Speed Up WordPress – Tips To Improve WordPress Page Speed
In order to speed up WordPress websites and improve load time for WordPress websites, it typically requires a multi-faceted approach to achieve the best results. Unfortunately, there is no “magic wand” approach to speed up WordPress, and in most cases, does require quite a bit of web development and technical knowledge to really get the job done. However, within the WordPress plugin ecosystem, there are a number of tools available that can help with some of the more tricky configurations when you try to improve load times for WordPress websites. Below we’ll cover a few of the most impactful updates you can make to a WordPress website to improve PageSpeed and load times.
When trying to speed up WordPress, start by taking a look at your website images. The first thing that any WordPress website owner should do prior to uploading any images to their website is optimize them. Most people don’t realize just how unnecessarily large images can be before they are optimized for the web. Optimizing for web typically just removes any unnecessary image tagging data, EXIF data, location data, and unused color data, so images can be considerably optimized without losing any quality. Image size is usually one of the biggest problems when it comes to slow website speed, so we are usually able to speed up WordPress websites quite a bit with our first round of image optimization.
If you do not have a plugin on your website to help with image optimization, you can always use the website TinyPNG.com. Their optimization tool is free to use and does an excellent job of compressing .jpg and .png images. They also have a WordPress plugin available that you can install on just about any WordPress website. All you need to do to use the plugin is generating a free API key on their website, and then any new images uploaded to your website as well as any existing images on your website can be compressed.
Of all of the page speed improvements, we will detail, image optimization can often times have the biggest impact when trying to speed up WordPress. This is due to website owners uploading images that exceed reasonable sizes. We typically suggest images be no larger than 300kb – 400kb for banner images and 150kb to 200kb and less for smaller images. We also suggest that you keep the total number of images on a page between 10-12 at most and make sure that image dimensions never exceed 2000 pixels in width. One really easy way to improve PageSpeed for WordPress websites is to make sure your images are optimized.
There are a number of ways that code can be minified and combined depending on the resources available and your comfort with code. First, there are a number of plugins available within WordPress that will do this for you. If your site is already developed, you are using a pre-built theme, or are uncomfortable using command line based web design tools, then a plugin is probably the best bet for you. There are a number of great options available, all of which are very low risk to site health as soon as they are disabled, any impact would be immediately reversed. You will also typically see the impact from these tools in tests like GTMetrix or our website grader right away, making them great to improve PageSpeed for WordPress.
If you’re comfortable with web development or command line based web design tools, then you may want to use Gulp. Gulp is a streaming build system that uses NodeJS to run on your machine. Gulp can be used to compile SASS files, combine and minify CSS, combine and minify JS, minify HTML, minify and optimize images, and so much more. Gulp does require an intermediate level of web design knowledge, but you can learn more about Gulp and how it is used here.
The server your WordPress website runs on will also play a big part in whether you can speed up WordPress websites. There are a number of server modifications that you will need to make but here are a few of the more important ones.
You will want to make sure your website has Gzip enabled, which will ensure that all of your website files and assets are compressed at the server level. You will also want to do things like adding expires headers to all of your static file types, configure ETags, and make sure your .htaccess file has all of the necessary compression enabled. While it does take a more experienced developer to implement these changes, you are usually able to speed up WordPress considerably by improving the way your server delivers the website. If you would like more information about our WordPress management services, schedule a consultation today.
Once you’ve implemented all of the other changes from above, you can then begin to look at page caching and server caching. Caching creates a “saved” or “cached” version of the website at the time the page is loaded. The server then is able to load the “cached” version of the page or pages instead of having to load the page and all of its assets each time.
For example, if your page has several images, scripts, images an CSS files, by caching these files you are able to load them directly from the cache instead of having to request them from the server each time the page loads. This can save a considerable amount of time for users, especially for pages with heavier content.
The website owner will also have control over how often the cache refreshes. For example, if the website is going to be updated with new content every 4 hours, you will want to make sure the cache is cleared and refreshed directly afterward. You can usually set this to occur on an action, like when a new post is published. You can also trigger the cache clear manually at any time with just about any caching plugin.
When it comes to caching plugins, they’re all great in their own ways. Two of the better ones we have used however are WP Fastest Cache and W3 Total Cache. Both of these caching plugins are “plug and play” and will deliver huge WordPress website speed improvements.
Our Favorite WordPress Page Speed Plugins
Not all WordPress plugins will slow down your website. When it comes to caching and minifcation plugins, you should see big jumps in your page speed scores after enabling these tools. Here are a few of our favorite WordPress caching plugins.
WP Fastest Cache
By far our favorite caching tool for any WordPress website. This caching plugin handles a number of really impactful server-side caching needs and server optimizations with a few clicks of a button. All of the general features of the plugin are free to use for any WordPress website user, and like many premium plugins, there are premium features available for an upgraded cost. We definitely recommend testing out WP Fastest Cache on any WP install where you will be using caching.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is another excellent caching plugin available for free to any WordPress user. W3 Total Cache improves website speed by improving server performance, caching every static aspect of your website, and reducing the download times of content. W3 Total Cache also integrates with just about any CDN right out of the box allowing your caching and CDN to communicate a bit better. W3 Total Cache is another great option for just about any WordPress install.
Fast Velocity Minify
Fast Velocity Minify. The plugin developers update the plugin often, it works well with just about any WordPress website, and it has a major impact on overall WordPress website speed.
Compress JPEG & PNG Images
One of the easiest places to make big gains in your website page speed score is in your image optimization. Often times, website owners will upload images that are too large, not optimized, and at much larger dimensions than necessary. While WordPress does have native functionality that allows developers to resize images that are too large, image optimization is something else entirely. The website and service TinyPNG.com created a WordPress plugin that utilizes it’s API to easily and efficiently compress all of your website images. The tool allows you to compress and optimize images on demand and will also optimize images as they’re uploaded. This plugin is one of the most powerful plugins that you can have on any WordPress website, and best of all it’s free to use.
Get Compress JPEG & PNG Images
There are a number of other excellent WordPress plugins that will help with website speed including caching plugins, compression plugins, minification plugins, and more. We encourage you to test out a variety of plugins for yourself in a development environment to get a better idea for the caching stack that works best for you.
Speed Up WordPress
If you own a WordPress website and are interested in improving the web page speed, page load times, time to first byte or any other PageSpeed metric, we can help. Page speed plays a crucial role in your websites page ranking, so it’s important that your website is optimized for premium performance. If you would like more information on how we can speed up WordPress websites, contact us today to schedule a strategy session.
Nexcess Hosting Review – What To Know Before Signing Up
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already somewhat familiar with Nexcess as a hosting company and just looking for a good review of Nexcess hosting, so I’ll save the background information and get right to what you came for. Let’s talk about Nexcess hosting and how it stacks up to its competitors.
I’ve been working as a web designer and web developer for just about 10 years now and in that time have worked with just about every major hosting provider and tried out nearly as many hosting services. And my opinion based on this experience is that Nexcess has distinguished themselves as the best US-based managed hosting provider.
I decided it would be helpful to other web designers and developers out there to back that bold statement up and put together a Nexcess review so that they could make an informed decision.
When it comes to managed web hosting, one of the first questions that anyone is going to ask is “how much does it cost?”.
Nexcess is one of the most reasonably priced managed hosting providers around, especially considering the quality of their hosting services. They have WordPress server packages starting as low as $12/mo when you sign up yearly or $15 per month when paid monthly.
These shared server options are fast, secure, and come with a ton of bells and whistles that many shared hosting providers do not provide. In addition, you have the ability to create email accounts and generate free SSL certificates using Let’s Encrypt.
Nexcess hosting also offers several great cloud hosting options starting at only $29 per month. These cloud servers give you a ton of storage space and bandwidth, making them ideal for use in a number of applications or services.
If you’re in search of something larger or more powerful, Nexcess has a number of dedicated server options. These dedicated servers are also pre-configured for the most popular content management systems including WordPress, Magento, WooCommerce, and more.
The Nexcess dedicated server options start at just about $500 making them some of the most affordable managed dedicated servers available from a US-based company.
