5 Clever Marketing Tactics For Small Businesses During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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How You Can Help Small Business Stay Afloat During The Coronavirus

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The Real Cost Of Selling On Etsy: Etsy Fees, Pricing, & Offsite Ads Explained

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Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus

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Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants

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How To Start A Subscription Box: 7 Steps To Launch A Thriving Business

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How to Use LinkedIn for SEO & Content Marketing

This post originally appeared at How to Use LinkedIn for SEO & Content Marketing via ShivarWeb

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has been one of the continually growing social networks on the Internet for years. But like Pinterest and Reddit, it has such a deep internal culture focused on recruiting & jobs that it gets written off by small & large content marketers alike.

But like YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, and others, LinkedIn is not *just* a social network. Here are a few points that make it appealing for SEOs and content marketers –

  • Users are all B2B – so influence on LinkedIn has an influence multiplier. Get a brand CMO to like your content, instant leverage.
  • LinkedIn’s business model makes success much more transparent. There’s less algorithm guessing and less spam.
  • LinkedIn has lots of different features & uses. Beyond the feed, there are groups, search, a learning platform, networks, direct outreach, etc.
  • You can build a true “moat” that no other business can replicate. The cliche that your network is your net worth is especially true on LinkedIn. It pays to organically build success.
  • Your LinkedIn audience is much “stickier” than other audiences. Everyone is building their LinkedIn network for future use – not for an instant payoff. Any audience that you build will stick with you for longer.
  • LinkedIn itself is not going anywhere. Sure, Google and Facebook have tried & failed to build professional / job hunting functionality. But since LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft and is profitable on its own….any investment you make will be around for a while.

It has a lot of potential to benefit your marketing efforts – here are the lessons I’ve learned helping clients use LinkedIn for SEO and content marketing efforts.

Referral Traffic & Brand Awareness

The first and most obvious content marketing strategy for LinkedIn is to, well, post your content on LinkedIn.

Side note – like most social networks, LinkedIn’s links are all “nofollow”. Any links you get from LinkedIn will not directly help you with Google/Bing search engine optimization.

Posting content on LinkedIn requires a bit more strategy and effort to get the full benefit. To drive referral traffic, you’ll need to get your post in front of people. But there is a bit of a tradeoff between maximizing reach and maximizing traffic.

The Basics of LinkedIn

LinkedIn allows a few ways to share content on their platform. There’s the “normal sharing” of links, but there’s also LinkedIn Pulse, which is their editor for composing & sharing content native to LinkedIn.

The tradeoff is that using Pulse (native content) reduces the traffic to your site, but can travel faster & farther in the LinkedIn “ecosystem.” Posting links from your site makes traffic easier, but won’t travel very far or fast without engagement.

Before promoting your content, think through your goals and make adjustments depending on what you want to do and your resources.

Optimizing for Social Distribution

If you want maximum distribution, then post original content with Pulse. It will show up on most feeds and generate more engagement…but not necessarily with traffic to your site. It does require more work and more thought. Again, that all depends on your priorities and goals.

Adjustment – however, you *can* send traffic to your sites within the comment section on the post. Claim the top comment and use it to post a link or email sign up. You’ll get maximum distribution and still have an opportunity to grab traffic.

Alternative – you can also use comments to maximize reach with a normal link share. The tactic here is to use the title and comment section to generate additional engagement that will put the link into more feeds than it would normally appear in.

Optimizing for Referral Traffic

If you want maximum clicks to your site or email sign-ups, then post actual links to your website. The post will likely get shown to your followers, even if it doesn’t move as far as Pulse content.

Adjustment – you can try to engineer engagement with comments & controversial titles. It’s a bit hit or miss, but it’s a small tactic that can increase engagement.

Additionally, LinkedIn will reward any feed that has consistent, long-term, quality posts in high quantity. In other words, post a lot, post well, and post consistently, whichever strategy you choose.

On-Page SEO & Content Ideas

Beyond actual traffic and brand impressions, the real value of LinkedIn is in data. Since LinkedIn has its own “walled garden”, there are lots of ideas, concepts, and content tactics that are locked up. If you can find them and bring them to the Open Web – you’ll benefit from Google Search and other platforms.

Here are my favorite research angles for LinkedIn.

