How to Build a Minimally Viable Website

This post originally appeared at How to Build a Minimally Viable Website via ShivarWeb

How to Build a Minimally Viable Website

So you want to get your product/service/thoughts in front of an audience, and you need a website. Time to buckle down and create a massive, beautiful site, right?

Wrong.

When you’re launching anything, the most important goal is to get data. Without data, you can’t possibly make something as good as it can be — and that applies to your website, too.

You need data on what it takes to build & run the site of your dreams. You need data on who actually visits your site and what they do. You need data to decide what to do next.

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make when launching a website is starting too big and too well-designed (especially eCommerce sites).

You don’t need pages and pages of content or a fancy design. What you do need is a minimally viable website.

Here’s how to build one…

Define Your Goals

Before you do anything, you need to decide what you want to achieve with your website. What do you want people to do once they’re there? If you’re looking to make sales, what are your revenue goals?

This part of the process may seem counterintuitive — after all, this article is about creating the minimally viable product — but it’s key to building your site on the right foot.

Defining your goals upfront will help you know what to look for in the data you get and whether or not you’re on the right path, so don’t skip this step.

Choose Your Platform & Domain

Most business owners feel like their website has to use fancy tools and platforms to get the job done. Not so. In fact, a simple HTML template can be all you need (you can even host it for free with a Dropbox hack if that’s your thing).

If you’re into WordPress or some other website builder and can churn out a quick website, then go that route. Weebly and Wix both offer free plans on their subdomain.

The point here is to get your content somewhere quickly and simply but to also keep your options open for when you’re ready to make changes (and to track data).

Some companies like InMotion Hosting have a specific quick start setup service for $99 + hosting (which you need anyway). Companies like NameCheap will also bundle it with your domain.

A custom domain can be important – but remember that you can always change it. Your goal right now is data – not perfection. Go get a cheap domain from NameCheap or GoDaddy.

Set Up Analytics + Goals

Speaking of tracking data… the whole point of an MVP (or MVW in this case) is to capture data so you can find what works and what doesn’t. In order to be able to capture this information, you need to set up analytics and goal tracking.

There are a lot of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).

The key is to make sure you have goals set up based on whatever action you want people to take. If you’re an eCommerce store, you need to be sure you have an eCommerce checkout set up. Make sure it’s a goal. Make sure the whole package is working correctly because you have to accurately track conversions (aka sales) – if you are using a minimally viable payment solution like PayPal or Gumroad – this might mean simply setting the thank you page redirect.

If you’re looking for email opt-ins, make that a goal. Set up any action you’re looking at as a conversion in Google Analytics for tracking. And like eCommerce sales, you don’t have to get fancy. This might mean setting your MailChimp thank you page redirect as the sign-up goal.

If you plan on marketing your website (which you should), you should also link Google Analytics to Google Ads and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics.

And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website. And learn what exactly Google Analytics does.

Set Up Focus Pages

As I’ve already mentioned, you don’t need a 100+ page website on your first launch. When you’re creating a minimally viable website, you should focus on setting up a few landing pages where you can send traffic for conversion.

In some cases, this can actually be done with a single page.

Take this website: Fix the Electoral College. I built this with a single HTML file hosted on a Google Cloud account. I never wanted to build an entire website dedicated to the structure of American politics with all the security updates and information architecture needs — just a single, shareable resource. This single page website got clicks and shares from hundreds of key state legislators in a very targeted Twitter / Facebook campaign. Mission accomplished!

The goal is to create very specific pages (or a page) that visitors can land on and take action. If you can do that in one page — awesome! Do that. If you need more than one, then take that route. Just remember that this should be as simple and clear as possible and focused around whatever conversion you’re looking to measure.

Test, Test, Test

Once you’ve got your website up, it’s time to start testing and optimizing. The goal here is to keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Keep in mind that everything you do will conform to the 80/20 Principle. I’ve seen lots of analytics profiles across a wide range of industries. In every single one, every metric conforms to 80/20.

  • 20% of the products make up 80% of sales.
  • 20% of content drives 80% of organic traffic.
  • 20% of ad spend drives 80% of revenue.

When evaluating your website, keep your focus on the 20% that matters, and keep expanding the overall amount of opportunity. If you’ve never read much about the concept, check out the original 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch AND the follow-up 80/20 for Sales & Marketing by Perry Marshall.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve got your minimally viable website, it’s time to take some concrete next steps. Remember, this isn’t about more planning. It’s about action. The whole point of launching your MVP site is to get feedback so that you know what to do next.

Check out InMotion’s Quick Start service or NameCheap’s one-pager that will bundle with a domain purchase.

To get that feedback, you’ll need to get people to your site and taking action. Check out this guide to promoting your website (for free) to get started.

Once you’ve gathered data – you’ll need to set up a more permanent website with more options. You’ll want to explore my essential guide to eCommerce platforms or my WordPress website guide or my guide to website builders.

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Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

This post originally appeared at Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives via ShivarWeb

Tailor Brands Review

Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users.

They allow businesses, organizations, and individuals to create an entire “brand identity” with logos, typography, color patterns, and other elements across the web & print.

See Tailor Brands’ Current Plans & Pricing

In other words, Tailor Brands a toolset that makes your project “look good” everywhere from your Facebook page to business cards to website.

There are plenty of Tailor Brands reviews on the Internet – some good, some bad. This Tailor Brands review will look at how the software works, the upsides, downsides, and ideal use cases for the product based on my experience as a digital marketing consultant.

What is Tailor Brands?

Tailor Brands is a suite of tools to help you create & manage your business designs everywhere that your brand appears. They were founded in 2014.

They use software & artificial intelligence to not only create your business’ look and feel but also maintain that look and feel everywhere that you want.

Their main tool is their logo maker. Rather than use templates or quiz questions like traditional automated logo makers, they have you answer whether you like or dislike styles. Their AI does a version of NetFlix’s recommendation algorithm but with design styles.

Once you approve a certain design style, their software creates an entire brand identity and uses rules to apply it to applications ranging from a stand-alone logo to Instagram profiles to website headers to presentation headers.

Background on Tailor Brands

There has always been a plethora of DIY design tools on the Internet. I use Stencil for my Featured Images. I’ve used Canva for social images. I’ve used native tools with Buffer & social networks to customize my logos & images. I had a guy from Fiverr help edit my website CSS to match with my logo colors. I had a professional graphic designer on UpWork create a custom blog image for me. I’ve run contests for clients on 99designs.

In other words, the world of DIY design has been here for a while. You don’t need a Mad Men-esque setup of paying $$$ for graphic designers to create a pitch deck.

But the world of DIY design is also a bit of a frustratingly hot mess. It’s a world that’s good enough to be dangerous.

In other words, it’s accessible enough to let non-designers think they are designing a nice brand…when it’s a jumble of mismatched fonts, misaligned layouts, and conflicting colors.

It’s the difference between “Yeah, that’s nice” and “Damn, that is right on! How’d you do that?”.

Tailor Brands is an interesting product that is trying to use software, AI, and automation to take those details away from humans and just automatically apply it wherever you need it – to create a “brand identity with a stylebook” as it were.

How Tailor Brands Works

Tailor Brands works by moving you through its logo maker, which doubles as a brand identity developer. You are given options…and you can run the software as many times as you want.

Once you’ve approved your design, you’re taken to a studio with mockups & style guidelines. You then have a choice of 3 pricing plans*.

First, the $3.99/mo plan provides access to your logo, social media tools, and graphic design library. You can also connect your domain to a basic landing page builder.

Second, the $11.98/mo plans provide access to EPS vectors (for outdoor and print use) in addition to a full website builder and advanced design tools.

Third, the $25.98/mo plan provides access to social media schedulers and analytics so that you can bring your social media management under a single platform. You can also accept payments and run an online store.

*Note – you can cancel and keep all your design assets. So technically, if you just need a logo – you can get that for less than $50 (the $3.99 is billed for 12 months).

The plans all provide ongoing access to tools to manage your brand designs. You retain full ownership of all brand designs & assets even after you cancel.

Pros of Using Tailor Brands

For a relatively new product, Tailor Brands’ actual product is well-executed. There are few bugs or real complaints that I found with the actual core product.

Their real advantage (and disadvantage) is their unique positioning as a tool suite. Here are some of the main pros of using Tailor Brands not only for logos but as a design management tool suite.

Product Focus on Branding over Assets

As mentioned in the introduction, one big issue with the DIY design tool world is the focus on design assets. It’s easy to create a Facebook post on Canva or bulk generate Google Ads with Display Ad Planner. Those tools are easy and usually free. But they are inherently separate. *You* have to manage your images across different tools.

A huge pro for Tailor Brands is that they have an entire tool suite that focuses on unifying your entire brand everywhere. They focus on keeping that brand identity right on, rather than focusing on giving you the best kerning tool or biggest font library or the most intuitive CSS editor.

If you look at some of their design tools one on one with direct tool competitors, they may or may not be “the best”. But Tailor Brands can keep everything looking good everywhere, which is their main pitch to customers who would benefit from their product.

In my experience especially with small and local businesses, it’s a consistent brand identity (paired with a good product / service) that allows them to compete with established big name brands.

If you can just remove the infamous pixelated cover photo, you’ll probably beat your competition. And if you can ensure that your new assistant can quickly handle good looking Instagram posts…all the better.

That outcome is Tailor Brands’ main focus, and it comes off well in the product.

Pricing Structure & Cross-Sells

Every software as a service (SaaS) struggles with business models and pricing. You want your service to be accessible, but also profitable.

This balance is especially hard to strike with design assets where it’s usually a one-and-done proposition.

Tailor Brands runs on a subscription business model. But the subscriptions focus on the design tools rather than the design assets.

Tailor-Brands-Pricing

This structure creates a couple of of useful incentives.

First, it means that there’s no question of ownership of design assets. You own your brand, period.

In fact, it means that you can get a really cheap logo if that’s all you want. You can pay for one month, download your assets, and cancel. You’ve got a high-quality logo in a range of file types for less than $50.

Second, it means that while Tailor Brands has to keep optimizing their logo maker to bring in more customers, they also have to keep developing better design tools to keep customers around. There’s no disincentive to extort customers over their design assets or to drag their feet over product development.

Third, the subscription encourages use from customers rather than a one and done download. The real productivity boost for businesses is having a go-to design tool with everything in one place where you (or a new team member) can quickly create new designs & assets on an ongoing basis. And usually, the more you use a tool, the better you can get.*

*also you’ve got software that will adapt to frequent social media image requirements.

Ideally, there’s a virtuous cycle for everyone involved. Tailor Brands is one of the few companies where I think the cross-sells and upsells are not annoying, and generally useful.**

**also, small quibble, but do note that the prices are billed annually – so you are purchasing a full 12 months of access, even if you only pay monthly.

Turnaround Speed & Feature Versatility

Since Tailor Brands is fully automated, there are no constraints on time, speed, revisions, requests, or redos.

If you want to try graphic design a 2 AM Eastern, you can. If you want to completely redo your design, you can. If you need a mockup right now, you can get it. There’s no delay in turnaround or schedule to meet.

There’s no back and forth or waiting for your designer or virtual assistant. There’s just the software that is working 24/7/365. That’s a huge advantage for Tailor Brands. It works on your timeline.

And if you are trying to actually run a business, working on design any time means that it will get done. If you are running your business full-time, you likely don’t have time during business hours. And if you are working on a side project…you have to work on it outside business hours.

Additionally, since Tailor Brands has a whole suite of design tools, there’s no downloading or cropping or exporting or importing. Everything is just there to use.

Convenience generally beats everything. And when it comes to branding, Tailor Brands makes brand design convenient above all else.

Backend Quality & Usability

Even though Tailor Brands focuses on the branding aspect of design across their suite of tools, the tools themselves are high-quality and rock-solid.

They’ve built some tools in-house, but others they’ve high-quality 3rd party tools and customized them. For example, their website builder is built on top of the Duda website builder, which is one of the best website builders that I’ve used.

Same with their social media tools. It looks like they’ve white-labeled a 3rd party tool. But whatever it is, it’s legit and high-quality. Same with the design editor and others.

Each tool is solid & highly-usable on its own. But when they are all bundled within Tailor Brands’ suite, it makes each tool even more useful than it would be on its own.

Cons / Disadvantages of Using Tailor Brands

Every product has disadvantages, but especially a relatively new product like Tailor Brands.