Nexcess Server Stack & Performance
In my experience websites always tend to perform just a bit better on Nexcess servers. The differences are not major in most situations, but the differences can be seen in metrics like time-to-first-byte and time-to-first-paint.
Nexcess offers it’s server options based on the content management system your website runs on. As the majority of their offerings are optimized for either WordPress, WooCommerce, or Magento, if you’re not running one of these platforms, these same benefits may not apply to you.
They also offer a variety of hosting options for each content management system. For example, Nexcess hosting offers shared hosting, cloud hosting, and dedicated servers optimized for Magento specifically. Nexcess dedicated servers for Magento are an excellent option, especially with Magento 2.
The Nexcess stack uses Apache web server, NGINX acceleration, and HTTP/2 at its core and is primarily engineered for PHP applications. Nexcess is able to run other languages such as Python, NodeJS and Ruby. The full technology stack is:
PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 & 7.3
NodeJS 8 & 10
Python 2.7, 3.4 & 3.6
Ruby 2.2, 2.3, 2.5
Nexcess servers combine increased performance with a lower memory footprint by using the latest version of the Apache web server for application delivery. Nexcess servers also make powerful caching options like Redis available to speed up applications.
Whether you’re going with a standard shared server or one of the cloud hosting options, Nexcess hosting always offers plenty of disk space and bandwidth regardless of the package. Even the smallest shared server option will give you 10 GB of disk space and 150gb of bandwidth per month.
When it comes to the database portion of the stack, Nexcess runs both MySQL and MariaDB. MariaDB is an open-source version of MySQL that was written by the original creators of MySQL. The Nexcess MariaDB configuration is carefully tuned and tested for peak performance.
Nexcess also offers cloud container services which allow for easy scalability as a business grows and needs change. For example, you can easily add-on services like ElasticSearch, Apache Solr, and Varnish.
The Nexcess cloud and Nexcess standard web hosting stacks are also very scalable. Nexcess offers many features like load balancers, cloud auto-scaling, a cloud accelerator, PCI compliance and much more.
One of my most favorite things about Nexcess hosting though is the daily backups that they perform. When you host a website or application with Nexcess, you sleep a bit easier knowing that they’re making regular backups and storing them for you.
The backups cover both your website files and databases, so you are covered across the board. In the situation that your website crashes or you have a security breach, you know that the very worst case scenario means you would only lose less than one day’s worth of data.
Nexcess also has data centers around the United States. Each Nexcess data center location is carefully chosen for security, performance, and strategic positioning. Every data center is PCI compliant and employs advanced security protocols, many additional redundancies, and a 24/7 support team.
No matter what your business or application needs are, Nexcess hosting surely has a server configuration that can meet your performance requirements.
Nexcess Technical Support
Customer service, technical support, and server maintenance are where Nexcess hosting truly shines. Of all of the website hosting companies I’ve interacted with over the years, Nexcess has the best technical support hands down.
With most managed hosting companies, when you call their telephone support you are likely to get a customer support representative. These representatives are trained in answering general questions about the services and creating support tickets when necessary.
These tickets then get escalated through support until your issue is ultimately solved. This process can take hours, sometimes days depending on the problem and the hosting provider.
When you call Nexcess hosting support, you are connected directly to an experienced system administrator sitting in their Michigan offices.
This system administrator is able to log in to your server, investigate the issue with you on the phone and more often than not address the problem. In the situation that a system administrator is unable to provide a solution, an escalation through their “ESG” process usually takes no more than a couple of hours.
Support can vary depending on the server you have. For example, some of the support available to Nexcess dedicated server clients is not available to shared-hosting clients. In my experience, the technical support has been excellent regardless of the server I was calling about.
Nexcess tech support typically has plenty of experience troubleshooting common issues with WordPress and Magento websites. While they are not responsible for fixing specific website bugs or errors, their support team is typically very good about having answers to the more common website problems. For example, post-migration issues, database connection issues, or even website security issues.
Comparatively, most managed website hosting companies prefer to do their support through online chat. While many hosting providers have strong online support, for example, Siteground, this type of support just does not come close to the attention to detail and high level of expertise that Nexcess offers.
Don’t just take my word for it either. You can read thousands of verified user reviews on Nexcess and the hosting services it offers on multiple different websites around the internet.
While I love Nexcess as a hosting provider for a number of reasons, I would say it is their technical support that truly makes them stand out from the crowd.
Nexcess vs. AWS
No Nexcess review would be complete without comparing it to AWS. When comparing hosting providers like Nexcess and AWS it’s important to first understand the needs of the application.
AWS does offer some managed services, but traditionally AWS is not a managed hosting provider. This means that while they do offer a ton of server options and environments, you have to know what you’re doing to use everything. In other words, there’s not really a number to call to set things up for you.
So while AWS does offer pre-configured server options and “quick deployment” server guides, getting started on AWS is not for the general website owner or first-time website designer.
For example, this is what would be required to start a new Magento environment on AWS: https://aws.amazon.com/quickstart/architecture/magento/
AWS does offer a ton of flexibility when it comes to server configurations and available tools. So where Nexcess has a few specifically configured server options depending on the CMS platform you’re using, AWS lets you configure a server environment to your exact specifications.
AWS could be a great option if you are a web developer or web design agency planning to manage a website application or sell hosting packages to your clients.
However, if you are a general website owner or small business owner with novice-level or lower web development skills, you may want to consider going with managed hosting.
Managed hosting like Nexcess takes the guesswork out of the server setup, configuration, optimization, and platform deployment. For example, when Nexcess first configures your server it already has the latest version of WordPress or Magento installed on it.
The server also comes fully configured for performance. You would need to really know what you’re doing to configure an AWS server the same way that a Nexcess dedicated server would come out of the box.
For example, let’s say you are someone who plans to buy a WordPress theme or Magento template and build their own website. As soon as your Nexcess server is ready you will be able to login to your CMS and get started on building your website.
With AWS as your hosting provider, you will first need to set up and configure your server, then deploy your CMS. If setting up a theme is going to be a new experience for you, configuring an AWS server may be a bit more difficult than you’d expect.
Don’t get me wrong, I know AWS is a great platform. I have used various AWS services in quite a few projects. I continue to suggest AWS as a solution for client projects all of the time. However, when compared to Nexcess as a hosting provider and comparing apples to apples, I would suggest Nexcess more often than not when it comes to hosting WordPress or Magento websites.
Nexcess Vs. Hostgator
Hostgator is a website hosting provider that many people are already familiar with to some extent. Hostgator has massive name recognition and extremely competitive pricing, however, they are in a completely different arena when it comes to the quality of hosting services.
To start, the pricing is very competitive, but you do get what you pay for. Typically Hostgator servers are not going to be optimized for the specific platform or CMS you are running and therefore won’t perform as well. While the machines that Hostgator hosts websites on may be comparable, the configuration of those servers is just nowhere close to what Nexcess offers.
In addition, the customer support at Hostgator just does not compare to what is offered at Nexcess. Hostgator phone support is typically capable of assisting with basic questions, domain configurations, email setup and things like that. However, when it comes to more technical requests and need for advanced assistance, Hostgator almost always falls short.
If you are someone who has a growing online business, an expanding reputation online, or plans to expand their business online, I would move away from Hostgator. However, if you’re someone who just needs an inexpensive place to “hang your shingle” online, Hostgator could be a great option for your website hosting needs.
Nexcess vs. WP Engine
When it comes to performance and server optimization, WP Engine is definitely a close competitor with Nexcess. Keep in mind that WP Engine is really only suitable for WordPress websites, so if you are a Magento store owner, this may not apply to you.
To be transparent, my experience with WP Engine is limited. I’ve worked on a handful of sites that were hosted at WP Engine, but in that short experience, I did recognize it as a great hosting server.
Some of the benefits of WP Engine are that it has excellent uptime and great performance. If you have a site that is receiving heavy traffic and making a lot of sales, WP Engine is a great solution to make sure you never go down.