Find Top Performing Content

Find content with lots of LinkedIn shares (which harder than it used to be), and re-create it in a better way. Bonus points if the content is native to LinkedIn. More bonus points if it only did well on LinkedIn and failed in some way elsewhere.

You can track this content manually, but it’s much easier to use a tool like Ahrefs or BuzzSumo to pull metrics in bulk.

The key is to identify and understand exactly why a piece of content performed so well and how you can make it even better or build on its success.

Find Useful & Underestimated Content

You can also look for content that, while not top performing, did have some traction. With content, traction is everything. When most content goes unnoticed, any content with some success means that it did something right.

You can find useful content & underestimated content to rebuild it into something top performing. Look for content that is not formatted well, incomplete, or has lots of feedback / unanswered questions.

Find Old & Forgotten Content

There is very little that is genuinely new on the Internet now. Most trends and strategies have played out. So start thinking like a fashion designer.

Filter LinkedIn content by date and see if there is something that did well, but simply needs an update. There are plenty of business & career ideas that are useful…but simply need new cultural references.

For example, freelancing is not new, but UpWork and WeWork are. Building a new audience with video is not new, but TikTok and Snapchat are.

Look for the old & forgotten and bring them up to date.

Find Experts & Sources

Experts and authoritative sources can make your content compelling and unique. But experts are kind of hard to find, corral, and learn from.

But LinkedIn provides a unique approach. You find experts in your orbit who are more likely to respond. Or, you can use LinkedIn search to find less famous experts who can respond & help with your content.

In a world where current gold-medalist get all the attention, you need to find last year’s bronze medalist. LinkedIn is perfect for that approach.

Research Industry Jargon

Jargon is a problem in content. To write solid, useful content – you need to use just enough of it to assure readers & experts of legitimacy & accuracy. But also not so much that your content is gibberish and unapproachable.

Since LinkedIn is a professional social network, you can use it to find trade & industry groups discussing actual industry jargon. Not only does this tactic make for fast education, but it also makes for amazing keyword research.

For example, even if your reader refers to “outdoor faucets” – the fact that you can refer to, explain, and research “sillcocks” means that you can be more accurate, more relatable, and find a broader topic to address. And you’d never know about sillcocks without a LinkedIn plumber’s group.

Research Industry Problems & Trends

If you want to cover a trend before everyone else knows that it’s a trend…you’re going to have to find better sources.

LinkedIn industry groups & industry feeds are an incredible source of insider knowledge. Most people in an industry will talk about problems and trends before it percolates to the wider world.

Use LinkedIn to get insight into these problems & trends.

Build Unique Datasets

LinkedIn is the only place on the Internet with massive datasets around businesses, professionals, and careers.

Those are also the most inherently exciting datasets for content (since they involve money). Whether you are looking at job titles, cities for startups, or simply industry quirks, LinkedIn is where you can go to build these unique datasets.

Note – don’t go breaking any of LinkedIn’s terms…but also note that scraping plain HTML and their ads API offers some quick ways to pull data.

Mine for Cross-Performing Content

The last angle to research is similar to top performing content. But it is to look at content that seems to do well on LinkedIn plus another platform.

If you are in B2B and see that something does well on LinkedIn and Facebook, then it will likely do well on Reddit or organic search with better formatting and/or targeting.

Off-Page SEO & Content Promotion

Content ideas & research are only one side to effective SEO & content marketing. The flip side is getting links & eyeballs on that content.

LinkedIn offers something that no other social network provides – an active channel and a near comprehensive database for contacting people at work.

If there’s any single reason to use LinkedIn with your off-page / promotion efforts, that’s the reason. Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram lean too personal. Twitter is hit or miss. Reddit is interest-based and anonymous. Email is crowded and overwhelmed with spam. But LinkedIn…is different.

Here’s how you can put it to use.

Do Direct Outreach & Promotion

This tactic is a bit obvious, but I list it because direct outreach & promotion is seriously underestimated.

Just last week, I hired a freelancer off a cold pitch because it came through LinkedIn’s InMail feature with a perfect custom pitch. I checked it out because the InMail represented slightly extra effort and expense compared to the thousands of pitches I get via email.