Here are a few tradeoffs & complaints that I found with Tailor Brands. Some are simply the flip side of an advantage, but some are inherent to their approach.

Branding Process & Revisions

Tailor Brands’ fully automated, AI-powered design process leaves humans out of the process deliberately. That choice cuts costs, increases efficiency, increases choice, and makes the platform what it is.

But the tradeoff with this choice is that…it leaves out humans.

And humans are still critical to produce truly unique or truly outstanding brands. Brands are built on stories, and stories are what makes us human.

Humans can also ask pertinent questions, push-back on scope, implement creative deadlines, and invent completely new concepts.

Tailor Brands’s software can create a brand design and a brand style guide, but it cannot assign meaning or purpose of symbolism or even provide a reason why a certain design works over another – it only knows what “works” based on other user data.

The story / meaning part of branding is either your job or a job for another human. If you assign it to another human, that’s going to cost time & money.

And if you take on the job yourself, it’s something to be aware of and learn about.

Either way, it’s something to keep in mind when using Tailor Brands. There’s no process of “brand discovery” or mapping your customer’s psychographic persona. There are no revisions based on client feedback.

All that is for better and for worse. Before online design tools, agencies gave away the process and sold the assets. Now, you can get the assets affordably, but you still have to understand a bit about branding.

And that leads to the next tradeoff.

Customer Education & Brand Identity

Even though Tailor Brands does a lot of the branding & design work for the customer, they still leave a lot of creative work up to the customer.

The tradeoff of any service that claims to do “everything” for you is that the customer’s expectations are not set correctly. When it turns out that there is *some* work to be done, it’s easy to bail instead of figuring the work out.

A Tailor Brands customer still needs to be prepared to think through where, when, how they’ll need to use designs. The logo maker sequence is great, but after creating the logo, there’s very little guidance for a new customer.

Tailor-Brands-Dashboard

There’s a ton of options with no real onboarding guidance or customer examples. Their welcome email series is limited to deals & coupons rather than “here are common next steps” or “here are some common use cases”.

I can imagine that customers who don’t have a strong sense of direction would churn quickly after getting a logo idea.

If you do end up using Tailor Brands, do note that you should have an idea of what *you* need to get out of it, rather than just using it for using a new tool’s sake.

Platform Product Lock-in

Tailor Brands is a hosted platform that focuses on convenience. And there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control on the Web.

The more convenient a product is…the less control you have. And the more control you have…the less convenient the product is. Think about RSS vs. Twitter. Think about hosted website builders vs. self-hosted CMS’. Think about an Amazon Seller listing vs. your own ecommerce store.

Tailor Brands makes everything downloadable. And they ensure that you truly own all your intellectual property.

However, like a hosted website builder, your work is inherently tied to their platform in many ways. The longer you commit to their platform, the harder it becomes to leave.

That’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a disadvantage that’s the flip side of their big advantage.

But it’s an important tradeoff to understand. If you use the Tailor Brands’ platform over your own copy of Adobe Illustrator, email or Paint, do ensure that you are downloading and backing up *all* of your brand assets on your own computer for the sake of preserving your own intellectual property.

Company Structure, Age & Competition

Tailor Brands has been around since 2014. They are still considered an “early-stage venture-funded” startup. In other words, they are privately held and using investor money to focus on the product rather than profit or market share.

Like the platform lock-in tradeoff, this disadvantage is more of a consideration. Right now they are still at a stage where pricing & product can change rapidly. They also probably have a small team with limited resources. They also will have copycat competition from publicly held competitors like Wix, Fiverr, Squarespace, Vistaprint, and others.

The upside to being a customer at a young venture-funded company is that you can count on more resources going into a better product. The downside is that there’s still a risk that they could get bought or “pivot” in the future.

Tailor Brand Alternatives & Use Cases

A product / service is only as good as its customer fit. Tailor Brands is not for everyone. But for some, it would be amazing.

Here’s 3 use cases where I think they’d be a really good it.

New Business or Organization w/ No Brand Assets

If you have a new business or organization with no brand assets and no large budget for a human-led design process, Tailor Brands would be a perfect fit.

Now, I would think through which features & tools that you’ll need from them. If you need a more robust website presence and/or email with lots of features, you might want to look at a dedicated website builder, ecommerce platform, or even shared hosting. You could use Tailor Brands strictly for design tools and social media. Either way, a new small business is their bread & butter. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.

Personal but Online Project w/ No Brand Assets

If you have a small personal project that you want to look just right – think resume site, hobby site, non-profit idea, family project, etc – Tailor Brands would be a solid fit. You can get try out their logo maker for free here.

Existing Business or Organization w/ Redesign

If you have an existing business or organization and you want to refresh your look without committing to a design firm or outsourcing to several providers, Tailor Brands would be a good fit. You can use what tools you need. You can also download & use the EPS file to get any signage or custom assets made offline.

Now, Tailor Brands is not for everyone. If you feel comfortable coordinating designs and brand assets across different platforms or if you have the budget to pay a human for graphic design, then something else might be a better fit.

Here are a few direct competitors to Tailor Brands and how they compare.

Tailor Brands vs. 99designs

99designs is a contest-led marketplace for graphic design. You set a budget and run a “contest” among human designers based on your design briefing. I wrote a 99designs review here. But in short, 99designs is sort of the halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. 99designs is much more expensive than Tailor Brands, but you do get human ideas based on a design brief. 99designs also has a huge range of design contest options…but not the design management tools of Tailor Brands. Technically, you could (and should) check out both. See Tailor Brands here and 99designs here.

Tailor Brands vs. Fiverr

Fiverr is a huge marketplace for humans working on “gigs”. You think of a task that you need to be done, find a person to hire, and quickly get it done for you within Fiverr’s platform. Fiverr is also a halfway human point between Tailor Brands and an agency. The price ranges depending on skills and reputation. While you can great design assets from Fiverr, you are also in charge of managing all your design assets. You also have to expect to pay for several logos / designs before coming away with a good one. Tailor Brands would be a simpler, more affordable, and versatile fit.

Tailor Brands vs. Wix Logo Maker

Wix is the big brand name in the website builder world. I wrote a Wix review here. Technically Wix competes directly with Tailor Brands, even if they have a different focus. Tailor Brands focuses on how your brand designs are presented *everywhere*. Wix has similar tools, but really focuses their tool on website applications. In other words, Tailor Brands is a design tool with a website builder and Wix is a website builder with a design tool. Check out Tailor Brands here and check out Wix’s logo maker here.

Tailor Brands vs. DIY Tools

Between Canva, Stencil, and every other random logo generator on the Internet, Tailor Brands has plenty of competition for DIYers. If you have the time and wherewithal, you could get everything that Tailor Brands offers for free. The issue would be that all your designs would be dispersed among a bunch of tools…and you would be relying on your own design taste rather than a professionally built tool. In the end, I think that Tailor Brands is worth the money for the convenience and the designs. But for a quick sketch up of something you have in your head, Stencil is the simplest.

Next Steps & Conclusion

Tailor Brands is a unique and useful addition to the design world. In fact, for many businesses, it could do a full end around the traditional “upload your logo to a website builder” model.

By bundling design management tools, including a social media editor and quality website builder with an automated logo & brand designer, Tailor Brands has figured out something new & different.

If you are a non-designer trying to build a consistent brand identity across the Web & offline, Tailor Brands is worth a try.

See Tailor Brand’s Current Plans & Pricing

You might also be interested in my review of 99designs, my post on layouts, and my post on color palettes, and my post on hiring a web designer.

Good luck with your project!

Tailor Brands Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

Tailor Brands is a suite of branding & design tools powered by machine learning for non-technical users. They allow businesses, organizations, and indi

Price: 3.99

Price Currency: USD

Application Category: Logo Design

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Square For Nonprofits: Everything You Need To Know About Seamlessly Accepting Donations, Running Events, & Selling Merch With Square’s Platform

The post Square For Nonprofits: Everything You Need To Know About Seamlessly Accepting Donations, Running Events, & Selling Merch With Square’s Platform appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store

WooCommerce Pros Cons Alternatives for Online Store

WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.

Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set

Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide

WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.

Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).

1 WooCommerce Install

In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.

Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.

So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What is WooCommerce?

To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.

Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.

And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.

It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.

WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).

And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –

  • domain (your address on the Internet)
  • hosting (where your website files live)
  • software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)

In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.

Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.

Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.

But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.

That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.

But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.

Pros of WooCommerce

Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.

Long-term Cost & Value

WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.

Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.

WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.

That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.

For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.

If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.

To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.

For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.

All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.

Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.

WooCommerce Extensions

And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.

For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.

If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.

And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.

If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.

Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.

Integration with WordPress

WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.

And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.

This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.

For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.

There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.

The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.

Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.

Themes for WooCommerce

f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).

Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.

Support from Automattic

Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.

WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.

They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.

Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.

But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.

There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).

But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.

Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.

WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.

Versatility & Compatibility

A few fun facts about WooCommerce –

  • You can use it to sell memberships
  • You can use it to sell recurring licenses
  • You can use it to sell digital goods
  • You can use it to sell apppointments
  • You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
  • You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine

The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.

WooCommerce Extensions

The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc

It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.

In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.

3rd Party Integrations

WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.

If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.

If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.

But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

Woocommerce Wizard

When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.

You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).

Control & Customizations

Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.

You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.

WooCommerce Permalinks

You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.

There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.

Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.

Cons of WooCommerce

Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.

Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.

There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.

But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.

For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).

WooCommerce Menu Settings

For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.

But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.

Technical Maintenance

Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?

Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.

In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.

Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.

But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.

Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.

This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.

Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.

But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*

Shopify Backend

*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.

Speed & Security

With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.

Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.

WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.

Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.

But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.

For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.

In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.

Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.

It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.

Growth & Scaling

Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.

And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.

This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.

And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.

Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.

But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.

Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.

That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.

Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.

Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.

All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.

If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.

But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.

Potential Long-term Costs

WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.

However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.

One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.

She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.

Shopify Pricing

Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).

Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.

Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.

In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.

In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.

Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.

And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.

All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.

However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.

It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.

All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.

WooCommerce Alternatives

There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.

WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins

There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –

  • Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
  • WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
  • WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
  • NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.

WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.

WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.

WooCommerce vs. Wix

Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.

WooCommerce vs. Magento

Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.

WooCommerce vs. OpenCart

OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce vs. Ecwid

Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.

WooCommerce vs. Prestashop

PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce Review Conclusion

WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –

  • Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
  • Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
  • Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.

If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.

If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.

Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.

The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Complete Guide To Finding An Internet Merchant Account

The post The Complete Guide To Finding An Internet Merchant Account appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How Much a Website Costs Per Year Explained

Website Costs Per Year

So, how much does a website cost per year?

Wait for it…. it depends. 🙂

But yes – “it depends” is not helpful at all.

The Short Answer to Website Costs Per Year

Annual website cost = domain + hosting + software + labor + annualized upfront costs

  • Domain costs range from $9 to $15 per year for a .com or .org
  • Hosting costs range from $60 to $240 per year for shared web hosting
  • Software costs range from free to $100 per year for backups & security to much higher
  • Labor costs range from free to thousands of dollars
  • Annualized upfront costs are how you want to budget upfront costs like design & themes

I highly recommend “annualizing” your upfront costs because that is a big consideration in how you want to approach actually building a website.

If you use a “hosted website builder” like Wix, Weebly or WordPress.com, then you’ll be paying all these costs in a single bundled subscription price. Your annual costs are elevated, but predictable.

If you build your website a la carte with self-hosted WordPress (even if it’s with a “builder“), then you can control a lot of your costs and get access to a lot of features that a hosted website builder might take away (e.g., actually having a custom domain or SEO features).

The Long Answer to Website Costs Per Year

But here’s the thing, your annual website costs really do depend on your choices & goals. I’ll break down how much a website should cost, and what variables you can play with to make sure your costs fit what you want to get out of it.

Consider a few websites that I have personally been involved with.

Website #1 cost $0 upfront and now costs $8 per year to maintain. It is a single page and written in HTML/CSS that I wrote. It lives on a Google Cloud account with a $300 promo credit with my low-traffic website generating all of pennies worth of traffic every year. It runs on a custom domain name that is $8/yr to renew. That’s it.

Website #2 cost $20 upfront and now costs $0 per year to maintain. It is a personal photo blog that lives on WordPress.com. I bought a nice premium theme at the beginning for $20. Now I keep it on a free *wordpress.com subdomain with limited ads & links to WordPress.com in lieu of annual fees. That’s it.