WP Engine also takes website security very seriously. They offer regular malware scanning, daily backups, IP address restrictions for brute force attacks and more. WP Engine also offers a wide variety of WordPress specific features that really help maximize the performance of a website.
WP Engine does have a few drawbacks when compared with Nexcess though. For one, WP Engine is a bit more expensive than Nexcess and offers less storage space. This means that while you could feasibly host 2 websites on the smallest Nexcess hosting package, you would only be able to host one with WP Engine.
In addition, WP Engine does not offer phone support. Now their customer service team was still excellent in my experience, however, it did take a bit longer than Nexcess. I’ve also found that when you can speak to customer support directly on the phone, the more complex issues are typically resolved much more quickly.
WP Engine also does not offer any sort of email hosting or inbox services. This means that in addition to your monthly hosting costs, you will also need to take on additional costs for email hosting with a company like Google GSuite.
So if you are a brand or business that is already fully up-and-running online, WP Engine could be an excellent hosting option to upgrade to when necessary. However, if this is your first website, or you are just getting started with an online business, WP Engine may not be the right choice for you.
It’s important to consider your website needs as well as the type of ongoing support you will have. Are you yourself a web designer or web developer? Or are you employing a web designer to build your website?
If you are employing a website designer to build your website, are you planning to keep employing that web designer once your project is completed? If not, do you plan to retain them on a website management package?
If you are not a web designer yourself and don’t have plans for ongoing website management, WP Engine may not be the right choice for you. The customer service and customer support that Nexcess offers is truly second-to-none and makes a huge difference for novice website owners.
It’s also important to take into consideration all of the different needs that you will have as an online business. In addition to web hosting, you will need email, and a CDN, and SSL certificates, and potentially a lot more depending on your needs. I always suggest that clients keep as many services under one roof whenever possible. By keeping your services together it makes it a lot easier to add new services as well as troubleshoot existing services.
So in short, WP Engine offers excellent WordPress website hosting, however, it’s not always ideal for the more “novice” website owner.
Nexcess vs. Siteground
If there were to be a runner up to managed website services I would probably choose Siteground. Siteground also offers shared and managed servers that are pre-configured for Magento, WordPress, and WooCommerce. Unlike Nexcess, Siteground is based in Bulgaria.
When it comes to server performance, both Nexcess and Siteground offer server options that are optimized for the most popular CMS.
While websites on both servers perform exceptionally well compared to hosting providers like GoDaddy, in my experience Siteground servers do not perform at the same levels as Nexcess servers. Keep in mind, that statement is made fairly generally and based on hosting many sites on both platforms.
Keep in mind, on sites that are built to be more lightweight and efficient, Siteground is a great solution. For example, the website you are reading this article on right now is hosted on Siteground! However, we host a number of other sites with heavier traffic and requests like Fortress over at Nexcess.
Siteground does offer a server caching option called SuperCacher that works pretty well, however even with this feature enabled, Nexcess and the caching options it provides still seems to be the better option.
Nexcess and Siteground also both offer CDN integrations. Nexcess offers it’s own internal CDN and includes the service in the price of most of its hosting options. Siteground does not have its own CDN, but it does offer easy one-click integration with Cloudflare CDN. While Cloudflare is a great CDN option, I have found it leaves a bit to be desired compared to the Nexcess CDN.
When it comes to pricing, however, Siteground has Nexcess beat every time. Siteground has very affordable hosting solutions starting as low as $4 per month. These prices do tend to raise after 1-2 years, however, they typically don’t raise by too much unless you upgrade your server.
Siteground dedicated servers are also considerably less expensive than Nexcess dedicated servers. A dedicated server with Siteground starts at just $269 – that’s almost half what you would pay at Nexcess.
Siteground is an excellent option for the small-business owner starting a first website, the e-commerce entrepreneur launching a new online store, or even a web design company that wants to resell hosting to clients.
Siteground also offers decent technical support. They do not have regular phone support that you can call, however, they do offer live chat support.
The live chat support operators are typically very experienced and can troubleshoot a number of problems. There are limitations as to what the first level of chat support can typically handle, and from time-to-time, there will seem to be some language barrier problems.
In situations that Siteground chat support can’t address an issue, they will escalate it and usually have a result within a few hours.
In my experience, both Nexcess and Siteground offer great managed hosting and support. From a performance standpoint, the big differences will be seen with websites that get more traffic and have heavier resources.
In a customer service scenario, Nexcess is definitely a better option when facing a major issue or in need of a fast solution. While both hosting providers typically resolve any problem you’re facing quickly, there is a different level of attentiveness with Nexcess.
Nexcess Hosting Features
To recap, Nexcess hosting offers a number of amazing hosting features. Nexcess makes the following available to all of its customers:
- Data centers located in Michigan, Australia and Surrey, United Kingdom
- Lots of scalable server plans
- Domain registration
- Global Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Server-side caching features
- Reseller plans
- Free SSL Certificates
- 30-day, money-back guarantee
Hosting With Nexcess – Want To Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning a bit more about Nexcess hosting or just want to talk to someone with experience using Nexcess, send us an email. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about Nexcess as a hosting platform or finding the right hosting provider for your website or application.
BigCommerce Vs Shopify – Picking The Right E-Commerce Platform
Surprisingly, in 2019, there are still businesses that are not leveraging the benefits of e-commerce to sell their products and services online. Fortunately, e-commerce platforms are becoming more advanced every day. According to data collected by Statista, 11.9% of all worldwide retail sales were e-commerce sales. In short, this means that you can no longer afford to ignore building an e-commerce presence.
When building an e-commerce website, the first decision you’ll need to make is what platform you’ll be building it on. While there are a lot of great e-commerce platforms out there, many people are already familiar with Shopify. You may be surprised though at just how many clients come to us with the question, “Is there anything better than Shopify?”.
After getting this question from quite a few clients, we decided to find out for ourselves. After experimenting with several different e-commerce platforms, we landed on BigCommerce eCommerce as the premier Shopify competitor.
So the real question then becomes BigCommerce vs Shopify – which is the best e-commerce platform for your business?
While there are several other e-commerce options out there, we strongly believe that either Shopify or BigCommerce are the best options for the majority of e-commerce website owners. Each e-commerce platform has it’s own strengths, weaknesses, pros, and cons.
More importantly, the most appropriate platform will be dependent on the products that the store is selling, the need for specific e-commerce features, and any need for specific marketing features. It’s important to have an understanding of your specific e-commerce needs before making a BigCommerce Shopify comparison.
While both BigCommerce and Shopify have unique qualities that make them great platforms, some differences make either platform better suited for your brand. So let’s take a closer look and really compare Shopify and BigCommerce.
To kick off our BigCommerce Shopify comparison, let’s start with the top-level features. Even though Shopify and BigCommerce are both hosted in the cloud, they offer quite a few different e-commerce features. When looking at these platforms, it’s important to understand that both of them have an enormous list of features. Here are some of the main features:
- Professional themes
- Shipping options
- Unlimited disk space
- Automated tax calculation
- Optimized for mobile
- Unlimited bandwidth
- And so much more…
When comparing Shopify vs. BigCommerce it’s important to understand just where these features begin to differ. While both platforms have all the necessary features or a great e-commerce platform Shopify doesn’t have as many additional features as BigCommerce. Some of the useful additional features BigCommerce offers are:
- Sync with the worlds top sales marketplaces like eBay and Amazon
- A suite of marketing tools
- Abandoned cart recovery
- Advanced SEO features
- Sales tax reports
- Single-page checkout which you would otherwise have to pay for on Shopify
Comparing BigCommerce vs Shopify on their e-commerce features alone is pretty straightforward. While Shopify does include a huge number of e-commerce features right out of the box, BigCommerce really goes above and beyond giving e-commerce store owners the tools they need to succeed.
The BigCommerce platform provides integrations, analytics, marketing tools, and much more that you would need to pay extra for on Shopify through the use of Shopify paid apps. This alone makes the BigCommerce vs Shopify question a much easier one.