Whether you are pitching for links, gigs, content promotions, etc – LinkedIn’s ability to help you do direct outreach & promotion is the #1 reason to use it.

Use Excerpts & Cross-Posting

You can use content excerpts and discussions to cross-post to LinkedIn as original content – and vice versa.

LinkedIn represents an audience that is likely nowhere else. Even if you can’t create original content, go a little bit extra to create a custom share excerpt for LinkedIn.

Research for Smarter Outreach

Even if you don’t use LinkedIn for your outreach, you should use it to inform your traditional outreach.*

*Note – yes, this is a polite, professional way of creepily stalking people.

In a link building world where less than ~20% of emails sent get opened and less than ~5% turn into links, emailing the right person the right message is more important than ever.

If you can use LinkedIn to do even cursory research to email the right person at a company, you can come out far ahead.

For example, one key variable in link building is talking to the person who can actually implement the link on the website. For some websites, that person is the Webmaster or content manager. They are often not listed on the contact form. You can use LinkedIn to find that person within the company.

Even if you aren’t pitching links, LinkedIn can be useful. My B2B sales rep neighbor used LinkedIn to dig down and find the specific procurement manager than he needed to talk to – instead of using the standard contact form. The extra work paired with LinkedIn led to a huge contract.

Find Underestimated Prospects

Similar to using LinkedIn for finding experts, you can also use LinkedIn to find underestimated prospects. Underestimated prospects are anyone who wields more influence or reach than you would expect.

Think about the content managers and webmasters mentioned earlier who hold the actual keys to adding a link to an article. Or think about a moderator of an influential or active LinkedIn Group.

Those are the kind of people that you can both find & reach on LinkedIn.

Find New Audiences for Promotion

So much of the consumer Internet blurs together that it’s hard to define specific audiences…which means it’s hard to define new audiences.

B2B has less of that issue. Generally, everyone working in an industry stays within their industry. That makes it easier for content marketers to find discrete industries (like architecture) and understand how it overlaps or relates to other industries (like structural engineering).

You can also see how influential people have moved up and across different industries to see how people & thought in one industry can influence another.

Create New Outreach Angles

Since LinkedIn is a different type of user with different intent than a typical social network (professional advancement vs. entertainment), you can test completely different angles for sharing & promotion. Sometimes those are easier to push (ie, not having to obscure a financial motivation) and sometimes they are truly different and worth rolling out elsewhere.

Do Paid Promotion

LinkedIn, like every other social network, will allow you to take a shortcut to the front of the line.

It’s called paying for promotion.

It’s fantastic…but also costs money. I wrote an entire post on LinkedIn Advertising here.

Next Steps

LinkedIn is an interesting platform for SEOs and content marketers because it has a different audience, a different intent, and different business model from other social networks.

Additionally, it has a lot of the research & promotional advantages of the typical social network. If you are planning content ideas, execution, or promotion, LinkedIn is an excellent place to look for research.

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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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20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020

This post originally appeared at 20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020 via ShivarWeb

Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing

There has never been a time when running a website has been more accessible, convenient, and profitable than now.

But there has also never been a time when running a website has been so confusing, frustrating, and winner-take-all than now.

And that contradiction comes because some of the major computing & networking innovations from the 2010s are finally coming to the everyday Internet.

And as the 2010s close out and the 2020s begin, here are some of my considerations (in no specific order) that I think would be useful for DIYers, freelancers, small online business owners, and anyone planning an online presence.

Nobody Fully Knows What Is Going On

This post is deliberately a listicle because I don’t have a grand unified idea about the future of running a website on the Internet. And I’m skeptical of anyone who does.

Cloud computing, machine learning, APIs, high-quality open-source software, free toolkits, mobile devices, streaming, and the lumbering giant behavior of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all point to continuing massive disruption of entire industries that no one can predict or prepare for.

The Website + Marketing Tool Model Is Gone

For years, people built a website on a multi-purpose host with a custom domain. And then they used 3rd party tools & distribution channels to promote content, products & services that lived on the website.

But now, the website on a domain is simply one tool in a toolkit. In fact, you can build a model where your website is a backend for your other marketing tools…or you can use a marketing tool to build & run your website.

This shift is clearest with online stores. Between Buyable Pins, Checkout on Instagram, Amazon integration, dropshipping APIs, offline pop-up shops, etc – the website is just another piece in the business puzzle.