Website #3 cost $120 upfront and now costs more than $1500 per year to operate. It started with a free WordPress theme and a year of shared hosting plus a custom domain. Now, it requires a VPS server with secondary backup & security software in addition to premium software plugins and a small budget for a few hours of developer / designer time.

Website #4 cost $300,000 upfront and now costs $30,000 per year to operate. It started with custom branding & design in addition to extensive custom development and deployment to dedicated hosting (now moved to cloud hosting). It also requires monthly staging for software updates, in addition to technical maintenance, and a extensive suite of 3rd party plugins for email, A/B testing, etc.

So there’s a lot of factors involved in website costs. But that’s not a reason to throw up your hands and just say that “it costs what it costs” – or worse, get started on a project and have to quit after a year because it’s more expensive than you wanted the project to be.

Let’s look at the factors individually, how they work, and how they add up.

And while we look at each factor, I’m going to use an analogy that has worked well for readers in my other post about ecommerce. I’m going to compare building a website to building a house since most people are somewhat familiar with what goes into living in a place.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

To start, begin imagining a hosted website builder like a townhome in a gated development. You have more control & say over your house than a Facebook page (a hotel room in the analogy), but a lot of things are taken care of with a Homeowner’s Association or Condo fee. A self-hosted website will be a detached single-family home in a neighborhood. There’s no recurring HOA or condo fee, but you are responsible for everything.

Domain Costs

Unless you want your website as a subdomain on someone else’s domain, then a custom domain name is the one critical cost variable for your website.

In our real estate analogy, a domain name is like your street address. You technically don’t need it…unless you want people to be able to find your house / website.

Thankfully, an annual domain does not cost that much. Even if you maintain a WHOIS privacy add-on, a .com domain should not cost more than $12 per year from somewhere like NameCheap which specializes in cheap long-term renewals.

In fact, many hosting companies will usually bundle a free domain for a year with the purchase of a hosting package. And other domain companies like GoDaddy will do very deep discounting (though will be more expensive at renewal). Some hosted website builders will bundle a domain name as well.

Either way, you really only need one, unless you have strong reasons to buy extras.

I’d budget $12 per year for this annual cost.

Hosting Costs

Hosting is where your actual website files live. Whether you are bundling with a website builder or self-hosting on your own hosting account, it’s a cost that you can’t really get away from.

In our real estate analogy, your hosting account is like your land / property. You not only need it, but it can dramatically affect how much of a headache / cost your website is.

Think about land in the real world, sure, there is plenty of super-cheap or even free land…but it usually has some tradeoffs. The land might be distant from highways or it might not have the best neighbors or it might not come with water or electricity.

Hosting is the same way. You can get super-cheap hosting for your website. But you will generally get what you pay for. In fact, paying for a good host can make a lot of your other costs much, much cheaper.

Many hosting companies include domain names, drag & drop tools, high-touch customer-support, and security / backups that take pressure off your domain, software, and labor costs.

For example, the host that runs this site (InMotion Hosting) has WordPress plans that are a bit more expensive than typical web hosting plans. But they come with a subscription to JetPack (speed, security & backups) in addition to high-touch support and a drag & drop design tool.

InMotion Support

 

And plenty of other hosts offer similar setups (like SiteGround, Bluehost, and others). But, of course, the extras can only go so far since hosting costs will likely be your single largest annual cost. Thankfully, it’s also a cost that will generally only rise as your number of visitors rises (and so, presumably, your ability to pay for it).

For a good shared hosting plan, I’d budget $120 per year.*

*Note that many self-hosting plans allow multiple websites on a single account. If you have several websites, then self-hosting makes your per website costs even less. And again, for a hosted website builder, this cost is bundled, but is per website no matter what.

Software Costs

Software is what you’ll use to actually build & operate your website. Now, technically, you don’t need software to build a website.

In our real estate analogy, your software is what makes your actual house. It’s the framing, plumbing, electricity, roofing, drywall – the actual pieces that make the house.

You can hand-code HTML / CSS files and upload to your hosting account for no costs. I’ve done that before. It can be useful. But…almost all website owners (and visitors) want the interactivity, ease of use, versatility, and management functions of modern website software (just like you could cut down trees to make a log cabin…or you could have a house).

Website Hosting HTML Files

There are also a lot of 3rd party software that you might want in addition to your actual website. Think about the costs for email marketing software or design costs / themes or specific plugins (like ecommerce). Sometimes these costs are even greater if you go the hosted website builder route, since sometimes they won’t have native features. You’ll have to add them via a premium app.

For software, you could do $0 per year…but I’d recommend adding in at least $100 per year for backup & marketing software.

Labor Costs

Every website requires time, thought & expertise to actually build & operate. This factor is where you’ll encounter a massive range of costs that is totally up to you.

In our real estate analogy, labor is literally who builds & maintains your property. Do you want to hire an architect or build off pre-made blueprints? Do you want to hire as things come up or have someone in charge of everything? Do you want to outsource cutting the grass or just electrical issues?

If you are self-hosting your website, your software will take care of most of the “bones” of the website, but you’ll still be in charge of choosing an off-the-shelf design / theme. You’ll need to run software updates. You will have access to support via your hosting company, but some things will be out of their scope & expertise.

If you go the hosted route, you’ll have labor pre-paid for that will take care of all the maintenance…but a lot of the design choices will still be up to you. Think of it like an interior designer – most everyone does it DIY…but you can also tell who has spent the money to hire everything out.

I’ve written a guide to hiring a web designer and a marketing consultant, but I also have a guide to building a minimally viable website. There’s a lot of way to budget – all depending on your goals & expertise. I personally do most everything DIY, and spend very little on labor to maintain my website.

But last year I also paid $100 for someone to remove a hack from a client site. I paid $50 for a few image designs. I’ve also paid $500 for a custom plugin. The costs can widely vary, but it’s important to think through your ideal budget and the “what if X happens” budget”.

Annualized Costs

Annualized costs are upfront costs that you smooth out over the course of a project to get a sense of true annual cost.

In our real estate analogy, there are going to be a lot of things that you purchase upfront for a house…that you use but don’t pay for year after year even though they will need to be replaced at some point. Think about your appliances, your roof, your HVAC, etc.

With a website, your annualized costs will mainly be things like a prepaid hosting bill (most hosting companies give big discounts for multi-year commitments), a premium web design or theme, a premium plugin purchase, setup costs, course subscription, etc.

Whatever you have budgeted to spend upfront, I’d recommend smoothing that out and combining it with your annual costs so that you have a good sense of the true cost of your website project.

Sticking with a commitment is usually a mix of good habits and good expectations. I’ve seen too many good website projects start and fizzle because expectations were set too low or too high.

Adding your total website costs will help you back into what your commitment will actually require.

Adding up Total Website Costs per Year

Now, let’s talk about adding it all up. The formula is pretty straightforward. Take all your costs and add them up.

For a small blog project that is self-hosted on WordPress, you’d likely end up with –

  • Domains = $10
  • Hosting = $100
  • Software = $100
  • Labor = $0
  • Annualized = $10 (for 5 years)
  • Total Annual Costs = $220 per year

For a small ecommerce store on Shopify, you’d likely end up with –

  • Domains = $15
  • Hosting = $0
  • Software = $400
  • Labor = $200
  • Annualized = $35 (for 5 years)
  • Total Annual Costs = $650 per year

But here’s the thing. Your costs won’t just vary based on your plans, but also based on what happens.

In large organizations (like the US Army), they refer to “scenario planning”. It’s where you map out several scenarios, determine what costs go with each scenario, and assign probabilities.

It sounds complex, but it doesn’t have to be. It just means that you need to come up with a range of costs depending on what actually happens.

For the small blog project, there’s a scenario where you find out that theme editing is quite easy and you don’t need a premium theme upfront. There’s also one where your site gets hacked and you need to pay Sucuri to clean it for $100.

For the small ecommerce store, there’s a scenario where you really need custom shipping rates and have to upgrade from Basic Shopify, thus increasing your software costs. In another scenario, you get the ropes of installing apps & editing designs, so you don’t need to hire anyone to setup the store.

Add up your range of website costs – you’ll be able to figure out what the project is worth. And what you want to get out of it.

Next Steps

So the true answer to “how much does a website cost per year?” really is… “it depends.”

But there is a way to breakdown your costs with your goals and your resources.

Thinking through your own costs can set the right expectations and set you up for success.

Learn how to find the best web host here and how to find the best website builder here and the best ecommerce hosting here.

Explore my other explainers here. If you found this post useful – do please share 🙂

The post How Much a Website Costs Per Year Explained appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder

Google Sites Review Pros & Negatives of Using Googles Website Builder

Google Sites is Google’s free website builder software that it offers as part of the G Suite of Drive, Email, Hangouts, etc.

Sites has never been highly publicized like its other products. I’ve always thought of Sites as part of the bucket of products like Drawing, Blogger, and Correlate that sort of come as part of other, well-known product lines but are otherwise forgotten about…yet still awesome in their own way.

If you have a Google Account, go check out Google Sites here.

I’ve written about Google’s Domains product and Blogger – but have never looked at Google Sites specifically.

My experience with Google Sites began back when I first started my web design business years and years ago. I never used Google Sites for my own projects until I came across it when a client of mine was using it and needed a few tasks done.

But since then, better competition has popped up from Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, WordPress.com, Website Creator, and other website builders. And Google has upgraded the product I originally used. They’ve streamlined it to make it supposedly the “effortless way to create beautiful sites.”

See Google Sites here…

Skip to the Conclusion & Next Steps

So for a personal project of mine, I decided to try it out again and see who the product would really be a good fit for – and not just compare it to other hosted website builders.

I also wanted to compare Google Sites to other website solutions like hosting your own website or using a hosted eCommerce platform.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my professional experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

New Google Sites vs. Classic Google Sites vs. Google My Business Website

Google is notorious for rolling out overlapping & competing with their own products – only to kill or update them after a couple years.

And Google Sites is no different. When discussing Google’s website builder product, there are really up to 4 products in play.

1. Blogger

Ok – Blogger is an old-school but still surprisingly good blogging platform. You can create a website with it. You can do designs, templates, and everything else. It’s free. But – you are stuck with the reverse-chronological display of posts. I won’t really be covering this here. I wrote a Blogger review here.

2. Google My Business Website

This is Google’s website product for small, local businesses. You can’t use it unless you have a Google My Business account. The product is less of a “website builder” than a super-detailed local business listing. I won’t really be covering this here. You can read a good FAQ of this product here.

3. Classic Google Sites

This is the product that I started with years and years ago. It still lives at sites.google.com – and it’s decidedly old school.

You can find links to it throughout Google Sites.

Classic Sites

The ironic bit about Classic Google Sites is that it actually has more technical options than Google Sites…even if it is less user-friendly.

Old School Google SItesMost of the pros/negatives of Classic Sites are the same as Google Sites. But I would not consider it for a long-term project since Google will likely kill it any day now if their history is anything to go by.

4. Google Web Designer

This product is not related at all – despite its name.

Google Web Designer

Google Web Designer is a desktop app to create designs for the Web (aka banner ads).

5. New Google Sites (free)

Ok – this is what we’re going to talk about. This is Google’s main website builder software. It is available for anyone with a Google Account. It not only lives on Google Drive – but it is marketed with Sheets, Docs, Drawings and more.

New Google Sites

6. New Google Sites (G Suite)

Ok – this software is the same as the free Google Sites, except that it is built for business subscribers to the G Suite (the old Google Apps for Business). It is exactly the same as the free Google Sites, but has different account permissions and generally receives product updates – like custom domain mapping – sooner than the free version.

Let’s look at the pros & negatives.

Pros of Google Sites

Google Sites has a lot going for it. I know an eCommerce store owner who started and ran her store for 2 years before she began to look for a new solution (though it took a lot of hacking around with PayPal scripts). Here are the major pros.

Price

Google Sites is free with unlimited use, traffic, and websites. This is possibly the most compelling part of Google Sites.

It’s part of Google’s relentless push to keep you signed into your Google account for as much as possible. If you are signed into your personal Google account, you can go to sites.google.com right now and get started. There are no risks, no upsells, no expiration dates or limits. It’s just free due to Google’s crazy innovative business model.

And if you are a paying G Suite for Business user, Sites is bundled with your subscription along with all the backups, administrative controls, and guarantees that come with your account.

