How to customize your Wordpress themes like a pro. Supercharge your Wordpress website for ecommerce! (2019)

In this post we’re going to show you how to supercharge your website for ecommerce growth in 2019. By installing the following Wordpress plugins you can rapidly customize your Wordpress theme on the fly to keep improving your site as your sales grow.

Where to begin? Shopify, Wordpress, Cargo, Squarespace

Before we dive in, we’d like to recommend 3 other popular platforms to build your website on. They are Shopify, Cargo, and Squarespace. Squarespace and Cargo are two modern options that are widely used in the industries more focused on media & design. They offer great looking website templates you can customize to a limited extent. They also offer basic ecommerce features. Shopify is focused heavily on ecommerce. Choosing the right platform ultimately depends on what you want your website to accomplish.

In our opinion, Wordpress is great for growing news and blogger type businesses. However, if you’re looking to sell a physical or digital product, Wordpress’ ecommerce plugins struggle to offer the same ease-of-use and connected tools as the Shopify platform.

Shopify is the best alternative if you’re focused on selling a product. However, as your sales needs become more complex it can require expensive add-ons and overall, requires a more technical approach to customize. If you’re trying to customize outside of the templates they offer, it can get expensive quickly and become pretty complicated to manage.

Therein lies the solution. Today, influencers dominate the social selling space for good reason. Stories sell. It’s this powerful combination of content + ecommerce that will drive the next stage of ecommerce in the digital world.

Why we like Wordpress as a platform for ecommerce.

There’s plenty of Content Management Systems (CMS) options to offer people or businesses looking to establish a presence on the web. Today we dive into Wordpress. Wordpress is the most widely used CMS on the web.

Wordpress is easy to customize. This is good and bad. The most common complaint against Wordpress is one similar to Shopify. As your website grows, Wordpress may require more ‘out of the box’ software extensions or add-ons, which they call plugins. The main knock against Wordpress is the plugins. They can quickly slow down your website and become a gigantic pain the ass to manage. Much more so than Shopify. We’re going to show you how to avoid that from happening by showing you the optimal mix of plugins. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of plugins by any means.

How’d we make the choices? In short, by making a ton of mistakes. This is the playbook we used to transition a million dollar wholesale brand into a DTC (direct-to-consumer) business. We think this transition is more common as brands and consumers spend more time and money on the web.

The Speed of information.

Working in a traditional sales channel where the brand sells to a 3rd party retail shop, customer feedback and sales analytics doesn’t always filter back to the brand quickly. With a well managed website, you can stay close to your end customer base and uncover key insights quickly that can end up in the next iteration of your product. The quicker you get this info, the more impact and success you’ll have in growing your business. A more famous example of this was shared by Joe Gebbia of Airbnb on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. Before they built Airbnb The founders actually stayed overnight in other people’s homes to gather feedback about the needs of their customers.

So now apply this concept to your website. No one gets it right the first time. Gathering detailed analytics of what is and isn’t working is absolutely crucial to catering to the exact needs of your customer. So having the ability to quickly make updates to your website on the fly using the info and analytics your website is collecting is absolutely critical to build growth and financial success.

With the integrations we outline below, you’ll have a perfect mix of flexibility & function in your design without using too many Wordpress plugins. The plugins also allow for complete customization of your website designs if needed. This will significantly reduce the amount of money and time spent on designers or programmers.

Gathering your site analytics

Your website should remain focused around a few key performance indicators (KPIs) that are crucial to your website’s growth. Common KPIs could be unique page views, sales, subscriptions, or even email conversions. If you’re wondering what KPIs to track, here’s a great post about KPIs from Shopify’s blog.  Let me give you a quick real world example of this in use.

Humanoid Wakeboards is a manufacturer of custom wakeboards. Last summer they offered a ‘master’ graphic option for sale on their website. The master graphic would be offered as a default graphic option for every board they sell.

 

They used only 1 simple KPI, total sales of the master graphic option vs. the other graphic options. This would dictate whether or not Humanoid would offer the master graphic option for next season. In the end, they found the master graphic outsold other wakeboard graphic options by a large amount with zero paid advertising. They gathered this data over the course of a few months. They got the analytics they needed to make plans for the following season in a matter of months instead of years.

The important takeaway from this example is before you start promoting and driving traffic to your website, you’ll need to install software to capture your website’s KPIs [called ‘events’ by Google].

Installing analytics in your Wordpress theme with Google Tag Manager

OK, so understanding your website analytics is key! We recommend installing Google Analytics in all your website pages.

This will show you how many visitors your pages receive and where traffic is flowing to and from, among a multitude of other data points. Without website data like this to rely on, it’s like shooting in the dark.