Now, websites are still critical because they remain the only piece of that puzzle that you can control & own as an asset. But…I do think they are losing their relative importance. And their importance depends massively on what industry you are in.

Platform Choice > Tool Choice

The demise of the website + marketing tool model will mean that website owners will choose their platform of choice rather than their tools of choice based on what business they have.

Online retail is in this place already. Very few successful retailers have a collection of tools. It’s all about integrations and platform. But increasingly, every business sector will move to this model.

Local small businesses will look at platforms that do their primary function plus whatever integrates well with that platform. For example, a website builder will not compete with other website builders. Instead, the website builder will compete with the CRM platform and the email marketing platform…because all three will have a website builder, CRM, and email marketing tool bundled in a single platform

In other words, a website builder like Wix no longer competes with Squarespace. Instead, Wix competes with MailChimp and HubSpot and Google.

In online retail, Shopify and WooCommerce and BigCommerce don’t really compete with each other. They all compete, as a group, against Amazon, Instagram, Depop, MailChimp, Square, Salesforce, and eBay.

In hosting, hosting companies no longer compete with each other as much as they compete against Google Business Suite, Hubspot, hosted website builders, etc.

Now, there will still be incredible power & opportunity for website owners who have the resources & wherewithal to mix & match services to get the best of all worlds. Those website owners will be able to maintain costs and control where others will cede more power to their platform of choice.

Convenience Killed Cost & Control

The big reason why DIYers are a declining & disrupted market is that when consumers distill down what they truly care about – convenience always wins.

The same reasons driving the growth of takeout, restaurant, delivery, and meal kits at the expense of cooking are also driving the growth of online platforms at the expense of websites + tools.

If you are a DIYer, it will pay to be hyper-aware of what your true wants, needs and goals are – and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. Platforms are great in many ways, but beyond 2020, the most successful DIYers will be able to manage the tradeoffs of platforms.

If you are a freelancer, it will lead to bigger rewards to both specialize in a platform and maintain familiarity with how adjacent choices work. Even if your clients do not know about or understand platform choices, you can still use them to streamline your business and add value without adding extra work.

Spam, Security & Speed Killed What Could Have Been

I am a huge fan of the Open Web. Regardless of the short-term rewards of the platform of the day, it’s still worth investing in a website for the long-term.

But in 2020, even the most die-hard prophets preaching against Google, social media companies, cloud computing, hosted builders, and big corporations will have to admit that the vulnerabilities in the Open Web & running / managing your own website are pushing people to big platforms as much as those big platforms are pulling people.

For example, Google might be pulling people & businesses to hand over their personal email & confidential documents. But hackers, spammers, and human impatience are doing plenty of pushing as well.

For example, I would *love* to run conversations via blog comments instead of using Twitter. But my blog comments are like an absolute honeypot for the worst of the Internet.

Another example, I would love to avoid ecommerce transaction fees and SSL fees but hackers only need one shot. Security is difficult and, honestly, much more effective to do at scale across thousands of websites.

Most of my clients gain a lot from controlling their own hosting rather than using a hosted website solution. But I have to set expectations to prep clients for the amount of time & money it takes to keep the site secure & speedy beyond using a solid hosting company. Web visitors will absolutely ditch a website in a heartbeat over a millisecond. That’s why so many publishers with massive brands are blindly handing control over to Google’s AMP initiative. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t compete with human impatience.

Traffic Sources Are Consolidated & Fragmented

Facebook’s properties & Google’s properties will continue to become bigger. But they’ll also become more winner-take-all. But also, a much longer tail of random completely unpredictable traffic sources will continue to fragment.

Even more traffic will be “dark” or untrackable. Planning a marketing strategy will increasingly rely solely on your target audience rather than your target traffic source.

Organic Traffic Is A Bonus

Treat any organic traffic from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc like a bonus. You can’t project or plan long-term around organic traffic. Agencies, freelancers, etc will have to adjust pricing and clients will have to adjust expectations.

Digital marketers spent years making fun of John Wanamaker old-fashioned quote that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Online attribution was supposed to solve that problem. But now, no matter how creepy your tracking and attribution is…consumer & traffic behavior is so unpredictable that you won’t be able to truly plan long-term…unless you pay.