E-Commerce Platform Pricing
When most people compare BigCommerce to Shopify, the first thing they look at is pricing. Your e-commerce platform should not break the bank each month. The amount you spend on using your platform should only be a small fraction of your monthly sales. Fortunately, with both BigCommerce and Shopify, there is a platform pricing plan that will work for just about any budget.
Shopify Pricing Works Like This:
- Shopify Lite $9.00 per month
- Basic Shopify $29.00 per month
- Shopify $79.00 per month
- Advanced Shopify $299.00 per month.
- Shopify Plus will range up from there.
Note that Shopify will charge transaction fees.
BigCommerce Pricing Works Like This:
- BigCommerce Standard $29.95 per month
- BigCommerce Plus $79.95 per month
- BigCommerce Pro starts at $249.95 per month.
- BigCommerce Enterprise starts at $999 per month and scales up from there.
BigCommerce does not charge your transaction charges.
Also good to keep in mind before pulling the trigger on either platform that both platforms offer free trials, so you can get your feet wet before you commit. So when looking at pricing and comparing BigCommerce vs Shopify, the scales are pretty even for the most part. The best thing to do is to work with an e-commerce web design studio to better identify all of your most important needs and then pick the platform that will meet your needs best.
E-Commerce Templates & Themes
One of the most important things to e-commerce website owners is how easy it is to update the look and feel of their website. So when looking at BigCommerce vs Shopify from a commercial theme standpoint, how do to the two compare? Which of the two e-commerce giants provides the most aesthetically appealing and functional templates and themes?
Remember, web design plays a significant role in closing sales. You’ll want a platform that allows you to create an e-commerce website that looks great, communicates your brand message, and most importantly, is fully responsive and optimized for SEO. Here are other features you should be on the lookout for when comparing e-commerce templates:
- Theme Flexibility
- Mobile responsiveness
- Marketing tool integration
- Ease of Use
- Ability to customize
When it comes to comparing templates and themes, Shopify does seem to be a bit ahead of BigCommerce. Shopify has been growing its library of paid and free themes for years and years now and has seemed to gain an advantage from a volume standpoint.
Also, each free theme you get from Shopify is different from the last. Moreover, with Shopify, you can quickly change the color as well as the typography of a template. BigCommerce also has hundreds of themes, but some customers have complained that their themes look obsolete.
From a quality standpoint, however, BigCommerce and Shopify both offer a wide variety of very attractive, very usable themes for e-commerce store owners of all types. So when comparing BigCommerce vs Shopify themes, it’s really important to look at both quality and quantity. When viewed this way, they are pretty evenly matched.
Ease Of Use
While many store owners are concerned about premium marketing features, aesthetically appealing themes, and competitive platform prices, ease of use is also a huge concern for many store owners.
A great e-commerce platform will not only include all of the great features a store owner needs to succeed, but will also make things easy for them to succeed. How easy is it to change settings? How quickly can it be done? Are you having trouble picking a theme? Such questions will paint a clear picture of how easy one can use the platform.
Extensions & Add-Ons
Since both Shopify and BigCommerce are hosted platforms, store owners should also consider which platform has the best app store, most add-ons, plugins, and extras. The Shopify app store is home to more than 500 well-crafted apps that allow users to add any function to their store. There are also extensions for SEO, marketing, customer support, social media integration, etc.
BigCommerce also has a very popular app store and development community. BigCommerce store owners are able to search through hundreds of BigCommerce apps and extensions to facilitate any number of additional features.
Much like with themes, it seems that the Shopify app store has more options on it, however, the BigCommerce app store seems to have everything an e-commerce store owner would ever need.
BigCommerce also has an arsenal of extras out-of-the-box which you would have paid for on Shopify. The BigCommerce API also makes it considerably easier for developers to create custom functionality and custom applications for BigCommerce websites.
When you pick a platform and to your e-commerce website on, the payment provider you will be using is one of the most important things to consider. Shopify includes more than 100 payment gateways including Stripe, PayPal, etc. This makes it easy for a website owner to quickly accept payments using the processor of their choice.
While the number of payment gateways provided by BigCommerce is fewer than that provided by Shopify, it has more first-class gateway payment options. Also, at this time BigCommerce is not charging transaction fees to their customers while Shopify does charge a 2% transaction fee.
Shopify vs BigCommerce B2B
If you’re looking for the best e-commerce platform for your B2B business, you will definitely want to learn a bit more about what both BigCommerce and Shopify have to offer. We have worked with a number of B2B clients over the years, and in that time I’ve found that BigCommerce is probably one of the best and most robust B2B e-commerce platforms available.
For one, BigCommerce supports customer-specific pricing as well as customer group pricing right out of the box. This means that you can set specific prices to each vendor as well as set pricing for groups of vendors. With Shopify, you would need to upgrade to Shopify Plus or install a few costly plugins just to get close to the same functionality.
BigCommerce also has several native integrations and native applications that are ideal for B2B businesses. For example, BigCommerce will connect with several shipping and logistics applications right out of the box. BigCommerce dropshipping apps and integrations are also readily available for website owners.
This means that your website will be able to communicate directly with your shipping team without the need for human involvement. For some businesses, the time saved with these features is worth tens of thousands of dollars to the company every year.
BigCommerce also has a huge application store and the ultra-popular BigCommerce Developer Forum. If your B2B business has a need that isn’t met by one of the standard integrations that BigCommerce offers, it’s very likely you’ll be able to find a solution available through a third-party developer.
The BigCommerce application marketplace has digital tools that can be used to market your business, improve SEO, streamline your products, communicate with other platforms and so much more.
When it comes to doing business online, my general rule of thumb is “the fewer third-party vendors, the better”. If your business utilizes various CRMs, vendor communication tools, and inventory tracking solutions, the last thing you want to worry about is having to figure out how to integrate each one of those services with your website.
While it’s always possible to do this with platforms like Shopify, Magento, or Squarespace, no e-commerce platform makes this process as easy and secure as BigCommerce does.
If you are looking to grow your online B2B business and are shopping for the right e-commerce platform and are considering BigCommerce vs Shopify, BigCommerce would be our suggestion every time.
BigCommerce Vs Shopify Plus
If you own a more established e-commerce store and are looking for the best premium e-commerce platform, it’s definitely a good idea to compare Shopify Plus vs BigCommerce. Both BigCommerce Premium and Shopify Plus offer many more features than their standard plans do, so let’s take a look at some of the differences.
When comparing pricing, Shopify Plus and BigCommerce are going to be similar at the entry level. BigCommerce Premium will typically start around $1000 and will scale up from there based on the store’s order volume. Shopify Plus usually starts around $2000 and will scale based on overall sales.
Both premium platforms also offer a number of great features for business scalability. For one, both platforms are excellent options from an order volume standpoint. For example, Shopify Plus can process up to 8,000 orders per minute. That’s more than 130 orders per second!
Each e-commerce platform also has the ability to handle high-volume traffic and traffic spikes with ease. Self-hosted platforms like Magento and WooCommerce cannot make this same guarantee as hosting and server management is the responsibility of the website owner.
Shopify Plus also has a number of features that standard Shopify does not offer including the wholesale channel, advanced security, customizable workflows, and a whole suite of apps and integrations. It is worth noting, however, that many of these features are available in a standard BigCommerce subscription.
If you are looking to get started with a premium managed e-commerce service, both Shopify and BigCommerce are great options. However, when comparing the breadth of services and the value created by these services, BigCommerce is a much better option for website owners.
BigCommerce vs Shopify SEO
One thing that every e-commerce website owner should be concerned about is SEO for their website. As a content marketing agency, this is one of the areas we’ve spent the most time investigating. We want to make sure that when we launch a client website, it has the best opportunity for success online.
In our extensive research and testing on both platforms, we’ve found that BigCommerce is the clear winner when comparing BigCommerce vs Shopify for e-commerce SEO. Here are the primary areas we’ve based this conclusion on.
Optimizing Meta Data
Both platforms do give you the ability to easily optimize metadata for pages, products, categories, posts, and any other content. However, on Shopify, you really only have access to the page title and meta description. Within BigCommerce, you have the ability to manage several other pieces of important metadata like Facebook Open Graph tags.