We prefer more detailed analytics so we recommend you install Google Tag manager. Google tag manager handles all the scripts, called tags, you need to install in addition to Google Analytics. Tags can record custom events on your website. So for example, it shows you the checkout process your visitors use when making a purchase. We recommend you install a few Google Tag Manager tags Jeff Sauer talks about here. This will help you more effectively customize your website around the data being shown by the analytics platforms you choose, the two most popular are Facebook Pixel & Google Analytics.

Choosing the right flexibility in design for theme customization.

We keep stressing about the ability to customize your Wordpress themes. Why is that?

The level of customization offered by your theme is the most critical factor in our opinion. You need to stand out from your competitors. Good design is one way to do that.

The page templates offered by websites like Shopify, Cargo & Squarespace utilize great design principals. However, as your needs become more complex, connecting other website features like analytics, customer chat, discount strategies, these integrations can get expensive quickly. The platforms mentioned above have limited customization options compared to Wordpress. Limiting your customization keeps your website looking clean and performing well, but it also brings about a host of other issues related to design and coding.

So, you’ll want to find a Wordpress theme that has a balance of good design and is also highly customizable. A nicely designed, fully optimized Wordpress theme can be hard to find because of the volume of options available. Here’s what we recommend.

Start with nicely designed Wordpress theme and page templates

With Wordpress & their preferred eCommerce plugin Woocommerce [both free], we find it’s a good balance of price and performance for small to medium size ecommerce businesses.

The key advantage for Wordpress & Woocommerce is the quantity of integrations, plugins, and support. The knock against Wordpress & Woocommerce is the constant updates required. The key is to optimize the amount of plugins necessary for your website needs. You can automate updates by using a managed hosting service like Wordpress Engine. They’ll take care of Wordpress’ security updates, plugins, and version updates.

The other knock against Wordpress and Woocommerce is speed optimization and a clunky admin. Yes, we tend to agree. However, with a little work to compress and optimize with Google Page Insights, then installing Minify & ShortPixel plugins, you can improve site speed significantly. We find it’s well worth the tradeoff with the flexibility and price of hosting.

The cost for running on Wordpress Engine is about $35.00 a month. You can research what technologies a similar website is using by going to Built With.

As far as themes go, we customize our themes using templates from Uncode or Elementor. The Uncode theme comes packaged with 100’s of professionally designed post & page layouts for your website. The best part is you can import the Uncode page designs as needed and then customize to your page needs with a drag and drop editor.

Customizing your Wordpress theme with WP Bakery or Elementor drag and drop editors.

Install the Wordpress Composer plugin by WPBakery. The Uncode theme comes packaged with the WP Bakery plugin they call Visual Composer. Both the WP Bakery & the Elementor plugins are drag and drop visual editors. They work with most Wordpress themes like Uncode. Uncode supplies the page & post templates. In short, with Visual Composer you can import and customize responsive Wordpress themes in a visual way, no coding required. Without it, page customization from the Uncode theme would not be possible without writing code.

The Visual Composer is the software to use if you want to bypass the back and forth communication between designers or developers. Crafting a custom page and connecting the following apps would otherwise require a ton of time and money between designers and developers using any other platform.

Also, we find the level of control in our website is significantly more customizable versus other drag and drop visual editors offered by Shopify, Clickfunnels, Leadpages, and Squarespace.

Now, it does take a few hours of studying & learning WP Bakery or Elementor editors. However, once you understand how rows, columns, and elements work together (called a grid), you’ll be able to customize any website that can rival some of the most advanced & polished websites on the web. In fact, this is the exact system many web development agencies use to handle their website development for clients.

Chat is #1 For ecommerce

One of the first plugins you should have installed on any ecommerce focused website is a chat app/plugin like Intercom. This gives you immediate transparency into the questions your customers are asking about your products and business. You can then use this info to filter back into your website. Slack is another great chat tool that can manage private communication either internally at your business or with your customers.

Capturing Analytics & Customer Feedback in your Wordpress Themes

Okay, After you finish customizing your web pages and installing a chat plugin, you’ll be ready to integrate forms for capturing visitor info.

The following software products integrate seamlessly in Wordpress. We recommend you use a combination of Google Docs, Mailchimp (free up to 2k subscribers), Typeform or Sumo, and Zapier to connect all the apps we’re using. Zapier is the tool that helps pass web analytics data between all the plugins we mention above. So for example, if you want to be notified that someone signed up for your email list in mailchimp or you hit a certain sales threshold, then Zapier can pass that info along to a chat messaging tool like Slack or Intercom.

Using quizzes and incentives to capture customer info with Typeform and/or Sumo:

We recommend Typeform or Sumo for embedding customer quizzes and customer feedback forms seamlessly within your Wordpress theme. You can then export this data with Zapier and analyze with Google Sheets.

Additionally, Sumo is a fantastic tool for building an email list or capturing visitor data with incentives & giveaways.