Marketers Growth Demands Killed What Could Have Been

More and more platforms & websites will be “walled gardens”* due to pressure to grow…and grow…and grow some more. The Web could have been a world of accessible, free-flowing information where many businesses and types of businesses made a living. But platforms have to be more closed to make more money off users. And as valuable traffic has declined, website owners have become more desperate and more annoying to drive up ad rates.

*Even previously open platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter are closing in.

For example – see basically every recipe website ever. As Google and Pinterest strive to keep more users on their sites, serving their ads…recipe content websites have become more desperate to monetize what little traffic they do have…leading to horrendous car salesman-like levels of unusability.

Users Killed What Could Have Been

Users want convenience above all. For all the pulling that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc are doing…users are also pushing attention there…because it’s convenient.

For example, I have no idea what to say to website owners about voice search. And anyone who does have a “strategy” for voice search – I call B*S* on. Users want it. I want it. It’s amazing, but you can’t build a publishing business or profitable content marketing strategy around it.

1,000 True Fans Is Still True

That said, the future will always have a small, tough, but sustainable spot for Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.

On balance, there has never been a better time to run a website or online presence than right now. If you have a good product, service, or concepts, there are likely 1000 True Fans that can & will support your work. Sure, there were “Golden Ages” of organic Facebook traffic, organic Google traffic, etc…but those eras had serious issues and limitations as well.

There Is No Magic Bullet

There is no sure-fire way to build a successful website. I’ve been working in digital marketing for years now. I know that in SEO, there used to always be a sure-fire tactic that was working. Now, there are tactics that work marginally better than others. There are things that you can focus more or less on…but the magic secrets are gone.

Same goes with Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. The only real magic bullet now is hard creative work, constant research, careful planning, constant learning…and a whole lot of luck.

Opportunity Costs Are Very Real

When you choose to do Action A instead of Action B, there is the cost of doing Action A plus the cost of *not* doing Action B.

In a world of limited marketing resources, choosing to create social media posts means that you are also missing out on *not* creating blog posts.

Back in the world where everything online was growing, you could afford to miss one big opportunity for another…because most every opportunity was growing.

Now, mobile devices are ubiquitous. Desktop traffic is actually declining. And many social networks have reached maturity. Choosing one over another or bouncing around chasing “shiny objects” has real costs above whatever you are paying for your main investment.

Even with aspects of running your website, many website features are standardized and predictable. There are opportunity costs to choosing what part of your site to improve or leave alone.

Lookalikes Killed Privacy

I wrote a guide to tracking marketing data on your website. I actively use any & all data to help clients & aid my own research. But on this website & my personal website, I’ve deliberately removed all tracking tags except for Google’s. Why?

Well, sure, there’s the token virtue and hand-washing hypocrisy part of it.

But also, I found that my own retargeting & tracking did not matter in comparison to the massive opportunity presented by lookalike audiences and the data gathered by the big platforms.

Because here’s the thing about “big data” that people miss. It’s that individuals do not matter. All that matters is the sample size.

Every single person has a lookalike about some part of themselves. No matter how special or unique you think you are; no matter how carefully you avoid trackers or cookies or online ads, you can be personally marketed without any kind of tracking to due to lookalike audiences.

Here’s an analogy. Think about the world of DNA testing & genealogy. There are real fears & real consequences to having your DNA in a database. But protecting your own DNA is near-pointless. If a company (or government) knows the DNA from a couple cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents or a sibling…then they know yours as well.

Lookalikes are the same. Even if Nate Shivar avoids all retargeting trackers, there are still enough people out there similar to me that will allow marketers to reach me if they want.

So – what does this mean? It means that whether you have a large audience data set or not, you can still think creatively about how to profile & reach your audience.*

*that is – until privacy can get solved in a meaningful way. Be sure to tell your political leaders that this needs to be solved at the national / international level. Individual choice & freedom in this issue is a moot point.

Alternative Channels Matter

In investing, modern portfolio theory says that diversification pays for itself because it maximizes expected return even if it fails to maximize actual returns.

In other words, you may know that Investment A is your best bet. But you should still make Investment B as well, because you can’t be sure that Investment A will be amazing.