Website page speed is an extremely important factor in modern SEO. While much of the page speed will be dictated by how the website is built and the assets it is using, website and server configuration will also play a big role.
While building websites on BigCommerce is considerably more complex than building websites for Shopify, this is because BigCommerce utilizes a more technically advanced and efficient development workflow. With BigCommerce you’re able to hook into things like lazy loading, Webpack configurations, and page-specific asset loading right out of the box.
URL architecture and internal linking are also very important aspects of on-page SEO. In my extensive experience with Shopify, this has been one of the biggest pain points from an SEO standpoint. While you can optimize the individual URLs for given pages, Shopify creates a URL hierarchy that is not ideal for SEO.
BigCommerce understands that different websites may require different URL optimization methods, so they give users the ability to choose their ideal URL structures. With BigCommerce you also can define a URL structure for categories, one for products, and one for pages, so that your URLs can be as clean and concise as you’d like.
One aspect of SEO that most people don’t talk about when it comes to BigCommerce vs. Shopify is the SEO support that each platform provides. As an SEO company, we’ve spent a good amount of time interfacing with each platform on behalf of our clients.
To start, both platforms offer good customer service when it comes to overall platform support. More often than not, the phone support personnel are knowledgeable about the platform, the platform features, and are able to help clients find a solution.
When it comes to SEO and implementing a strong on-page SEO strategy, I’ve found that Shopify support fell short compared to BigCommerce. While the Shopify support team was familiar with basic SEO practice and how to implement basic metadata changes, the breadth of their knowledge would typically end there.
Similar to Shopify support, BigCommerce technical support team members are almost always familiar with the basics of metadata optimization and where these changes can be made on the platform. However, in my experience, BigCommerce support team members will typically be able to provide quite a bit more insight into technical SEO.
For website owners that don’t have the budget to hire an SEO company, but still want to start making progress with their organic search campaigns, BigCommerce is going to be the best bet.
Comparing Other E-Commerce Platforms
We’ve focused primarily on BigCommerce vs Shopify comparisons for the majority of the article, however, there are a few other popular e-commerce platforms worth quickly touching on.
Shopify vs. WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce
One of the more popular self-hosted e-commerce platforms is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is actually an e-commerce plugin that was built for WordPress. As a plugin, WooCommerce gives WordPress website owners the ability to quickly and easily integrate e-commerce functionality into their existing websites.
WooCommerce is an open-source plugin, which means that you can use it absolutely free. The only costs that are associated with running a WooCommerce website are the costs for hosting, SSL certificates, PCI compliance, and any other monthly services like a CDN.
In most cases, website owners will already have all of these things in place, so at that point including WooCommerce represents a $0 cost.
Building custom plugins and developing custom code for WooCommerce is also considerably easier than it would be for Shopify or BigCommerce.
This is not always a good thing though as it allows for lower-quality code to enter the WooCommerce ecosystem. When store owners install low-quality plugins, they are always running the risk of introducing the potential for site failure, security vulnerabilities, or corrupted data.
I always tell clients that WooCommerce is an excellent solution if e-commerce is a secondary purpose for your website. For example, if you run a service-based business but also sell merchandise.
However, if e-commerce is going to be the primary function for your website, you will probably want to go with BigCommerce or Shopify so that you don’t have to worry about the overhead for security, upgrades, PCI compliance etc.
Magento vs Shopify vs BigCommerce
Magento is another very popular self-hosted e-commerce platform. Unlike WordPress/WooCommerce, Magento was designed and developed as an e-commerce platform first. As far as self-hosted, open-source e-commerce platforms go, Magento is the best hands down.
While Magento is open-source and free to use, it is considerably more complex to develop for, so will usually have a much higher price tag when it comes to website development work. When the site owner does not have a specific need that only Magento can facilitate, it usually doesn’t make much sense for the site owner to take on the additional costs.
In addition, the Magento platform is constantly being developed and upgraded. While in some cases this is a good thing, it also means that bugs, errors, and issues are a normal part of owning a Magento website. Magento does push regular updates for bugs, security, and other upgrades, most Magento website owners never upgrade their store once it’s live.
Upgrading Magento is no easy task. It requires a full system backup, an experienced Magento developer to perform the updates, and a considerable amount of time to test and verify the updates. As most Magento stores also include third-party applications, it’s important to update and test these changes too.
For website owners with internal web development teams, regular Magento upgrades and security patches won’t be as big of a deal. However, if you need to engage a developer for 10 – 15 hours of work for each upgrade, you could be looking at an additional $5,000 to $7,000 per year for updates alone.
If your e-commerce business has a need for a very custom functional user experience or the need for rapid custom development, Magento may be the best platform for you. However if your website conducts traditional e-commerce transactions, Magento may be overkill.
One of the most important factors a new e-commerce store owner should consider is customer service. When looking at BigCommerce vs Shopify how do their customer support teams stack up?
What happens when you have questions and need support? If something goes wrong, how soon can it be rectified? Both Shopify and BigCommerce offer reliable customer support and provide customer services including:
- 24/7 customer service support via email, phone call, and live chat
- Informative FAQ pages
However, at the end of the day, BigCommerce seems to provide superior customer service. BigCommerce is ready and willing to help troubleshoot issues with website owners right on the phone, they provide video and webinar training, and they also provide countless materials to store owners that are solely focused on their success.
Shopify also provides store owners with training and growth materials, however, they just don’t seem to have the same level of detail and depth as the BigCommerce materials and the Shopify knowledge base is just not as extensive as BigCommerce’s.
So, BigCommerce vs Shopify? What’s The Verdict?
So, after looking at some of the pros, cons, similarities, and differences with BigCommerce vs Shopify, what’s the verdict? After all, you didn’t come here for a tie right?
While we still think Shopify is an incredible e-commerce platform and love to build websites for it, we think BigCommerce is our e-commerce platform of choice for 2019. Between the technical capabilities, marketing features, platform support, and the development community, we truly think BigCommerce is poised to become the next big e-commerce platform.
If you’re interested in learning more about BigCommerce, taking a tour of the platform, or learning more about what we can do for your existing e-commerce business, feel free to schedule a strategy session with our team today.
Squarespace Vs WordPress – What’s Best For Your Company?
When it comes to building a website for your company, there are quite a few things to take into consideration, one of the more important is the content management system, or CMS you will use to manage the website. While there are countless content management systems available, two of the more popular are WordPress and Squarespace. Let’s breakdown Squarespace vs WordPress so you can understand what is best for you.
Who Is Building Your Website?
So you’re building a website and you know you’re going with either Squarespace or WordPress. The first thing you should figure out is who will be building your website? If you plan to do it all yourself and you don’t have much experience designing websites, you may want to take the Squarespace route. Squarespace makes it very easy for beginners to choose templates, populate content and images, configure website details and go live without much difficulty. Squarespace offers a number of attractive themes or templates that are generally customizable, allowing even the most inexperienced designer to create something decent looking.
If you plan to hire a professional web design company to build your website, this changes things a bit. Some website design companies offer clients a Squarespace and a WordPress option. This way, clients with varying budgets have options. In most cases, the biggest difference will be that while both the Squarespace and WordPress websites can be designed to fit the company or brand, there will be limitations when it comes to both frontend and backend capabilities when it comes to Squarespace vs WordPress. All in all, a website for WordPress will typically be a bit more customized to the business. Either way, make sure to look at the web design companies portfolio to make sure they have a verifiable history of WordPress web design or Squarespace website design.
Website Frontend Functionality
One of the biggest things you should know when deciding on WordPress or Squarespace is what is capable from a frontend design standpoint. A websites frontend functionality, or user experience, will generally cover all of the things that a user can interact with on a website. While Squarespace offers quite a few out of the box elements that have various effects and animations that can be applied to them, there is a very definite limit as to what can be achieved. This means that for a company that simply needs to have a basic, clean, informational website, Squarespace may be the right solution.
Squarespace vs WordPress – Which Is More Usable?