There’s no risks and no catch and no “trying” – you can go get started now.*

*of course – there is your time and learning curve investment – which we’ll discuss in the negatives section.

Google Integration

Sites is fully integrated with Google’s products. With the new Google Sites, it even has all the same Material Design conventions of Google’s other products.

Your site is saved directly in your Google Drive. You can access it anywhere with any device. You can download it along with your other data from Google Takeout.

Hosting in Your Google Drive

There are no additional passwords or account setup – it’s seamless and fully integrated.

Simplicity & Security

Google Sites is simple and straightforward to use.

Google Sites Google Features

The learning curve is measured in minutes. There’s no real “onboarding” or education because everything that is available with the product is “right there.”

You can build a multi-page beautiful, functional website quickly and simply.

Google Sites Drag & Drop

Additionally, Google handles your security issues…since it is one and the same as your email account.

Speed & Sharing

Like security, Google handles your speed considerations. The resulting HTML / CSS product is lean on fast servers and available worldwide.

Since it is fully integrated with your Google Account – it is simple to share & preview. You can create & collaborate on a website as easily as you can on a Google Doc.

Negatives of Google Sites

Now – there are plenty of negatives with Google Sites. Like I’ve said with all website builders – there is no overall “best” – there’s only the best for you considering your budget, time, resources, and goals.

After reading the pros of Google Sites – you are probably wondering how Google Sites isn’t the go-to solution for every website.

Well, Google Sites has plenty of negatives. But the summary is that Google Sites is very feature-limited and not really meant for long-term website projects (hence the simplicity).

I like to use real estate as an analogy. If running your own website on your own hosting account is like owning a building on your own property and using a website builder like Weebly is like running a business in a leased storefront, then Google Sites is like leasing a table at a farmer’s market or festival.

It’s great for short-term, quick projects. And you do have plenty of options to “make it yours” – but it’s not really meant for a long-term business website. Let’s look at some of the specifics.

Limited Design Features

Google Sites’ design features are sorely limited.

Your template limits exactly what you can and cannot edit. And – you have very few templates to choose from in the first place.

You cannot add or edit CSS and add any kind of interactivity.

The design features on offer are simple and straightforward – but they are all Google Drive related design tools. There’s some embedding but no editing the embed details.

Although the templates look good, you can’t edit the layouts or any of the core parameters.

For example, with your navigation menu, you get to choose from the top right or the sidebar…and that’s it. There’s no 3rd option or even re-arranging.

Google Sites Template Options

The templates look good on all devices but impose strict limits on everything to make this feature happen.

If you want to build any sort of brand identity or build a custom design with tempates – then you’ll be sorely limited with Google Sites.

Limited Marketing Features

Google Sites’ marketing features are sorely limited as well. As a professional marketer, this negative is particularly glaring.

You get Google Analytics access so that you can have critical data like Sessions and Pageviews and such…but that’s about it.

Google Sites Analytics Options

There’s no adding a Facebook Pixel, Share Buttons or Redirects. If you’re into SEO, there’s no editing your Title tag or meta description.

Now – if you get all your traffic from offline methods, direct web referrals, or word of mouth then these tools may not matter.

However, since marketing data is only as useful as the amount of historical data you have – if you ever have plans to grow or use other marketing channels, then Google Sites will not be a good option.

Custom Domain Setup

All Google Sites use https://sites.google.com/[yoursitename] as the default domain name. Unlike Classic Google Sites, there is no option to add a custom domain name.

Google Sites Domain Name Options

I don’t know why. The feature might be coming since Google rolled out custom domains to the new Google Sites for G Suite subscribers.

Either way – this is a major downside for Google Sites as a business or even a personal website. While not strictly necessary for a successful website, a domain name is fundamental for any long-term project.

It’s this missing feature that really highlights the fact that Google Sites is really only for temporary projects or internal uses – similar to a Google Doc or Presentation.

Future-Proofing

Google is notorious for killing off products – including really popular ones. And while Google Sites does seem to be a core part of Google’s productivity suite…that could change at any time (as is the case with the Classic Google Sites).

And while you can export your data as part of Google’s Takeout program, there’s no way to directly export or access your account via FTP within Google Sites.

If you are running a business or even a personal site on Google Sites, you should be aware that it could go away at some point in the future and you should have a plan for that.

Google Sites Comparison

Google Sites is a good product that serves a purpose – but how does it compare directly with other products in the website builder world?

Google Sites vs. Squarespace

I reviewed Squarespace here. If you have a small, temporary project, then Google Sites will be the fit. Squarespace is pricey and has its own learning curve. But – if you have a long-term business or personal project and you value well-done templates that display high-quality photography, then Squarespace will be a better fit.

Google Sites vs. Wix

I reviewed Wix here. Wix has a free plan where you use a [yoursitename].wix.com domain name – so in some ways it’s similar to Google Sites. But with Wix, you have premium plans and access to custom domains. They also offer more features on their free plan. Wix has similar issues to other website builders, but unless you are building a very small free project, then I’d go with Wix. Unlike Google Sites, Wix at least allows you to design more and grow out of the free plan. See Wix’s plans & pricing here.

Google Sites vs. GoDaddy’s Website Builder

I reviewed GoDaddy’s Website Builder (aka “GoCentral) here. It is very feature limited compared to Google Sites…but it’s also super easy to use with a few more marketing tools. Critically, it allows you to seamlessly integrate a custom domain. However, it’s also a paid product. If you have some budget and want a custom domain, but do not want/need many features – then I’d use GoDaddy’s Website Builder. For a free price point – you’ll get a similar product with Google Sites.

Google Sites vs. Weebly

I reviewed Weebly here. Weebly is a solid hosted website builder. They have a free plan with a [yoursitename].weebly.com domain name – but they also have upgrade options and custom domain name options and interesting beginner-level ecommerce options. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use Weebly for their drag & drop and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. WordPress.com

I wrote about WordPress.com vs. WordPress here. WordPress.com has a free plan that is limited to [yoursitename].wordpress.com domain name. The setup is focused on blogging – but they have website features & plenty of upgrade options – including a custom domain option. Unless you have a specific reason to use Google Sites, I’d use WordPress.com for their design features and upgradeable setup.

Google Sites vs. Self-hosted WordPress

I wrote about setting up a WordPress website here. This option requires some budget (about $5/mo) and has some learning curve, but it’s also the best long-term option for businesses investing in their online presence. If you have simple, short-term project with a definite end then I’d just use Google Sites. If you know that you have a long-term project, then you’ll want to invest in the learning curve and go ahead and set up your own site on your own hosting.

Conclusion & Next Steps

So – is Google Sites good for small business? Yes…ish. As a defined short-term solution or project-based solution, it’s great. Go set up your site here.

But…if you have a short-term project that might expand, then I’d look at other options. Take my best website builder quiz here.

If you have a project that is long-term and worth investing in, then I’d go ahead and get your self-hosted website setup w/ instructions here.

The post Google Sites Review: Pros & Negatives of Using Google’s Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Duda Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Duda Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Duda is known as an all-inclusive website builder that was originally created as an easy-to-use mobile website platform for DIYers. It has sinced evolved to help agencies, digital publishers, and hosting companies scale with an quick and easy website platform that helps their clients get up and running ASAP.

Duda is also known for making responsive websites, which means the site fits on any device (i.e. a tablet, phone, computer).

See Duda’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Duda a try for a full Duda review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Duda review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Duda?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Duda lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website (ie, domain name, hosting, software) separately.

Using Duda is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Duda, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Duda competes with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, GoCentral, Jimdo, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed, ease of use, and responsive design (again, web jargon for making your website mobile device-friendly). Duda offers several website templates you can customize, but it also allows you to build your own sections from scratch, making it a solid solution for both DIYers with zero website experience and those who consider themselves a bit more advanced.

Duda also skews its marketing toward agencies, digital publishers, and hosting companies with features like content import, PageSpeed optimization, site personalization, and more (but we’ll get to that later!).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Duda Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Duda website builder — not just in comparison to popular builders like Weebly and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Free Trial Plan

One of Duda’s biggest pros is that they let you try the platform, risk-free, for 30 days. You don’t even have to put a credit card when signing up — you just create an account and get building.

Duda Free Trial

Duda doesn’t restrict your access to any of the features they offer when using the free trial option — it’s as if you’ve bought a plan and are already up and running with them.

This is a great feature if you’re looking to test out a website builder before committing. The thing to keep in mind here though is that the free trial gives you the features of Duda’s mid-tier plan, which includes things like team functionality, content import functionality, etc.

Duda Free Trial Functionality

If you were to downgrade after your 30 days, you would lose those features. Not a big deal if you’re not using them, but could also be time wasted if you do use them and then have to make drastic changes to accommodate the new plan.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

Another pro of using Duda is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just one step — enter your information to create your account, and you’re in! Again, if you’re using the free trial, you don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Simplicity + Flexibility

Duda is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template, entering your own content is super straightforward.

Duda Website Editor

But Duda also combines ease-of-use with flexibility by offering pretty extensive design options. For example, by clicking the “plus” sign, you can add new, pre-made sections to the templated pages you’ve selected.

Duda Add Section

Or, you can create your own section from scratch.

Duda Section Design

This makes Duda a great option for both DIY-ers who want something that’s easy to customize and those who want to add their own design elements without having to hire an experienced designer and developer to make it happen.

Product Integration + Functionality

Another benefit of Duda is their integrations. First, Duda offers hosting on AWS (Amazon Web Services), which can be both a pro and a con depending on where you fall on Amazon.

The pros are that your site can and will still go down (it’s inevitable), but if you’re down, then big brands like Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, Reddit, etc. are down too… which means whatever is causing the downtime is likely to be fixed very quickly. Your site also has access to the best security and storage and speed people in the world.

But the cons are that since your hosting is bundled with Duda, you can’t actually access your files except through Duda (*although Duda does provide a data export). There’s also a chance that pricing changes on the AWS side will affect pricing with Duda. And of course, there’s some people who just don’t want to buy from Amazon… so if you’re in that boat, Duda probably isn’t for you.

Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Duda also offers some pretty advanced functionality built in to its platform, like access to your website’s HTML and CSS, eCommerce functionality, content import, etc.

Duda Customization

This additional functionality gives Duda a unique edge, because it builds in more control while still giving customers the convenience of an all-in-one platform. Typically, these types of website builders see a tradeoff between convenience and control, but Duda does a good job of giving you a decent dose of both.

Just remember that not all of these features are available with all plans, so make sure you do your research.

Team Integration

While this pro is only available with the mid-tier plan and higher, it’s a pretty solid benefit. Duda features the ability to work with your team on your website, which means you can leave comments on the design of the website for your team to review.

Duda Team Functionality

This is functionality is pretty nifty if you’re a small agency, business owner with a team, or even a solopreneur who wants a designer to build your site in Duda but YOU want an easy way to leave comments.

Cons of Using Duda

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Duda as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Duda has a lot of amazing features, they are on the pricier side, especially when you start comparing features across their plans. For example, if you wanted a basic plan, you only have access to email support, and if you were creating an ecommerce store with a basic plan, you could only have ten products.

Duda Pricing

When you dig a bit deeper, you can see that a good bit of functionality is reserved for Team and Agency plans, especially when it comes to Team Collaboration. And when it comes to Duda’s features that give you the most control over your website, like widget builder, website export, and API, those are reserved only for the Agency plan.

Free Trial

Related to pricing, another con of Duda is its free 30-day trial. Don’t get me wrong — having the ability to use Duda’s awesome features for 30 whole days is great! But as I mentioned above, the trial uses the Team plan… which means if you don’t want to pay a higher price point, you’re going to lose a few features and functionality when you move your website to the basic plan.

There also isn’t a free plan for those who just want a basic, short-term website that uses a subdomain. This isn’t a make-or-break con, but it just depends on what you’re looking for. If you need an ultra basic website builder for a short project, you may be better off with a different website builder that’s either less expensive or offers a free plan, no strings attached.

Company Structure

My team, my clients and I have seen and worked with a lot of different software companies. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that companies have to follow not only the demands of their current customers, but also the demands of their business model. A company might be “good” or “bad” right now, but to know how they’ll be in a few years, it pays to spend a couple minutes thinking about their business model and how they’ll evolve to meet customer and market demands.

For example, anyone who understands that Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users, can understand how & why they do the things they do. There is no inherently “bad” or “good” business model. Every model has tradeoffs. It just pays to know where you, the customer, fit in the picture, especially when you are building something as critical to your business as your website.

