, time, and resources which could result in a significant loss in revenue. Put simply, this is a decision you need to take seriously. Ask the right questions of your business, your team and your developers.
If you’re embarking on a new website and don’t know where to start, please get in touch with our friendly team who will be more than happy to guide you through all the considerations to start you on the right path to your new eCommerce website.
Part of The Digital Maze Group