Website Backend Functionality
When it comes to creating custom backend functionality, WordPress is the winner hands down. To understand why it’s important to understand the primary differences between WordPress vs Squarespace WordPress is an open source, self-hosted content management system, which means that you have access to both the site files and the database itself. This allows developers to develop finely tuned plugins and services for websites on demand.
WordPress also is truly built for scalability. It offers a variety of utilities to developers such as post_meta data, user_meta data, and much more. This allows developers to easily tie together various pieces of data, associate user accounts with products and information and so much more. Whether the need is for basic informational content routing, dynamic contact form routing, or anything else, developing a clean, custom solution is never impossible. It’s hard to compare Squarespace and WordPress when looking at it in these terms.
WordPress also makes developing plugins very easy, allowing developers to easily create custom functionalities for their websites as needed. There is also a huge community of WordPress plugin developers that create plugins of all sorts for free. Plugin functionality covers the literal range of needs, from basic forms to full-on CRM systems. If you were to ask any modern web developer if they preferred Squarespace and WordPress, I would assume the answer is WordPress nine times out of ten.
Plugins / Development Community
There is an ever-growing number of WordPress plugins readily available free of charge download from the WordPress.org Plugin Directory Site. There are also tons of exceptional or paid plugins for WordPress. When it comes to the development community backing WordPress or Squarespace, there really is no question. The WordPress plugin and development community is one of the largest and most active open-source communities in the world. Currently, there are more than 50 thousand plugins available free of charge for users to install on their websites to add enhanced features, enhance SEO, include additional functionality, add improved security and a number of other reasons. This makes the question of WordPress or Squarespace a lot easier if making your decisions based on framework scalability.
In addition to free plugins, there are also thousands of paid plugins. Why would you want to spend money on a plugin? Well, there are numerous reasons. While there are countless plugins offered totally free from the plugin directory site, paid plugins normally provide full-time assistance personnel and designers that deal with preserving the security and compatibility of plugins with the most recent variation of WordPress along with other styles and plugins.
Typically, plugins for WordPress won’t throw conflicts with the core of WordPress or with other plugins, however, in some cases, a plugin’s code will cause problems. With free plugins, it’s atypical that a plugin developer would support an issue. However, with a paid plugin, it’s you are also paying for the assistance from a professional developer if anything fails.
WordPress & Squarespace 3rd Party Tools
Squarespace also has an app marketplace available to its users. Many apps are free, however, others will have monthly fees. Also, Squarespace does not necessarily provide support for any of the third-party plugins. These plugins are also typically more limited in scope as far as custom functionality and business processes go when it comes to free options.
For example, where they may be a specific feature available from a Squarespace plugin, there may be 3-4 free plugin options with the same and/or more features. This means that the more complex your need, the more likely it will be easy to achieve using WordPress or WordPress themes. When it comes to backend customization, WordPress is the winner when comparing WP & Squarespace.
Drag & Drop Editor
One of the things Squarespace is most known for is it’s “drag and drop” editor. The Squarespace editor is easy to use and makes it simple to create a beautiful website. No matter the experience level of the user, if you’re generally comfortable on a computer, you should be able to set up a Squarespace website.
The Squarespace website builder provides the user with a number of elements that can be dragged, dropped, configured, and filled with content, images, and videos. This allows users to set up their content using attractive design elements, without compromising traditional design practices and maintaining a professional look. So this time in the question of Squarespace verses WordPress, Squarespace has the upper hand.
Or at least it did… Up until recently, WordPress didn’t offer a native draggable editor. Because of this, a number of plugins were created to meet this need such as Elementor and Divi. However, since these were plugins, this added the potential for plugin conflicts, security concerns and decreased website speed performance.
In late 2018, WordPress released their first native manual element-based website builder – Gutenberg. Gutenberg provides a huge number of out of the box elements that can be dragged and dropped into the WordPress content area. Designers can then pull these blocks into their themes and create global styles for them. This gives website owners and novice users the ability to create easy to manage designs like with Squarespace. This also gave many novice website builders something more to think about when choosing between WordPress or Squarespace.
Because it’s WordPress, this means that WordPress web developers can also create custom elements, custom blocks and more for the Gutenberg editor. This is a feature that is not really available to Squarespace designers, at least not in as robust a manner as with WordPress. All of a sudden, WordPress is holding it’s own in the drag and drop editor competition.
So when it comes to the manual drag/drop editing question of Squarespace vs WordPress, the answer is hard. I would still say that Squarespace has an easier to use manual dragging editor, however, WordPress does offer more flexibility. That also doesn’t mean that as Gutenberg won’t surpass Squarespace as it matures.
Both Squarespace and WordPress offer e-commerce online store capabilities and online shopping options. Both platforms offer integrations with the top payment processors like authorize.net and Stripe. Both platforms allow you to get shipping rates and assess shipping costs based on location. Both platforms allow you to manage and maintain robust product catalogs. However, just as we mentioned above, WordPress does offer quite a bit more when it comes to delivering custom e-commerce capabilities.
WordPress offers a variety of e-commerce options, however the most popular is WooCommerce. WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce plugin for WordPress. It is best for small to large-sized online merchants that are already utilizing WordPress. Introduced on September 27, 2011, the plugin rapidly ended up being well-known for how easy it is to set up and personalize.
WooCommerce was developed by popular WordPress vendor, WooThemes. WooThemes contracted Mike Jolley and James Koster, designers at Jigowatt, to deal with a fork of Jigoshop that ended up being WooCommerce. By August 2014, WooCommerce powered 381,187 websites, which accounted for roughly 17.77% of e-commerce websites online.
WooCommerce is utilized by a variety of high-traffic websites from a variety of niches. For the 3rd week of September 2015, data showed that WooCommerce was running on 30% of e-commerce websites.
E-commerce is quickly growing around the world and WooCommerce has more than 39 million downloads as a plugin and is presently active on more than 3 million sites and is the most popular eCommerce platform in 2018. WooCommerce has roughly 4% of the leading million HTML pages.
Due to the WooCommerce’s popularity, it also has a very active plugin development community. This means that it’s very easy to find a free plugin that will fulfill whatever your e-commerce needs are.
So when it comes to e-commerce web design functionality, the most important question when it comes to Squarespace vs WordPress is what is your need. Do you simply need to list a basic product, collect payments, and process an order? Or do you have bigger aspirations for how you’d like to display your products and engage your customers? Whether you go with WordPress or you go with Squarespace, you will be able to sell your products, however, the platform will determine just how flexible you can be, and just how much it will cost you to enter the market.
One of the biggest questions you should have as a new website owner is what will the website cost you. In general, you will have upfront costs for WordPress vs. Squarespace design and development, ongoing costs for hosting and email, as well as maintenance and security costs. You will incur all of these costs in one way or another on both platforms, however, they will be different.
Starting with up-front costs, it will generally cost more to have a custom WordPress website built than a custom Squarespace website. It will cost you a lot less time and effort to set up a basic Squarespace website yourself than it would to set up a basic theme on WordPress yourself. The up-front WordPress costs really only have to be as much as you feel comfortable taking on though as it should not be difficult to find a designer or developer to work within your budget.
Once your website is built, there is no monthly or yearly subscription to use WordPress, however, there is with Squarespace. Website’s using WordPress need to be hosted on a server. Monthly WordPress hosting can cost anywhere from $5 per month to $500+ per month. However, even the smallest of shared servers are typically able to run several WordPress websites, so the costs greatly reduce for every WordPress instance you host. This is not the case with Squarespace websites.
In addition to the base cost for the Squarespace site subscription, there are also a number of add-on costs for things like e-commerce, various integrations, and features and much more. As mentioned previously, when it comes to WordPress, there is almost always a free plugin that will do what you need. And if you’re unable to find the right free plugin, paid plugins usually have a one-time cost, not a monthly fee for use.
Squarespace vs WordPress – What Are Ongoing Costs?
WordPress hosting plans will also usually come with at least a couple, if not unlimited email inboxes. This is a cost you may have to take on anyways in addition to your Squarespace costs.
