In our fourth post in our series about selling auto parts and accessories with WooCommerce (see part 1, part 2, and part 3), we want to share some final tips and tricks that we have found useful, as well as talk about some of the limitations that we’ve seen with WooCommerce.
Featured photo: © Dezay
Make Backups Every Time You Do Anything
Before you decide to update a plugin, bulk import some product data, or even just archive some orders, take two minutes and run a backup. You won’t be sorry. In fact, this is a rule of ours at Spork, and it’s saved our bacon more than once.
For backups on the sites we manage, we use a plugin called BackupBuddy. The plugin is fairly fast and easy to use, and it has the ability to send backups to Amazon’s S3 system for safekeeping. It also is fairly reliable when it comes to making periodic backups. This plugin also makes restorations easy, just in case a plugin upgrade or import breaks something.
There are other backup plugins out there too besides BackupBuddy – Updraft has a lot of fans. Definitely check that out as well.
Variations vs. Simple Products
When you have a single type of product (let’s say a solid fold tonneau cover) with lots of variations, you have a couple of options:
- You can create a unique page for each specific fitment, treating every fitment like it’s a stand-alone product
- You can create a single page for the product, and then add variations for each fitment
Most companies go with option #1, because it’s easiest from a data management standpoint. Rather than adding variations to a single product (which can be complicated from a data import perspective), you just upload each variation as a product. For something like a solid fold tonneau cover, this can result in 10 or 20 pages on your website that are basically identical – same product name, same images, same description, and so on – with the only difference being the size of the tonneau and the SKU.
If you’re using WooCommerce, we definitely recommend option #2. While it’s more complicated to import your product data, it’s much more straightforward for the consumer (and for search engines). If, for example, you have one page on your website for a specific model of solid fold tonneau cover, you would have a list of variations on that page for each specific fitment. That makes it easy for consumers to find the exact product they need, it decreases the overall size of your site (in terms of pages that need to be crawled and indexed), and it makes your site simpler to navigate.
Use WP All Import and Export
- Data migration, either moving part data into a site, or migrating it from one site to another
- Bulk tagging and optimization, from fixing title tags to mass updating product descriptions, links to PDFs, etc.
- Customer data exports, order analysis, customer login/user account imports…Lots of stuff.
If you’re selling auto parts and accessories online, you’re going to touch a lot of data. These plugins will save you lots of time.
WooCommerce and Performance
With a truckload of caveats about hosting, code quality, server configuration, plugins, WooCommerce settings, the use of a CDN, etc., it’s fair to say that WooCommerce has performance problems once a site has more than a few thousand SKUs (at least if you’re selling auto parts with lots of fitment data).
- Let’s say your auto parts site has 1,000 different parts
- Let’s say each part has 20 different vehicle fitments
That works out to 200,000 different database records, depending on how you slice things up. On top of that 200,000 database records for SKUs and fitments, you’ve also got records for short and long text descriptions, links to images, links to manuals or installation guides, pricing info, part names, categories and tags, and so on. In no time at all, a “simple” WooCommerce site with just 1,000 SKUs can have a fairly massive database.
Generally speaking, we see WooCommerce performance start to suffer after a site has more than 1,000 automotive SKUs. While there are definitely WooCommerce sites with more than 1,000 automotive SKUs that perform well, we usually recommend moving from WooCommerce to a hosted ecommerce solution if/when the SKU count goes over 1,000. This isn’t a hard and fast rule of course, just a suggestion based on our experience.
NOTE: For a list of ecommerce platforms we recommend for auto parts and accessories retailers, click here.
Hire An Experienced WordPress Developer To Review Your Site
Even if you can’t afford to hire a developer to build your site, it’s always a good idea to ask an experienced WordPress developer to just inspect your website and rattle off some opportunities for improvement. For a one-time fee, a developer can:
- Check for common configuration problems or mistakes
- Suggest easy changes that will make your site faster
- Make sure you have a good process in place for backups, updates, and periodic check-ups
- Warn you about security problems, slow plugins, weird theme customizations, etc.
In a perfect world, you’d have an experienced developer tackle the entire project. If that’s not feasible, having one conduct a review before you take your site live is the next best thing.
Website speed and conversion rates are very closely related. If your site is just a couple hundred milliseconds faster, conversion rates can go up a few points. With WooCommerce and WordPress, speed can be a challenge.
Aside from hiring an experienced developer to help you make your WooCommerce site as fast as possible, there are a few things you can do:
- Invest in quality hosting. A good hosting solution will cost you at least $150 a year, and potentially a few multiples of that amount. The cost will depend on how busy your site is.
- Use as few plugins as possible. Every plugin you add to your site has the potential to slow it considerably. A poorly coded social sharing plugin, for example, can increase page load times by half a second. So, it’s a good idea to strip your site down to the fewest plugins possible, and then add plugins one at a time, checking to see how they impact performance.
- Use a CDN. Cloudflare has a free plan, is easy to setup, and makes a real difference. Cloudflare’s “Pro” plan offers some additional speed benefits, as well as a suite of security features that are nice to have. MaxCDN is also popular, only they do not offer a free plan.
- “Krak” your images. Images are the single biggest resource hog on most ecommerce websites, as they tend to be higher quality than necessary for use on a website. This is because most humans can’t tell the difference between a great quality image and merely a good quality image, so images can be compressed quite a bit before people start to notice a difference. A tool called Kraken.io is available to reduce the size of your website’s images to the bare minimum, making the file size as small as possible without normal eyes being able to spot the difference. They also have a WordPress plugin, which you can use to ‘krak’ your images in bulk.
- Consider Google’s page speed advice. While the Google page speed tool isn’t perfect (a lot of the rules they use to judge page speed are overly technical), it’s a good place to get a diagnostic reading on website performance. If your site is slow, Google’s tool will tell you. Just don’t beat your developer over the head if your site rates a “B”, because a “B” is often very good.
Don’t Get In A Hurry When It Comes To WooCommerce Updates
Everytime you update the WooCommerce plugin, you risk website breakage. Nearly every time we update WooCommerce on a client site, we have to fix or reconfigure something. Typically, the problems that updates cause aren’t obvious, so we might not catch them until a few days have gone by and someone logs a complaint.
Generally speaking, it’s OK to put off most WooCommerce updates for a few weeks. Unless it’s a security update, WooCommerce updates should be delayed because a) they’re a time soak and b) often times there’s an update to the update that will arrive a few days or weeks later.
NOTE: The same is true for updating the WordPress core. It’s A-OK to run an older version of WordPress, even when a newer version is available. In fact, it’s usually a good idea to run 2 updates behind, as most updates require an update of their own before they’re 100% for stable. Security updates are the exception to the rule, of course.
WooCommerce has a lot of positives:
- It’s relatively inexpensive to get a WooCommerce site off the ground
- It’s fairly simple to manage a WooCommerce site
- WooCommerce websites convert reasonably well, all things considered
But it’s not the perfect platform for every ecommerce website. In fact, most companies tend to ‘outgrow’ WooCommerce because it’s hard to build a WooCommerce site with the features that are offered by most of the hosted auto parts ecommerce companies. If your company is thinking about using WooCommerce as a platform, it’s a good idea to think about where things will be in 2 or 3 years. Oftentimes, you’re money ahead to invest in a platform that will grow with you rather than switch sites.
Still, if you have an experienced WordPress developer to lean on, and you’re trying to minimize the costs of getting an auto parts ecommerce website off the ground, it’s a good platform. Good luck!