Duda is a private, venture funded company. They are based in Silicon Valley with venture capital partners. They’ve done several fundraising rounds since 2010.

Duda Financials

Venture-funded companies typically want 1 thing – growth. Sure, they want to make money at some point, but that will usually be at the “liquidity event” (ie, a stock market IPO or company purchase) – not with quarter by quarter profits.

In fact, most venture-funded firms will deliberately lose money if that means growing their customer base. So what are the tradeoffs?

The huge upside is that Duda’s customers will probably get more features, better support, and cheaper pricing than they would otherwise get. The venture capitalists are subsidizing your awesome product.

The huge downside is that Duda’s business model could change (e.g., “pivot”) at any moment. They want customers and revenue – but they want to follow the growth of customers more than anything else.

A publicly traded  is solidly committed to their market strategy. A non-investor funded but private builder like InMotion’s Website Creator is responsive to the founder’s vision and customer demands.

Right now, Duda is serving all markets, including DIYers. But they say right on their homepage who they *really* want to serve –

Duda Market

If you are an agency or hosting company – this is great. And if you are building a short-term project, it’s great. But if you are planning a long-term site, you should keep in mind that their product development might shift away from DIY features and more to project management features.

Duda Review Conclusion

Duda certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, and when you factor in their advanced features that give you more control, it makes the platform a pretty solid website builder for small agencies and even DIYers who need something that’s easy-to-use but can also scale.

Check out Duda’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Duda’s pricing (and market positioning) leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans.

If you’re looking for a website platform that has that many advanced features that allow you to control more of your site, you’d probably be better off with something like Wix for a drag & drop builder or using a self-hosted website builder like Website Creator or Weebly if you want an ecommerce component.

Not sure Duda fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Duda Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Shopify VS Etsy

Shopify VS Etsy

Tie

Pricing

Tie

Tie

Hosting

Tie

✓

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

Tie

Ease Of Use

✓

✓

Features

✓

Web Design

✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

✓

Customer Service & Technical Support

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Tie

Security

Tie

Winner

Final Verdict

Review

Visit Site

Compare

If you’ve arrived at our comparison of Shopify and Etsy, I’m guessing you’re an online seller (or an aspiring one) of the “artsy” or “craftsy” variety. Perhaps even “artsy-craftsy.” Whichever identifier you prefer, you’ll be pleased to know that both Shopify and Etsy can help you sell all sorts of unique, handcrafted, and/or vintage items.

I’ll admit that in some respects, it’s a little unfair to compare Shopify and Etsy head-to-head. Shopify is a shopping cart platform/website builder you can use to create and manage your own, standalone ecommerce store. The Shopify brand itself operates almost completely in the background from your shoppers’ point of view. (If you build your store correctly, no one will know that it’s really powered by Shopify.)

By contrast, Etsy is an online marketplace that allows you to set up shop directly alongside other ecommerce vendors, all with a similar artsy and/or craftsy vibe. All the while, Etsy’s involvement in the whole operation is directly front and center for your shoppers.

You could also argue that a direct comparison between Shopify and Etsy is quite fair and appropriate. People often wonder 1) which of the two software platforms provides the best starting place to sell online, 2) under what circumstances it makes sense to use one or the other (or both), and 3) at what point a seller might need to transition from Etsy to Shopify.

Plus, the introduction of Pattern by Etsy a few years ago made the comparison between Shopify and Etsy even more apropos. For a monthly fee, Pattern makes it possible for Etsy sellers to maintain a standalone, inventory-synced site of their own. Sites built with Pattern can even offer additional products and services that don’t meet the handmade/vintage/craft supply restrictions of normal Etsy shops.

Pattern aside, a huge draw of Etsy in its original form is the built-in traffic and existing customer base from which you can directly benefit as a seller. (You don’t get that with a standalone Pattern site.) The downside, of course, is that you must share your customers with similar stores.

So, with Pattern thrown in, can Etsy compete directly with Shopify? Does the magic combination of Etsy and Pattern render Shopify completely unnecessary for some Etsy-type sellers? You can already tell from our chart at the top of this article that we are still fans of Shopify, but we think all sellers should understand precisely how these two services stack up on all the important dimensions. Ultimately, the right fit is up to you.

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

Pricing

Winner: Tie

Despite some overlap, there’s no getting around the fact that Shopify and Etsy have very different pricing structures. The differences are significant enough that we can’t call a clear winner for cost.

Here’s a very generalized way to compare the two:

  • Sellers who are just getting started, are very concerned about cash-flow, and simply can’t afford a monthly subscription fee will find an initially cheaper option in Etsy.
  • Once you have a moderate and fairly predictable stream of transactions and need a full website for your store, Shopify starts to become more cost-effective.

That’s the condensed version of our pricing comparison. For the full breakdown, strap in and keep reading!

When comparing these two platforms, you should first wrap your mind around the main categories of fees involved. It will also help to keep the following overarching difference in mind: Shopify’s main charge is a monthly fee for using the service, while the main component of Etsy’s cost is a fixed 5% transaction fee charged on every sale that occurs on the platform.

Here are the different categories of costs you should keep in mind when comparing Shopify and Etsy:

  • Monthly Fee: Subscription fee for using the platform.
  • Listing Fee: Cost of listing a product (or group of products that make up one listing) in your shop.
  • Transaction Fee: Percentage commission per sale charged by Etsy or Shopify itself.
  • Payment Processing Fee: Not the same as a transaction fee! This is a per-sale fee (usually a percentage and a dollar amount) charged by your credit card processor/payment gateway. While this entity is usually a third-party company, it turns out both Etsy and Shopify have an in-house, pre-integrated option that most sellers use (Etsy Payments and Shopify Payments, respectively).
  • Standalone Website: Cost of having your own, hosted website with a customizable theme template.

Let’s take a close look at the numbers, shall we? All prices will be shown in USD.

Shopify Pricing

Shopify plans have a monthly fee, no listing fee, and a variable transaction fee that only comes into play if you do not use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor. Starting at the $29/month level, you get your own store website. This involves choosing a free Shopify template or purchasing a premium template from the Shopify theme store. As you look through Shopify’s five pricing plans, remember that you can completely avoid Shopify’s extra transaction fee if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor.

Shopify Lite Plan 

  • Monthly Fee: $9/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online)
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Unavailable. Sell on an existing website, Facebook, or in-person only.

Basic Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $29/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 2.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.9% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plan

  • Monthly Fee: $79/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 1.0%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.6% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Advanced Shopify Plan

  • Monthly fee: $299/mo.
  • Transaction Fee:
    • If Using Shopify Payments: None
    • If Using External Gateway: 0.5%
  • Payment Processing Fee (Online):
    • Shopify Payments: 2.4% + $0.30
    • External Gateway: Varies
  • Standalone Website: Included. Templates are $0-$180/ea.

Shopify Plus: Custom pricing. Reserved for enterprise-level customers.

With each bump in subscription level, Shopify sellers have access to additional features, as well as more staff accounts for their stores. Check out our full Shopify review, or our quick guide to Shopify pricing, for a more complete breakdown of features by plan.

Basic Shopify Advanced

Monthly

$29.00/mo

$79.00/mo.

$299.00/mo.

Yearly

$26.10/mo.

$71.10/mo.

$269.10/mo.

2 Years

$23.20/mo.

$63.20/mo.

$239.20/mo.

3 Years

Same as above

Same as above

Same as above

Etsy Pricing

Etsy has two main plans — Standard and Plus — and a Premium plan that will launch sometime in 2019. Most Etsy sellers use the Standard plan with no monthly fee, whereas the Plus plan is $10/month. Other components of Etsy’s cost include a fixed listing fee, as well as 5% transaction fee on every sale. There is no avoiding this 5% fee, even when you use Etsy Payments as your credit card processor.

Also, keep in mind that your only web presence is your shop page within the Etsy marketplace. If you’d like your own store website separate from (but synced to) your Etsy shop, you can create and maintain a Pattern site for an additional $15/month.

Here are the plans:

Etsy Standard

  • Listing Fee: $0.20/ea.
    • Lasts 4 months
    • Charged when listing is first published or when renewed
  • Transaction Fee: 5.0%
    • Etsy’s commission per sale
    • Also charged on the shipping price
  • Payment Processing Fee w/Etsy Payments: 3% + $0.25
  • Standalone Website: None, or $15/month with Pattern. Pattern site templates are free.

Etsy Plus

  • Monthly Fee: $10/mo.
  • Other Costs Same As Above
  • Additional Features:
    • A monthly budget of credits for listings and Promoted listings ads
    • Access to a discount on a custom web address for your Etsy shop
    • Restock requests for shoppers interested in your items that have sold out
    • Advanced shop customization options
    • Access to discounts on custom packaging and promotional material like boxes, business cards, and signage

Etsy Premium

  • Launching 2019
  • Will include premium customer support and advanced management tools for businesses with employees

One final note about pricing before we sum up this section: if you want a standalone site built on Pattern, you’ll also need to purchase and/or connect a domain name. The annual cost varies, but should be comparable to purchasing a domain for a Shopify store. Of course, if you stick to just selling on Etsy and not on Pattern, you don’t need your own domain URL.

Again, this is one of those comparisons you’ll have to decide the winner of for yourself. You can see that once you have a steady flow of significantly-sized transactions, avoiding that 5% Etsy fee on every sale and ponying up $29/month for Shopify instead (and using Shopify Payments to have the Shopify transaction fee waived) starts to make more sense.

Hosting

Winner: Tie

Shopify and Etsy stores are both fully-hosted solutions based in the cloud. You don’t need to download or install anything to use either. If you create an Etsy-connected website using Pattern, your site’s hosting is covered by your $15/month Pattern subscription. Similarly, Shopify store hosting is covered by the monthly fee.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Shopify

Shopify deserves the win in this category for accommodating a much wider range of business sizes. For just $9/month, you can start selling on Facebook with no additional transaction fees (beyond payment processing itself) if you use Shopify Payments. From there, Shopify scales all the way up to enterprise-level merchants. Etsy, on the other hand, is better geared toward small to mid-sized operations and doesn’t scale nearly as well. That said, for those who just want to test the ecommerce waters and dabble in selling a few handmade or vintage products, Etsy is ideal.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Tie

No special hardware or software is required to open and manage a shop on either platform. You do have the option to add hardware (like card readers) if you wish to sell in-person.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Etsy

Shopify usually earns our top rating for ease of use in the ecommerce software category, and with good reason. In this case, however, I’m awarding Etsy the narrow win. As a marketplace with a uniform structure across all web shops on the platform, the whole Etsy setup process is much less open-ended, so it’s easier to start selling right away. Once you fully dive into the admin dashboard and start manipulating individual features, however, I think the two platforms are equally easy to use.

Let’s peek inside the setup process and backend structure of each system, so you can see what I mean.

Shopify Setup

Shopify offers a two-week free trial of the platform — all you need is an email address. You’re free to test the software to your heart’s content, short of making actual sales.

Shopify Dashboard

Once you’ve started a trial account, you’ll gain immediate access to your store’s admin panel. The Shopify dashboard is quite streamlined, with daily operation menus contained in the left sidebar. There are even a few tips to get started setting up your store in the center area:

Shopify — Add A Product

Listing your first product is typically one of the first tasks inside Shopify, but it doesn’t have to be. Adding a product involves completing a simple interface:

In addition to configuring products and setting up the rest of the backend of your store, you can work on customizing your online storefront at the same time. We’ll have more on this process in the Web Design section.

While Shopify is easy to use, you are ultimately responsible for locating and configuring all the settings (shipping, tax, billing, etc.) to get your store going.

Etsy Setup

The cookie-cutter look of Etsy shops is no accident — it’s achieved through a simple, highly-controlled system behind the scenes. In fact, Etsy guides your hand to such a strong extent that by the time you’re taken through the basic setup process, you already have a store that’s up and running.

Unfortunately, there is no free trial of Etsy. Instead, you must enter a product, your bank account routing number, your credit card info, and other personal/business details before you can even enter the admin dashboard. Coming from the land of ecommerce software where no-credit-card-required free trials abound, I find this system annoying. However, I can’t deny that it is also very effective.