Ongoing website maintenance, website updates and upgrades, and website management is not something that will come with any WordPress website, however, the company that builds the site will typically offer these services. With Squarespace, your subscription fees do go a long way to cover website support, theme design assistance and more, however, it’s rarely the same one-on-one, dedicated support that you would get directly from a web design agency. However, if this is not something your company truly needs, then there is no real need to take on additional, unnecessary costs.
Overall, when it comes to website costs it’s always going to be one of those things where you get what you pay for. Squarespace vs WordPress website costs at the very bottom line will be generally similar, however as your need for more customization and more websites grow, WordPress quickly becomes the more economical option.
One concern that every website owner should have is website security. Every website is generally susceptible to security threats. Therefore, so are any networks that may be connected to web servers or accessing websites. A websites web server and the site or sites hosted on it can definitely present a number of different security risks. Because of this risk, it’s important to take considerations towards locking down your website, it’s data, and what you are exposing your website users to. Let’s take a look at WordPress and Squarespace when it comes to website security.
Squarespace is a hosted platform, meaning that for the most part, security is not your concern. Squarespace manages the server and it’s security, allowing you to simply worry about continuing to deliver content and services to your website users. However, this also means that if Squarespace’s codebase were ever to be compromised, that every Squarespace website would be potentially vulnerable. In addition, in the event of human error, like a Squarespace employee clicking a malicious link, you then run the risk of compromising your or your clients use information. The likelihood of these things happening is, of course, minimal, and a company the size of Squarespace goes far and above to prevent these types of things from happening.
Squarespace vs WordPress – Which Is More Vulnerable
WordPress, on the other hand, is a more vulnerable system at its core. To start, it’s opensource, meaning that anyone can dig through its code to figure out how it works. This is intended to drive the platform and it features forward, however, there are of course those who will exploit this. In addition, your typical shared web hosting server is not going to have the same type of security protocols in place that a company like Squarespace might.
WordPress does have a number of highly effective, and very robust security plugins. However, there are also thousands of plugins floating around the internet that have been infected with malicious code, just waiting to be run on unsuspecting WordPress websites.
All in all, if website security is a concern, there are a number of easy ways to lock down and harden a WordPress instance to the point where it is nearly impossible for the average hacker to break in. Depending on the need and the sensitivity of the data being stored, there are also measures that can be taken to store data on external servers with even stronger security protocols. However, it goes without saying that there will without a doubt be thousands of WordPress websites that will be hacked and compromised in the next year, while it’s unlikely that Squarespace will be compromised at a global level. So, when comparing WordPress and Squarespace when it comes to security, the verdict is really entirely based on each website owners circumstances.
Squarespace vs WordPress, What’s The Verdict?
When all is said and done, we will always prefer WordPress. It’s flexible, robust, and makes it easy to create really usable website features for clients. Designing custom themes and interactive features is also as flexible as can be, so from a web designer’s standpoint, the choice is simple.
However, we understand our clients’ needs as well as their budgets. That being said, Squarespace websites can be the best decision for an MVP product, especially when launching a new brand and looking to do market research. Squarespace websites are also perfect for the small local business that is looking to get on the internet and make a name for themselves.
Work With Proper Noun
If you’re interested in learning more about WordPress websites or talking to us about having us design a custom WordPress theme or WordPress plugin, don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a strategy session.
U.S. Department of State Launches New WordPress Website
If you’ve been keeping up with WordPress news, you’d know that WordPress just recently released version 5.2. While the update focused on a number of areas, it would seem this update focused primarily on improving the overall security of the WordPress CMS as well as the security of the WordPress ecosystem.
Well, it would seem that the new and improved WordPress 5.2 has just gotten it’s first big security “co-sign” from none other than the United States Department of State.
Sometime this morning (May 15, 2019), the Department of State rolled out a brand new, really attractive website built on WordPress 5.2.
The site features a really modern, sleek design, really creative website navigation, and great internal linking. Sure there are a few little quirks that jump out to my trained eye, but as far as a government software project goes, this seems to have been a success. Let’s take a closer look…
The website uses what I would call “hybrid navigation”. Hybrid navigation is a mix of “traditional” navigation and more modern navigation.
Traditional navigation would be horizontal links stored in the header of the website with simple menus that drop down with child link options.
Modern navigation will place very few links, if any, in the actual header, and instead, opt for a “menu trigger”. When clicked, the menu will take over the full screen, giving the user the full website navigation. Modern navigation options give designers and developers a lot more space and flexibility when organizing the website.
On the new Department of State website, they have a great mix of the two. Because the site is so large, it makes sense that they would utilize traditional header navigation. This allows users to more easily visualize the pages and find what they’re looking for.
However, once a navigation item is clicked, it then triggers a full-screen takeover as a more modern navigation would. The full-screen navigation then does an excellent job of cleanly organizing and displaying multiple levels of additional links.
WordPress Website Security
From a security standpoint, it would seem the Department of State has taken some precautions but could definitely lock down further.
First, it seems that the majority of the forms and inputs are submitting to subdomains. For example, the Contact Us page serves from register.state.gov. This form and others are also being served with Microsoft ASP.NET.
This may be for security purposes, it may be because it was easier to just leave those existing systems in place, or maybe a combination of the two. For example, the website feedback form appears to be a Gravity Form being served directly from WordPress.
I don’t think it would be wise to attempt to test for any actual vulnerabilities, or publicly publish any others, but will say that all-in-all it seems like they’ve done a great job.
It would appear at first glance that the website is running a few plugins. Right off the bat, I can see that Gravity Forms is being used for a few of the website forms.
Based on the CSS and JS files being loaded, it would also appear they’re using plugins to do things like display related posts by taxonomy, pop up different modals for messaging, Yoast SEO for on-page optimization, and a few others.
I’m glad to see that many of the “utility plugins” that I deemed valuable in this article about WordPress theme development are being used here as well.
While I probably would’ve opted for custom code instead of a few of the plugins they are running, it would seem the number of plugins being loaded is minimal so likely not creating any major security concerns there.
Website Speed Optimization
From a website page speed standpoint, the Department of State website could use some work.
At the time of the writing of this article, was scoring a 0% on GtMetrix.com
It would seem they’re not optimizing images, not combining or minifying their static files, not serving scaled images, and a number of other pretty major concerns.
Some of the biggest issues that I’m seeing though are being caused by uncompressed, oversized images. For example, one image on the home page is loading at ~17mb and 6000px in width. I would assume that a majority of the page speed issues being seen are as a result of this and other images.
So, What’s The Verdict?
All-in-all, I’m thrilled to see a government agency as large as the Department of State utilizing WordPress as their content management system. As a WordPress developer and owner of a WordPress web design agency, this gives me great confidence in the future of WordPress.
Sure, there are a few things I may have done differently, or a few areas they can definitely improve on, but at the end of the day, the Department of State has built a pretty good WordPress website.
WordPress 5.2 Is Here – So What’s New?
WordPress 5.2 is officially here and there were quite a few impressive changes made to our favorite CMS. This release is named “Jaco”, not after the popular destination in Costa Rica, but after famed jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius.
The big news in this release are some of the new security features, however, there are all sorts of new bells and whistles running under the hood. Let’s take a look at a few of the key updates.
Keeping Sites Safer
It would seem the biggest focus that the WordPress core team had for this version of WordPress was to improve core security. The new version includes a number of robust tools that can be used to identify and fix configuration issues, site health issues and fatal errors in your WordPress installation. Here are a few of the key tools
WordPress Site Health Check
The new Site Health Check tool improves on the Site Health features that were first released in WordPress version 5.1. This feature performs a variety of tasks including configuration debugging, protecting against supply chain attacks, and checking plugins for incompatibilities at the time of installation.
WordPress 5.2 now includes features like PHP Error protection in the Site Health Check tool. This tool will allow for website owners, WordPress developers, and website administrators to more easily debug website errors without dealing with the “white screen of death”.
The Site Health Check also looks at a variety of common security configurations like whether or not your site is running HTTPS, whether you have any themes or plugins that require updates if you are running an appropriate version of PHP and much more.
