In the recent weeks, we had some friends asking us for advice on starting a website, the costs and the complexities involved. Many times we could recommend WordPress due to the ease of installation and maintenance. It is as easy as 5 minutes. But what next after installation and why WordPress?
WordPress has come a long way since its inception back in 2003 as a fork of b2/cafelog. Back then, it was hard work to update plugins and themes, unlike our one click plugins update that we now have. Unfortunately, back in 2003, many of us Malaysians were still on Blogspot, which was launched much earlier and brought about the blogging craze back in the early 2000.
WordPress now powers up to 22.5% of all websites, having a 60.3% of CMS marketshare, in which of which 62.6% of all websites are not on any CMS. 1Â Â That’s a huge figure, especially as we have about 600 to 700 million websites in the world right now. 2
We hereby present to you a brief guide to WordPress plugins and themes. We would write more in-depth on WordPress themes and plugins in our future posts, but this would serve as a quick starter guide
First and foremost, your WordPress website will need a good theme. Having a well coded theme would mean a world of difference between a plain vanilla looking site and a top notch site. However, not all great looking themes are the same. Most crucial for themes are speed and security. With this in mind, themes from online marketplaces, like Theme Forest, can cause your site to load really slowly due to the lack of optimisation and bloat. Worse still, you might have security issues.
For general everyday WordPress themes, we recommend Studiopress.Â Studiopress is a highly acclaimed WordPress theme shop with their Genesis Framework, which makes it easy for you to configure and launch new websites easily. Genesis has been audited by Mark Jaquith, one of the lead developers for WordPress 3.
Studiopress offers lifetime licenses, which helps you save a large amount of money over the long run, as compared to many theme shops which charges a 50% renewal fee yearly.
The other theme shops that offers lifetime licenses that we know of are listed below. You should ideally grab one or two of these deals, as prices for WordPress themes are bound to go up anytime soon, and lifetime licenses might not be sold anymore.
- Elegant Themes
- Themes Kingdom
- Frog Themes
WordPress Ecommerce Software
If you however would like to start an online shop with WordPress, you should consider WooCommerce. It comes with clean coding, and is very extensible. This means you can easily buy an extension to improve the usability and features of your site.
However, running a shop based on WooCommerce can get expensive really quickly, as WooCommerce official extensions are on yearly renewal basis, and could be upwards of USD 1000 for the first year and 50% less the year after. Our store is powered by WooCommerce and its array of extensions, but we bought 90% of our licenses while WooCommerce was still new, and licenses sold on lifetime basis.
However, if you have no problem with the grey side of the law, you might want to consider GPL-ed versions of WooCommerce’s plugins. Some, like Gplclub.org, offers them on a yearly license, meaning you get updates for a year, but it would need to be done manually. Others like Proserveweb, offers lifetime packages, giving you dramatic savings over the entire suite of WooCommerce software. However, these needs to be updated manually as well.
Consider Hosted Carts when new
Why tie up capital when you can start with hosted shopping carts like BigCommerce and Shopify, as they enable you to launch fast and affordably, while testing your target market to see if it is worth investing more time and money into your business. For only USD 29/month, you get a top notch shopping cart, which is extensible as well, by way of add-ons. Shopify has a more vibrant add-on market, while BigCommerce comes more ready for Asian countries.
When you are sure of your market, you can proceed to either migrate your store to WooCommerce or some of the other shopping carts. We recommend Opencart, Prestashop and Magento. Of which, only Magento and WooCommerce seems to have developed a proper extensions market, with reliable extensions shop, as compared to Opencart and Prestashop.
While WooCommerce and WordPress ecommerce software has been branded as hard to scale by so-called experts, who recommend Magento instead, the same has been said of OpenCart and Prestashop, once they reach 8000 or so products. With the WooCommerce Bulk Stock Management extension, you can easily change the details of your inventory. WordPress ecommerce with WooCommerce can host up to tens of thousands of products with the proper server configuration. 4
Are there other WordPress based shopping carts that we recommend? Definitely. Check out the other established players in the WordPress commerce plugins market below
- Jigoshop – WooCommerce was forked from Jigoshop. Very good, and most extensions are still on lifetime licenses
- Cart66 – Started off as a plugin, but now focusing on a cloud solution. We still prefer BigCommerce
- iThemes Exchange – An up and coming ecommerce plugin with a lot of potential and extensibility
- WP Easy Cart – Lifetime licenses. Limited in functionality for now, but with room to grow
- Shopp – They have been around for some time. Coding isn’t as good as WooCommerce. We’ll see whether they’ll improve their offerings in the future. Yearly renewals
WordPress plugins have come a long way since the early days of WordPress. It has also become more expensive. But with better quality programmers joining the fray as building WordPress plugins becomes more lucrative. It is really a huge market, and a simple guide like this would not justify the depth and quality of WordPress plugins.
Personally, I’ve spent more than USD 10k on themes and plugins, which makes us be able to suggest the various plugins that you would need. I’ve personally tested and evaluated numerous premium plugins and not all plugins are created equal. Also, the price of the plugin might not be a good measure on the code quality and the support that you would get if the plugin breaks something.
Previously, if you are looking to add a complex form to your site, you needed to sign up for a service like Wufoo, which would cost you a fortune. In comparison, nowadays, you can either use Jetpack’s Contact form, or install one of these : Contact Form 7, Formidable Forms, Gravity Forms and Ninja Forms. For us, Ninja Forms gets expensive really quickly, as the different extensions quickly add up, and cost a yearly renewal fee.
If you are looking for a one off, lifetime licence, Formidable Forms would do you good. Though offering slightly different features compared to Gravity Forms, Formidable Forms is good value for money. However, if you prefer something more powerful, Gravity Forms is the best out there, as it’s more polished and brings add-ons like, polls, surveys and quizzes, among others.
However, the add ons are considered as part of their premium developer license, which will cost you a pretty hefty USD 199, with an option to renew for 50% less. That spoken, do drop by the website of both Gravity Forms and Formidable Forms to consider the differences.
Â Search Engine Optimisation Plugins
A lot of us make the mistake of missing out on optimising our website for SEO. In fact, WordPress is one of the best platforms for SEO optimisation, as it is being used by many online media and news companies. On our side, you should only consider WordPress SEO by Yoast.
WordPress SEO by Yoast is one of the most complete SEO plugins made for the WordPress plugins repository. It even comes with a complimentary page analysis section, which would have cost us about USD 29/month if we are to subscribe to an external service.
What happens if you choose not to have a WordPress SEO plugin? Well, you may spend much effort blogging, and you won’t be able to see much results, as search engines like Google, take in consideration things like focus keywords and meta descriptions. Attempting to code these in manually would take a lot more time.
We’ll cover more on the different WordPress plugins you can use to super charge your website, and save money, instead of hiring a developer to develop and maintain a similar plugin for you.
Btw, read more on WordPress here