From my personal Etsy account, I’ve used to make Etsy purchases in the past, I simply clicked “Sell on Etsy.” I was then taken through a very detailed setup wizard, all the way from setting my country, to listing my first product, to inputting my billing and payment methods. As you can see from the dots across the top of the wizard interface, it’s a five-step process:

Etsy Dashboard

When you finally make it to the main admin panel (called Store Manager), you’ll find it’s actually fairly similar to Shopify. In my own testing, I could find all the menus and features I was looking for in the left sidebar:

Etsy — Add A Product

The most detailed piece of the store setup wizard is step three: adding products (a.k.a, listings). As I mentioned, you’re forced to list at least one item before you can even complete the Etsy signup process and see your main dashboard. Below is the third screen from the setup wizard. Yep, it’s long. Click it to enlarge, if you dare.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it kind of is. Mercifully, Etsy makes it all extremely straightforward. You just need a touch of patience. As part of this process, you’re actually also setting up a shipping profile that can then be reapplied to other products. And, once you choose the type of product you’re selling, Etsy is very good about predicting the type of attributes and variations you might need for that product. I walked away from the processing thinking, “Wow, Etsy knows its sellers and their products really well.”

Side note: Once you finally make it to your dashboard, you can load additional products with a similar interface:

As soon as I was (finally) done with the initial setup wizard, my shop was online and ready to sell. I received so much guidance steering me directly to the goal that I almost felt like I was tricked into suddenly having an active store. In a good way, I guess!

I’ve focused on getting a store up and running in this section as an illustrative example — there are lots of other components of each platform to consider. As you’ll see in our Feature section below, though, Etsy has fewer features than Shopify overall. This makes it easier to quickly get a handle on the entire software platform’s capabilities and scores Etsy another point for user-friendliness. Still, the ease of going from zero to ready-to-sell is what really puts Etsy on top.

Features

Winner: Shopify

Let’s acknowledge right away that comparing the features of Etsy and Shopify is hardly an apples-to-apples endeavor. One is an online marketplace including multiple sellers, while the other is a platform on which to build a website that you ultimately own. Etsy has a specific target market of crafters, vintage resellers, and the like, while Shopify’s merchant pool is much wider. The feature sets of each platform work really well for sellers within their specific contexts. Once we add Etsy’s Pattern to the mix, the comparison gets a little closer, but it’s still slightly unfair to both systems.

I do think the best “features” of Etsy have already been highlighted — it’s very easy to get started selling, and you’ve already got a built-in traffic base. Beyond these important advantages, there’s not a lot you can do on the back or front end of your Etsy and/or Pattern shop that you can’t do with Shopify. And, if the core Shopify platform doesn’t have a specific tool you’re looking for, I can almost guarantee you’ll find a solution in the immense app store (more on that later).

All in all, I’m giving Shopify the win because I think it’s a more advanced system for ecommerce. Shopify adds several features that Etsy and Pattern are missing, like checkout on your own domain (customers are redirected back to Etsy if they purchase through your Pattern site), manual order creation, a built-in POS system, and bulk product import/export/editing. In addition, many of the features the two platforms share in common are more robust or flexible with Shopify (I’m thinking of their respective discount engines, abandoned cart recovery systems, SEO tools, etc.).

Despite their core differences, Shopify and Etsy/Pattern still have a lot of great things in common. Thus, I’d like to end this section with a list of some features both platforms share:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell physical or digital products
  • Free SSL certificate (with Pattern)
  • Built-in blog (with Pattern)
  • Social media sharing
  • Automatically calculate shipping & tax
  • Purchase/print shipping labels
  • Shipping discounts
  • Inventory & order management
  • Create discounts & coupons
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Guest checkout
  • Analytics & reports
  • SEO tools
  • Mobile store management app

Web Design

Winner: Shopify

Shopify easily wins this category, even after you throw Etsy’s Pattern software into the mix. Shopify’s frontend template options have Pattern’s beat on all counts — the sheer number of options, the variety of styles, and the overall quality of designs. Not to mention that once you’ve chosen a theme, Shopify gives you much more flexibility to perform further customizations. Allow me to illustrate!

Shopify Design

Shopify offers 70 templates, most with 2-4 style variations. Ten themes are free and supported by Shopify developers, while the remaining third-party themes are offered at $140-$180 as one-time purchases.

I think most of the free themes from Shopify outshine Pattern themes, but we’ll get to Pattern in a moment. For now, you should know that Shopify has tools to adjust fonts and colors (via the Theme Editor), and to drag-and-drop page elements up and down your layout (via the “Sections” tool) — all without touching any code. You can also make further adjustments with code if you have those skills, but this is not necessary for the average user.

Here’s a quick screen-grab of Shopify’s visual, non-coding editor:

For more information on how these tools work, check out our full Shopify Review.

Etsy Design

Your Etsy shop comes with just one design template that’s the same as everyone else’s on the marketplace. You already saw the default store layout that popped up when I initially created my store. In the backend admin panel, you can customize your homepage by adding a banner image, your logo, a featured area to highlight products, an About section, and a few other basic elements. Each piece is fixed in place, though — no drag-and-drop tool to be found. Anywhere there is a little “+”, you can add a specific element:

With the $10/month plan, you have a bit more flexibility in your design. For example, you can insert a rotating image carousel in lieu of a fixed banner image across the top. And yet, there’s still no dragging nor dropping allowed.

If you decide to create a standalone website with the Pattern feature (remember, that’s another $15/month), you can choose from 10 possible templates. Pattern will recommend an option for your shop depending on your current Etsy store, but you can easily swap it out later:

Once you’ve chosen a theme, you have the option to customize your colors, fonts, text, and images — but again, all with pre-defined placement: Here’s the interface after I added a logo and header:

You can also add a few select pages to your site, like an About or Contact page. You just have to be okay with your layout being completely fixed for each page. Even if you wanted to try tweaking the template code, it’s just not an option.

Sorry, Etsy. Shopify has some of the best designs and editing tools of all shopping cart platforms on the market, so I’m not surprised that Etsy is completely overshadowed in this area. Pattern is only ideal for the most basic of websites. Fortunately, it does offer a 30-day free trial of a live site (once you’re already signed up for Etsy) if you’d like to test the site builder for yourself.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: Shopify

Etsy and Shopify each offer a collection of free and paid add-ons to integrate with your shop. The big difference is in the quantity. Etsy’s selection of a couple dozen apps just can’t compete with Shopify’s approximately 2500 offerings. If you’re worried about the quality of these Shopify add-ons, you have access to thousands of user reviews in the app store. You’re likely to find anything and everything you need to expand your store beyond the core Shopify platform.

A large selection is certainly great, but with the important caveat that the vastness of it all could end up becoming too overwhelming, costly, and unnecessary for small sellers. I was happy to see that Etsy at least offers a few well-known accounting and tax integrations (e.g., Quickbooks, Wave, TaxJar, TaxCloud) and email marketing apps (e.g. AWeber, or MailChimp if you use Pattern). You’ll need to decide if you will ultimately need the store expansion capability that Shopify provides, or can settle for Etsy’s offerings. If you set up a Pattern store, you’ll definitely want to add a good SEO integration.

Payment Processing

Winner: Shopify

Payment processing is a complicated and nuanced topic, so we’ll just cover some basic comparisons. Your mileage on this verdict in favor of Shopify will vary depending on your location, currencies, risk level, etc.

We’ve already mentioned that Shopify and Etsy both have their own self-branded payment gateways. Do note that Shopify Payments is actually built on Stripe’s infrastructure, while Etsy Payments is largely powered by Adyen, another big payment gateway company.

At any rate, most sellers on either platform end up using these pre-integrated options. Why? Well, even though you have over 100 processor options with Shopify, recall that you’re penalized with a separate transaction fee (usually 2%) if you don’t pick Shopify Payments. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments (formerly Etsy Direct Checkout) is essentially your only credit card processor option with Etsy. The only reason you wouldn’t use Etsy Payments is if it’s not yet available in your location. If you’re not operating from one of the approximately three dozen approved countries, you can only accept PayPal or manual payment methods (like check or money order) that you arrange separately with your buyers.

Etsy Payments allows you to accept credit and debit cards, Etsy gifts cards and credit, PayPal (pre-integrated), a few bank transfer services, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Shopify Payments offers similar options but adds Amazon Pay and Shopify Pay to the mix. Meanwhile, Etsy Payments does allow you to accept a few more currencies than Shopify Payments (Danish or Norwegian krone, anyone?).

Below is a quick look at the processing fees for Shopify Payments versus Etsy Payments (shown in USD). As you’ll see, Shopify Payments it the better processing deal, especially as you climb the subscription ladder. Of course, you need to factor this into the larger picture of costs we discussed earlier.

Shopify Payments:

  • $9 Lite Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online (including manual entry)
    • 2.7% In-Person
  • $29 Basic Plan
    • 2.9% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.7%  In-Person
  • $79 Shopify Plan
    • 2.6% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.5% In-Person
  • $299 Advanced Plan
    • 2.4% + $0.30 Online
    • 2.4% In-Person

Etsy Payments:

  • 3% + $0.25 Online
  • In-Person (with Square integration only):
    • 2.75% Swiped/dipped/NFC
    • 3.5% + $0.15 for manually-entered online transactions
    • + $0.20 for any Square product not synced with your Etsy store

An “in-house” payment processor can really streamline this aspect of your business, so it’s nice that both platforms offer one. Neither is a 100% perfect processor for everyone, as you’ll see when we discuss user reviews later. Nevertheless, Shopify Payments comes out ahead because it offers better rates, more payment methods for shoppers, and a native system for in-person transactions. Plus, if Shopify Payments doesn’t work for you, you’ve got plenty of other gateways from which to choose. Not so with Etsy.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify

This particular contest was closer than I expected. Both platforms offer 24/7 email and phone support, but Shopify adds a third contact channel via 24/7 live chat. That’s really the main reason for Shopify’s win here. I know a lot of online sellers prefer this option over email and phone, since it works like a nice blend of the two. Etsy does offer a callback option when waiting on hold, which is very handy. On the flip side, I’d like to see Etsy’s contact number and ticket system more easily accessed from the help center page — it’s much too buried for my taste at the moment.

While both platforms also offer great self-help resources such as blogs, forums, knowledgebase articles, and videos, the information for Etsy sellers is mixed in with support resources for Etsy shoppers. This can feel a bit cluttered and confusing at times.

I will say that Etsy does go beyond the support of a typical ecommerce platform in a unique and specific way. As a marketplace that gathers lots of merchants together in one place, sellers are automatically part of a built-in community. There’s even an opportunity to join Etsy Teams — groups of sellers in the same location, selling the same types of products, or with other unifying aspects to their stores. Some teams even meet up in real life or organize special events together. While Shopify users can tap into the strong community of developers and merchants offering mutual support in forums, the overall camaraderie can’t compete with Etsy’s community vibe.

You also may have more access to seller protections as part of a marketplace, but this can heavily depend on the specific situation. Etsy aims to look out for its shoppers as well!

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Because Etsy is a marketplace full of buyers as well as sellers, buyer complaints abound. When something goes wrong with a sale, it’s more accessible and more public for a shopper to point a finger at Etsy than the actual seller, even when the seller was primarily at fault. Shopify mostly operates behind the scenes from a shopper’s point of view, so it’s easier to isolate feedback about the platform that’s specifically from store owners.

For these reasons, Etsy’s reputation on review sites can be skewed quite negatively, so I can’t make a truly fair comparison with Shopify. Nevertheless, I’ve teased out some seller-specific feedback, just so you can get an idea of the common threads that appear.

First, the good. Not surprisingly, Etsy sellers like how easy it is to set up shop. They enjoy access to an existing customer base and the effective site search tools that make it easy for shoppers to find their products. Some users have mentioned their positive experiences with Etsy’s customer service, and the help they’ve received resolving disputes with customers (or even other sellers).

Of course, some Etsy sellers mention bad experiences with customer service, saying the marketplace isn’t taking enough responsibility for regulating seller behavior. I found several complaints that Etsy gets away with being a “neutral” party, shifting blame to its users on either end of transactions. At the very least, people are confused about Etsy’s role.

Other Etsy shop owners contend that the marketplace is too saturated with similar sellers, and that competition is simply too tough to sustain their shops. Still others have issues with payments or chargebacks or claim their shops were suddenly closed without warning. I’ve also seen plenty of sellers lament the increase in Etsy transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% in mid-2018 — that wasn’t so popular.

On the Shopify side, the top accolade is typically its ease of use. Sellers also like the opportunity to add functionality and scale their stores using add-ons from the app store. Shopify’s web design is highly praised, especially among those who appreciate the ability to easily customize their sites without code.