Same with traffic sources and alternative channels and even website tools.

You may be pretty sure that your priority is the right one. But in a world of uncertainty, alternatives are good to have.

Now – going back to Opportunity Costs Are Real – you have to be honest with the tradeoffs. If you spend time on YouTube in addition to Google Search, you might lose some in Google. But you also won’t lose it all if you have some investment in YouTube.

Web Hosting Is a Utility

Amazon made the technology of hosting files a commodity service. Web hosting companies no longer compete on technology. In fact, they don’t want to compete on technology…because Amazon / Microsoft / Google win on that. Web hosting companies make money on what they provide in addition to basic hosting.

That can include support, onboarding, graphical server management tools, bundled 3rd party services, etc. But the main point is that if hosting is a utility – then anybody can offer it as a feature…not just web hosting companies.

There will be even more plugin makers, software makers, theme designers, tool makers, etc that will simply bundle & resell hosting as a feature.

Website Builders Are a Feature

I remember when I used my first drag & drop builder in the early 2000s with Homestead. It was a “WYSIWYG” builder. And it was terrible. Actually, every WYSIWYG builder was terrible…until just a few years ago.

Now…developer and marketer snobs will turn their nose up at drag & drop…but the software is actually pretty good….and it’s only getting better.

If drag & drop were microwavable pizzas in the 2000s, they became Domino’s in the 2010s…and now they are more like Mellow Mushroom pizza. Nothing like your local sit-down Italian haunt…but consistent and really solid.

All this means is that the core website building software can be a feature bundled with everything else rather than a stand-alone business. That’s why Google, MailChimp, Shopify, HostGator, InMotion, GoDaddy, and a dozen other non-website builder companies are bundling free website builders that otherwise compete directly with Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.

SEO Is a Tactic

For years, the “contract” between publishers and Google was that Google gets to copy & analyze copyrighted content in exchange for free organic traffic.

If publishers made their content easier for Google to copy & analyze (i.e., “search engine optimization“), then Google would reward them with even more free organic traffic.

It created a virtuous cycle that worked for everyone. Sure, Google had to deal with publishers who took advantage of loopholes. And publishers had to waste some time dealing changing guidelines and features (remember Author markup?).

But on whole, the deal worked for everyone.

In fact, you could build an entire marketing strategy around the deal. That’s how entire businesses got built. Help Google and they’ll help you.

But, that deal has broken down. As Google focuses more on users and advertisers – publishers will get left out more and more. And as SEO as a strategy goes away, it will really only remain as a tactic in a broader strategy of organic traffic from all the places.

IRL Original Content Is Underestimated

The Internet makes copying & sharing more convenient than ever. In fact, it’s so convenient that we often forget that there are other sources of information in the real world.

But even more so, we forget that information in the real world is the source for information on the Internet.

In fact, this instinct is true not just among social media users but also among serious website owners and professional journalists.

Because of this instinct for convenient & copyable information – there is a growing premium on original information gathered from the real world.

Anyone can get a screengrab from Google Earth. But not many people will take a picture of a location. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can get a screengrab from social media…but not many people will go an compose a proper photo in context. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can make a drawing or an illustration…but not many people will make an IRL video or photo sequence. And which is more useful & unique?

On my websites & my clients’ websites – I am continually amazed at how often original, IRL images get copied, cited & linked-to. It’s amazing.

It’s no magic bullet, but it’s the most magical of all bullets that SEO’s & website owners have.

IRL Data Is Underestimated

On a related note, data copying and analyzing is easy. IRL data gathered from real people is harder and harder to gather and share.

That’s what makes the US Census so invaluable. But that’s also what makes companies’ internal data so valuable and why some companies use it for incredible link building & PR efforts.

Above & Beyond Pays Off Even More

Regardless of hosting platform, marketing toolset, marketing strategy or collection of tactics – going above and beyond the competition will provide winner-take-all dividends.

Onward!

The Internet & globalization continually push towards sharper and sharper winner-take-all markets for money & attention. And they also increase the long-tail of choice. And technology is continually disrupting itself. Until those core forces are fully understood, you have to play the game.

Focus on using products that you understand and match your goals. Focus on marketing strategies based on audiences that you understand and match your financial goals.

Onward!

“”

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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