Like with Etsy  — and many other large software companies — Shopify’s customer support receives mixed reviews. Other common Shopify complaints include the added cost of integrations and the extra transaction fees if you can’t use Shopify Payments. Sellers do sometimes have problems with the payment system itself as well — their funds were held, or their Shopify Payments accounts were terminated due to various factors.

If that all sounds a bit scary, understand that a lot of the problems that pop up for Etsy and Shopify are common across the ecommerce world. The good news is that the research you’re doing now will help protect you against some of the more avoidable issues!

Security

Winner: Tie

Etsy and Shopify are both PCI complaint systems, offering site-wide SSL certificates for data encryption. If that all sounded like nonsense and jargon, don’t worry. You should know, however, that part of the reason Pattern websites meet security requirements set out by the data regulatory folks is that your shoppers are directed back over to Etsy checkout pages to complete their transactions. This kind of ruins the illusion that your site was actually your own site, but it does at least help with security. With Shopify, your customers can check out directly on your site with the same level of security in place.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

Shopify won this battle handily, coming out ahead in most of our individual comparison categories. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that the one-sidedness of our comparison does not do the key selling points of Etsy justice. The main advantages to Etsy — the ability to get a shop up and running quickly on a shoestring budget, and built-in access to the traffic of an entire online marketplace — are absolutely huge for beginning sellers. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog into selling online and would prefer to test the waters first, Etsy is definitely the way to start. For first time sellers, it’s akin to setting up your craft booth at an established craft fair, versus plopping your stall on a street corner in the middle of nowhere.

This is all to say that Shopify only really wins if you’re ready to take responsibility for maintaining and drawing traffic to your own website. You’ll need to learn and implement an effective SEO and marketing strategy, for example. This is no small feat for the budding online seller and should not be taken lightly. If done well, however, any customers you obtain are your own, and this is the big reward that accompanies your efforts with Shopify. Your sales and growth will not be limited by super-direct competition with other sellers within a marketplace. You’ll completely sidestep this major downside to Etsy.

When we start talking about actual ecommerce features and web design, Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce tool. Specifically, we’ve seen that Etsy’s Pattern software can’t compete with the standalone storefront-building capabilities of Shopify. For most sellers who are ready to launch their own websites, I’d suggest skipping over Pattern and heading for Shopify. Yes, a Pattern subscription is cheaper than Shopify, but it seems like too much of an intermediate, half-way step that won’t get you fully where you want to go. Besides, there’s no reason you can’t keep your Etsy shop open in the meantime as you grow your Shopify-based store — and, you could ultimately connect an app to sync up your inventory between the two. Etsy could then become one marketing channel of many for your main online store’s top products. Something to consider!

I think if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to at least test the capability of Shopify with a free 14-day trial. Of course, if you’re already an Etsy seller, you can also play around with Pattern’s tools for free before even connecting a domain and going live with your site. Since you’ve got nothing to lose with either platform in that respect, why not set up your own mini-showdown between Pattern and Shopify?

Let us know how it goes in the comments. Happy artsy, craftsy, or artsy-craftsy selling!

Shopify’s eCommerce Options

Mobile POS Online Social Media
Mobile App + Free Card Reader Point of Sale Online Store Social Media Selling
Get Started Get Started Get Started Get Started
Low-cost POS for iOS and Android with free hardware All-purpose POS integrated with all sales channels Build a store or integrate with your current website Sell on Facebook and other platforms
Starts at $9/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $29/month Starts at $9/month
Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial Free Trial

The post Shopify VS Etsy appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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WooCommerce VS Shopify

WooCommerce VS Shopify

✓

Pricing

Tie

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Tie

Tie

Specific Size Of Business

Tie

Hardware & Software Requirements

✓

Ease Of Use

✓

Tie

Features

Tie

Tie

Web Design

Tie
✓

Integrations & Add-Ons

✓

Payment Processing

Customer Service & Technical Support

✓

Tie

User Reviews

Tie

Security

✓

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Final Verdict

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Review

Visit Site

Review

Visit Site

WooCommerce and Shopify are both wildly popular software systems that can help you build a thriving online store. Behind-the-scenes, however, the two platforms work quite differently from one another. Before we jump into comparing these juggernauts of the ecommerce software realm, let’s quickly get oriented on the basics of each.

At its core, Shopify (read our review) is a SaaS (software as a service) online shopping cart platform. Starting at just $9/month, you can upload products to an online catalog and sell them on Facebook, or post them on an existing website of your own via embeddable “buy” buttons. You can even sell your products in-person with the Shopify POS app. Then, beginning at $29/month, Shopify facilitates the creation and hosting of a fully-fledged ecommerce website.

By contrast, WooCommerce (read our review), is a free and open-source ecommerce shopping cart plugin that was created specifically for installation inside the WordPress dashboard. The WooCommerce plugin turns a WordPress website or blog into an ecommerce storefront. In other words, WooCommerce has no actual website-building capabilities of its own — WordPress handles that part.

To understand WooCommerce and how it works, you need a little familiarity with WordPress itself. To put it simply, WordPress is a website builder/CMS (content management system) that exists in two forms: WordPress.org and WordPress.com. WordPress.org is the self-hosted version, whereas WordPress.com uses the same basic software as WordPress.org, but provides web hosting for your site as part of its services. Either WordPress version can actually be combined with WooCommerce, but each setup has different implications for cost, site maintenance, etc.

For the purposes of our Shopify versus WooCommerce comparison, we’ll focus on combining WooCommerce with WordPress.org, the self-hosted option. Most ecommerce sellers are attracted to WooCommerce because they already use WordPress.org for their websites, and/or they like the WooCommerce plugin’s “free” price tag in conjunction with WordPress.org. While the WooCommerce plugin itself is always free, you can only add plugins to the dot-com version of WordPress if you’re on the $25/month WordPress.com subscription.

Now that you know the basics, we’ll break down the two platforms into their various components — usability, features, comprehensive cost, and more. It’s basically the same old compare-and-contrast essay we were all forced to write in middle school. The stakes are a bit higher with this particular essay, however. By the time we’re done, you’ll hopefully have a good sense of which ecommerce platform (if either) is best for your online business.

Pricing

Winner: WooCommerce

You might be tempted to think WooCommerce immediately takes this category without contest. After all, both the WooCommerce plugin and the WordPress.org software download are free, whereas Shopify automatically involves a monthly subscription. In reality, you need to invest in a few services (e.g., web hosting) to get a WooCommerce + WordPress.org ecommerce store off the ground. The bottom line is, WooCommerce may be a bit cheaper at the outset, but it’s not 100% free. Just wanted to clear that up first!

Before we run a more detailed cost comparison of the two platforms, here’s a quick look at why WooCommerce wins this category:

  • You can launch an online storefront up for well under $29/month, which is the starting price for a full online store with Shopify.
  • All WooCommerce features are included with the free plugin. You don’t automatically need to jump to higher subscription levels for additional features or staff accounts (you just may need some add-ons as time goes on). In other words, you pay only for exactly what you need.
  • Neither WordPress nor WooCommerce charge any additional transaction fees per sale, beyond those charged by your credit card processor. Shopify only waives its extra transaction fees (that start at 2%) if you use Shopify Payments as your credit card processor, and not everyone is eligible for Shopify Payments.

WooCommerce is the budget option of the two, but only if you have the skills to run your own website and don’t need to hire extra help for web development, site maintenance, security, backups, etc. If you do need lots of extra help, you could still end up paying more with WooCommerce + WordPress in the long run. Fair warning.

That’s the summary explanation. Now, here’s a more detailed pricing breakdown if you’re interested:

Shopify Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: $9 (no standalone storefront), $29, $79 or $299/month.
  • Domain: Unless you want your store URLs to end in “myshopify.com” (and you probably don’t), you’ll need to purchase or connect a custom domain. Domains from Shopify start at $11/year, or there are lots of third-party options.
  • Web Hosting: Included
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Included
  • Additional Transaction Fees: 0.5%-2.0% depending on your Shopify subscription — unless you use the in-house payment processor (Shopify Payments), in which case these extra fees are waived. Note: these transaction fees are on top of regular credit card processing fees you must pay per sale with any processor.
  • Additional Cost: Primarily add-ons from the marketplace, and perhaps a one-time purchase of a premium theme.

WooCommerce + WordPress.org Pricing

  • Monthly Subscription Fee: None if you set up a free WordPress.org site. The WooCommerce plugin itself is always free.
  • Domain: Varies, but can start at less than a dollar per month from third-parties.
  • Web Hosting: Rock-bottom hosting can cost as low as around $3/month, but most people end up paying at least $10 per month, depending on the size and traffic levels of their stores.
  • SSL/TLS Certificate: Often included with your hosting or domain provider, but may need to be purchased separately. Basic certificates cost just a few dollars per month.
  • Additional Transaction Fees: None. Neither WooCommerce or WordPress charge a commission per sale.
  • Additional Cost: Add-ons, themes, and any web development and ongoing site maintenance if you’re not taking care of all that yourself.

Sample WooCommerce + WordPress.org hosting

Cloud-Based Or Locally-Installed

Winner: Tie

As we’ve mentioned, a major difference between Shopify and WooCommerce is that your Shopify subscription includes web hosting. No downloads or installations are required. To use WooCommerce, however, you first must download the WordPress.org software and install it on a web hosting server. Then, you add the WooCommerce plugin to that setup. Some web hosts do offer preloaded WordPress + WooCommerce packages or “one-click” installations.

Is the Shopify or WooCommerce method better? This one really comes down to personal preference and ability. The self-hosted setup of WooCommerce requires more hands-on involvement and skill from the user, but you may be just fine with that.

Specific Size Of Business

Winner: Tie

Both WooCommerce and Shopify are scalable, working for small to enterprise-level businesses.

Shopify has predetermined subscription brackets. While none of these put hard limits on your revenue, number of products, bandwidth, or storage, the implication is that you’ll increase your subscription as your store grows. The exception is the jump to Shopify Plus, which is required if your revenue reaches over $1 million per year. These plans cost a couple thousand a month to start, but it can be worth the investment in return for a service that’s tailored specifically for enterprise-level merchants.

You will also need to change your Shopify subscription as you add more staff accounts to your store. For example, the $29/month plan accommodates two admin seats in addition to the owner’s account, while the $299/month plan gives you 15 spots.

WooCommerce also has the potential to grow with your store, but the system is much more fluid. You have 100% flexibility to expand your operation (and perhaps employ more help with your site) in a piecemeal fashion, exactly when and how you see fit. As your site traffic increases, for example, you’ll want to adjust your hosting service accordingly to accommodate more bandwidth.

Hardware & Software Requirements

Winner: Shopify

As a fully-hosted, SaaS platform, Shopify takes care of nearly all technology requirements on your behalf. All you really need is an internet connection and an up-to-date web browser.

With WooCommerce and WordPress.org, most of the hardware and software requirements are functions of your hosting environment. Your server needs to support specific versions of PHP and MYSQL, for example. You’re responsible for staying on top of the evolving requirements for both WooCommerce and WordPress.org when you set up a WooCommerce store. This includes installing updates of both the Worpress.org and WooCommerce software as they are released. Plugins are available to help automate some of these steps for you, but you’re still ultimately responsible for finding and updating those plugins!

Because dealing with hardware and software issues with WooCommerce is more nuanced and requires more vigilance from the user than Shopify’s arrangement, we award Shopify the win.

Ease Of Use

Winner: Shopify

It’s hard to beat Shopify in terms of user-friendliness. Even compared with other all-in-one SaaS platforms designed with the complete ecommerce novice in mind, Shopify usually comes out on top. Open-source software like WooCommerce, on the other hand, is not generally known for its ease of use. You’re trading some degree of ease and simplicity for increased flexibility and customization.

It should be noted, however, that WooCommerce actually isn’t all that bad when it comes to ease of use, especially compared with most open-source solutions. For starters, many folks are already somewhat familiar with WordPress, which gives them a head start in navigating WooCommerce. (Keep in mind that the reverse will apply if you’re not already familiar with WordPress — you’ll be learning two systems at once.)  Once you get everything installed and up and running, day-to-day operations and manipulation of features are all pretty straightforward with WooCommerce.

Still, as we’ve already touched on, it can be quite overwhelming to stay on top of updates, extension compatibility, security issues, and the various tertiary systems underpinning your WooCommerce store. The cliché I’ve often read about WooCommerce is true — you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. Shopify is a much more plug-and-play, hands-free system.

WooCommerce offers to install some additional free plugins (like Jetpack and WooCommerce Services) from the get-go that help bring the system more in line with a fully-hosted solution like Shopify, but you still end up with a sort of cobbled-together setup that is more difficult to manage than an all-inclusive platform.

Have a look at our full Shopify and WooCommerce reviews if you’d like more information on the topic of ease-of-use, but I’ve included just a quick peek at the dashboards of each platform, as well as what it’s like to add a product.

Shopify Dashboard:

After signing up for a free 14-day trial, you’re taken to a clean and easy-to-navigate dashboard, with all your major functions in the left menu, and a few tips to get started in the center:

Shopify — Add A Product:

Shopify has a super-simple product interface. All fields are completed simply by scrolling down the page.

WooCommerce Dashboard:

Below I’ve shown a WordPress dashboard with WooCommerce already installed. If you look closely at the left menu, you’ll see that WooCommerce is just one item of many. I haven’t even expanded its own menu yet, nor the “Products” menu right below. In the center of the dashboard, I’m faced with additional suggested configurations and plugin choices. Do I need them all? Should I set them up now? Just “Dismiss?” It’s certainly all doable, but I find it bit cluttered and overwhelming to get started. Plus, this is all after I completed the setup wizard.

WooCommerce — Add A Product:

Once you scroll past the plugin suggestions, adding a product is quite straightforward with WooCommerce. If you’ve ever used WordPress, it’s a lot like creating a blog post. You’ll just need to configure ecommerce settings like price and inventory levels.

Another aspect to consider is that you won’t be able to test WooCommerce (like you can test Shopify with its free trial) unless you have a host and server already set up to install WordPress.org. Ease of use is always a bit subjective, and it’s hard to get a good feel for usability without testing the software yourself.

Features

Winner: Tie

Although one is software-as-a-service and the other is open-source, both Shopify and WooCommerce actually take a similar approach to features. The basic components to get a store launched and managed on a day-to-day basis are included with the software, but you’re expected to add a few extensions and integrations to either platform in order to tailor your store to your exact specifications.

With Shopify, this occasionally even means bumping up your subscription level, whereas with WooCommerce, features are always expanded through separate add-ons. WooCommerce has also been known to test new features by treating them as extensions first, and then eventually incorporating the features into the core offering once all the kinks are worked out by users. It’s really a community effort with Woo.

However you slice it, a common complaint about both platforms is that extra plugins can cause extra cost and extra headaches. Each system is kept as simple (yet functional) as can be from the outset, so that new users are not immediately overwhelmed by all that’s ultimately possible with these powerful software programs.

Let’s do a couple of quick sample feature comparisons. WooCommerce lets you add unlimited product variations, sell digital products, and incorporate product reviews without separate extensions, while Shopify requires (free) add-ons for each of these functions. Meanwhile, Shopify already includes abandoned cart recovery, invoice creation, and pre-integrated shipping software (Shopify Shipping). You’ll need extensions for these features in WooCommerce.

I’m tempted to give Shopify the win because I feel it comes with a slightly more well-rounded ecommerce feature set out-of-the-box without any plugins. And yet I also don’t want to overlook the enormous capability that comes with an entire WordPress.org ecosystem at your fingertips, nor dismiss the potential to customize each feature to your liking in an open-source environment. There are just too many factors at play to declare a clear winner here. The best advice I can give is to check for the features you need, as well as how they are obtained with each platform.

Web Design

Winner: Tie

I know this makes our compare-and-contrast essay less exciting, but it’s difficult to call a winner in this category as well. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, and your own perception of what actually qualifies as an advantage or disadvantage will differ depending on your situation.

Below is a quick summary of each system’s approach to the design and customization of your storefront, along with some screenshots to help illustrate.

Shopify Overview:

  • 67 total templates, most with 2-4 style variations
  • 10 templates are free and supported by Shopify developers
  • Remaining third-party themes cost $140-$180
  • Built-in theme editor with drag-and-drop capability
  • Additional customization available with HTML, CSS, and Shopify’s own theme coding language (Liquid)

Shopify Theme Marketplace:

Shopify Theme Editor:

The Shopify theme editor consists of two elements: “Theme Settings” (for changing fonts, colors, etc.) and “Sections” (for dragging and dropping widget blocks up and down your pages).

WooCommerce Overview:

  • Access to thousands of free and commercial/supported WordPress.org themes (over 900 show up when filtering for “ecommerce” in the marketplace)
  • WooCommerce recommends its free “Storefront” theme for foolproof compatibility and web ticket support
  • 14 Storefront “child” themes available (two free, premium are $39 each)
  • Theme editor allows color changes and placement of widgets (but without drag-and-drop)
  • Storefront expansion bundle ($69) allows further customization without coding
  • Theme modification also possible with HTML and CSS (no proprietary coding language involved)
  • Add a free plugin (such as Elementor) for drag-and-drop design editing of WordPress.org pages without code
  • WordPress.org’s new Gutenberg editor provides additional non-coding customization for your overall WordPress site

WooCommerce Storefront Themes:

WooCommerce Theme Editor:

Below, I’ve shown the portion of the built-in theme editor where you can choose widget blocks for various spots within your pages.

So, how do WooCommerce and Shopify stack up when it comes to web design? Does Shopify win for having a drag-and-drop theme editor and font tweaking built-in, or does it lose for making you learn a proprietary coding language if you want to do further template customizations? The new Gutenberg block editor for WordPress enhances your theme editing capabilities without code, and lets you easily place WooCommerce products wherever you’d like within your larger WordPress site — so that’s another factor to consider going forward. It’s issues like these that make this category a toss-up depending on your point of view.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Winner: WooCommerce

Even though I’ve already spoiled the winner of this category, we need to highlight the fact that Shopify also has an amazing app marketplace with around 2500 integrations at your disposal. With Shopify, you have the opportunity to connect with many of the most popular third-party software platforms associated with ecommerce (think shipping, marketing, accounting, and the like). Thousands of developers have invested in creations for the Shopify extension ecosystem. In most ecommerce software battles, Shopify easily wins this category.

All that said, open-source systems like WooCommerce + WordPress.org typically offer more integration possibilities than even the most well-connected SaaS platforms. The whole point of an open-source platform is for users at large to jump head-on into the codebase to customize and build connections. In the open-source world, WordPress has a particularly enormous and active community of developers extending the platform. As a WooCommerce user, not only do you benefit from hundreds of WooCommerce-specific extensions, but also from the over 50,000 plugins available in the WordPress.org marketplace. Even Shopify can’t fully compete.

Some argue that because many WooCommerce integrations are one-time installations, it works out cheaper in the long run, or point out that more WooCommerce plugins are free. In truth, integrations can add to your monthly cost with either Shopify or WooCommerce — especially if your integrations are to third-party software platforms with their own monthly subscription fees (and not just one-off feature installs). Be cognizant of the potential for ballooning add-on costs with either system.

Payment Processing

Winner: WooCommerce

The complete freedom WooCommerce offers to choose a payment processor and associated pricing model that best suits your particular store’s needs is the reason we award the open-source plugin the win in this category.

While Shopify technically offers more pre-built payment integrations than WooCommerce in its respective marketplace, you are actually penalized with an extra 0.5% to 2.0% Shopify commission on every sale if you don’t select the in-house Shopify Payments option. This percentage — 2% for most merchants starting out — is applied on top of the fees charged by your payment gateway itself. Trust me, that extra 2% adds up fast.

Shopify Payments has its own advantages and disadvantages, but for starters, some merchants don’t even qualify to use this processor in the first place. While Shopify Payments definitely works well when it works, a lot of merchants end up stuck in no-man’s land when it comes to payment processing with Shopify. Caught between an extra fee and a hard place, as it were. (Insert your own, better metaphor here.)

While you may need to pay a one-time fee to integrate your favorite processor with WooCommerce (Stripe and PayPal come as free, built-in options), you can ultimately select an option that fits perfectly with your risk level, sales volume, and transaction size. You can also select for any customer support and feature requirements you may have for your payments system.

Customer Service & Technical Support

Winner: Shopify                                  

Both WooCommerce and WordPress have produced a plethora of self-help resources and documentation. Moreover, both boast thriving communities of developers and merchants working with the software who readily share problem-solving advice via forums. This is all very good and helpful.

WooCommerce can’t compete with Shopify when it comes to personalized support, however. A “help desk” is offered with WooCommerce from which you can submit a web ticket for specific purchased items, but a personal response is not always guaranteed.

Meanwhile, along with great self-help resources and community forums of its own, Shopify offers 24/7 phone, email, and chat avenues for contacting live representatives in real time. This is part of the all-inclusive nature of the Shopify platform, and part of the reason you pay that monthly subscription fee.

Now, this is not to say you couldn’t potentially receive personalized assistance from your hosting provider if your site goes down, for example. The quality and availability of this sort of third-party tech support will vary widely by company, though. Not to mention, things can get complicated very quickly regarding exactly who holds responsibility for whatever’s gone horribly wrong with your online store in the middle of the night. Once again, our point is that neither WooCommerce nor WordPress.org has a team of service reps standing by waiting for your distress call. You’re largely on your own.

User Reviews

Winner: Tie

Shopify and WooCommerce each have devoted followings of satisfied users, and both platforms tend to score very highly on user review websites. Shopify merchants love the user-friendliness of a powerful SaaS platform where most things are taken care of for you, while WooCommerce devotees appreciate that most things are not taken care of for you — it gives these users the flexibility and control they desire.

Of course, neither ecommerce platform is perfect. Here are a few of the complaints that arise most often:

Shopify

  • Extra transaction fees when not using Shopify Payments
  • Costly add-ons
  • Poor customer support
  • Frustration with Shopify Payments

WooCommerce

  • Costly add-ons
  • Lack of personal customer support
  • Steep learning curve
  • Technical difficulties (i.e., extensions, themes, updates, etc.)

I’m still calling this one a draw. One platform does not dramatically outshine the other when it comes to real user feedback.

Security

Winner: Shopify

Shopify wins this category because all Shopify stores are automatically PCI compliant out-of-the-box and come with a built-in SSL certificate. With WooCommerce, your store’s security falls more directly upon your own shoulders. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing a secure and PCI-compliant web host and payment gateway, obtaining an SSL certificate, performing Woodpress.org and WooCommerce plugin updates, and staying on top of the latest security patches. As WooCommerce reminds you in its own documentation, “a given WooCommerce site is overall exactly as secure as the WordPress installation itself.”

There’s no doubt that a WooCommerce store can be just as secure in as a Shopify store, as long as all the right pieces are in place and carefully managed. There’s just a higher chance for site security to go (horribly) awry due to mismanagement or innocent mistakes.

Final Verdict

Winner: Shopify

 

This was a tight race, folks. Shopify and WooCommerce have both earned their popularity in the ecommerce world, even if for different reasons and for different segments of online sellers. Based on our experience, as well as our sense of the needs of our Merchant Maverick readership overall, we’re still more likely to recommend Shopify over WooCommerce.

The majority of online sellers will have an easier time with Shopify right out-of-the-box. Shopify is much more “foolproof” and all-inclusive than WooCommerce, with technical aspects like installation, hosting, updates, and security all handled on your behalf. This allows you to expand your focus beyond just building and maintaining your store, even as an absolute web-beginner. The opportunity for 24/7 personalized customer support with Shopify is also a huge factor in our verdict.

All Shopify gushing aside, we firmly maintain that this SaaS platform is not a magic bullet solution for all online merchants, and WooCommerce may be just the alternative you seek. As an open-source software plugin combined with WordPress.org’s vast ecosystem, WooCommerce offers a degree of ownership, control, and flexibility that isn’t possible with Shopify. It’s the perfect platform for the technically-inclined among us who have the time and skill to tinker with code, updates, and integrations to customize their stores at a finely-tuned pace. The freedom to select your own web host, as well as a payment processor that works best for your specific country and risk level without financial penalty (hello, Shopify’s extra transaction fees) is also a big draw for a lot of business owners using WooCommerce. The power truly is in your hands if you go this route.

As the old adage goes, however: with great power comes great responsibility. If you choose an open-source platform like WooCommerce, you should definitely heed this nugget of graphic novel-based wisdom.

Have you worked with Shopify or WooCommerce? Let us know if the comments — particularly if you have experience with both!

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