The WordPress community has been asking for quite some time to beef up the security features and it looks like WordPress and Automattic are definitely listening.
PHP Fatal Error Recovery
Most WordPress website owners and WordPress website developers have dealt with the dreaded “white screen of death” at one point or another. This is caused by a fatal PHP error, or (usually) a “500 error”.
These situations are usually caused by upgrading plugins, adding new plugins, or including untested code in your production website. Usually the best bet is to just disable or remove the offending plugin or code, however, sometimes this can be a complex process.
As a web developer, my first move would be to check the error logs for the code throwing the error. Most of the time, the issue is fairly easy to backtrace and resolve, however from the time it can take a little digging or there’s some data that is corrupted.
For the novice website designer or website owner however, this situation could be catastrophic.
The new PHP error protection features allow for an admin to enter into an “error recovery mode”. Normally, once you get the “white screen of death”, you are no longer able to access the WordPress dashboard. In the new error recovery mode, you can log in and pause the plugins or themes that are throwing the errors so that you can log back in and restore your website.
Enter WordPress Recovery Mode
When you enter into recovery mode, plugins and themes that are causing a fatal error are paused. This ensures that the admin can work around the errors and access the WordPress 5.2 dashboard.
Once you log in to the WordPress dashboard, you should see a notice showing that recovery mode is enabled. The notification should also tell you which plugins or themes are throwing the errors and being paused. It will also give you information as to what exactly the errors are.
Now, instead of sitting on their hands waiting for a developer to fix the site, WordPress admin’s can deactivate the extension and restore the site back to working order before it can have any major impact.
The admin can exit recovery mode by clicking the exit button in the admin navigation bar. Keep in mind that if an extension is broken and you then disable it in Error Recovery Mode, this does not mean the extension is fixed. This simply means that the code is no longer running on your site. If the extension that you disabled was crucial to the functionality of your site, it’s important that you reach out to your developer right away.
WordPress 5.2 Security Updates
WordPress is often given a bad rep for being “insecure”. While it’s true it hasn’t been the most secure CMS historically, it’s also the most popular CMS in the world making it a huge target.
One of the recent updates addresses a security concern caused by the automatic update feature – supply chain attacks. Several versions of WordPress back, an auto-update feature was introduced that was intended to improve security.
Unfortunately, it had the opposite result.
This new update made WordPress websites vulnerable to what is known as a supply chain attack. In short, a supply chain attack would involve the WordPress update server being hacked, ultimately resulting in tens of millions of websites being infected with malware (if not more).
WordPress Offline Digital Signatures
WordPress 5.2 now includes offline digital signatures. Without getting too technical, this means that a hacker would not only have to hack the WordPress update server, but they’d also have to steal the core signing key from the WordPress development team.
While this isn’t necessarily impossible, it’s highly improbable that this would occur, and a major step forward in improving WordPress website security.
A New Cryptographic Library
The verification of the digital signature will be handled by the WordPress installation. This verification will be handled through a newly implemented cryptographic library called Sodium Compat .
Sodium Compat is “a pure PHP polyfill for the Sodium cryptography library.” As a comparison, Sodium Compat has been adopted by other popular content management systems like Magento and Joomla!
The best part of the upgrade is that developers can begin to migrate away from Mcrypt. This is a great thing as Mcrypt was deprecated and removed in PHP 7.
Setting up a new environment is fairly straightforward. First, you will want to make sure you have Node installed, and then run:
‘npm install --save-dev @wordpress/scripts’
Once you’ve installed the WordPress scripts package, you can now update the package.json file found in the root with:
"start": "wp-scripts start",
"build": "wp-scripts build"
Unlike other frameworks, WordPress will handle the rest of the heavy lifting for you. You won’t need to configure any additional Webpack files or Babelrc files to get everything running.
The build system expects to find the main JS file at ‘src/index.js’, however, you can import whatever JS you’d like to into this file to keep your code scalable. The compiler will then output the build to ‘build/index.js’.
To get started you will first want to install Node. You can find instructions on how to do that here.
Next, you can run the following commands:
- ‘npm install’ to install all of the package dependencies
- ‘npm build’ is what you will run once you’re finished, create a final build version using
Privacy Updates in WordPress 5.2
- A new function, ‘is_privacy_policy()’
This function can be used to test whether the user is on the Privacy Page or not. It can be used for things like triggering conditional messages, additional cookie tracking and more.
- ‘Privacy.php’ Theme File
- ‘.privacy-policy’ Body Class
- ‘.menu-item-privacy-policy’ Class
For more information on the WordPress 5.2 update and a deeper dive into all of its great new features check out the WordPress 5.2 field guide.
You can also watch our video walkthrough of some of the new WordPress 5.2 features below
If you’d like to find out more about updating your WordPress website to WordPress 5.2 schedule a strategy session with us today!
5 Reasons To Invest In A Custom WordPress Theme
WordPress has really come a long way from its humble beginnings as a simple blogging platform to the powerful website builder and robust content management system it is today. Over the past several years WordPress has become the go-to CMS for custom WordPress development. One great thing about WordPress when looking at it as a web developer is that it is flexible and easy to create a fully custom WordPress theme. WordPress makes it easy to store custom data on the backend and then easily render it on the frontend.
If you’re thinking about having a custom website built for your brand or business you should really consider using a custom WordPress theme.
When it comes to risk vs. reward, a custom WordPress theme is a great investment for your business. Today, it is not enough to simply have a website, it should be fast, well-designed, user-friendly, and it should fit your brand’s message and feel. Many businesses will try to save money by paying a web designer to modify a commercial theme. However, the end result ends up looking sloppy and “hacked together” – two terms no one wants to be associated with their website.
At the end of the day, if your goal is to have the best possible online presence for your brand or business, then you should have a custom website. Here are a few reasons why you should bite the bullet and choose the custom WordPress template.
Customizations and Updates
One of the biggest values of a custom WordPress theme is that the content management system will be custom tailored to your content. Most web design agencies will make sure it is easy for the client to add, edit and modify all of the content on their WordPress website.
When it comes to commercial WordPress templates, you are required to use the pre-built content sections that come with the theme. This not only makes it more difficult to add new sections to a page but can also impact the page’s design.
For instance, say you wish to re-arrange two sections and remove one section from your home page. While you may be able to do this using the theme editor, it may result in something that just does not look good. And if the website owner can’t make the design work, no one is happy.
We use a plugin called Advanced Custom Fields in almost all of our custom WordPress themes. This plugin lets us add any number of custom text inputs, image inputs, file uploads and much more to any page. This allows us to give the WordPress website owner limitless flexibility when managing their website content.
Commercial themes are also very reliant on big editorial style photos to drive the design. Most website owners find that they swap out the theme stock photos for their actual photography, the websites lack the same aesthetic appeal. This is because the commercial theme was designed around those specific photos.
When we design a custom WordPress template from scratch, we start with the media assets that you have available. We then custom tailor our website designs to your brand media, brand guidelines, and brand message. This means that once your website is finished, your photos and videos will enhance your websites messaging and aesthetics, not take away from them.
Stand Out From The Competition
It’s no secret that competition is fierce online, especially when it comes to small businesses and local services. If you want to stand out from your competition, the first thing you should do is have a website that not only stands out but really communicates your message.
In most cases, you will offer the same general services as your competitors, but what do you do that sets you apart? Do you offer better prices, better customer service, better hours? A website that is designed with your message in mind will more clearly communicate your competitive advantage to your customers.
Also, customers will oftentimes feel more comfort and confidence with a business that has an aesthetically appealing website. When you invest in a website that looks great and is easy to use, your customers will notice. By making it easy for customers to find your business and services, you’re drastically increasing the chances of converting a website visitor into a new customer.
The design of your website is very important when it comes to establishing trust in the minds of potential customers. When you use a custom WordPress theme, you know your design will stand out from the crowd. Your custom WordPress website will also more effectively communicate the value that your business provides.
Avoid Bugs & Conflicts
When it comes to a small business website, the most important thing is that it is always working. Even though WordPress is very user-friendly, you are always running the risk of excessive bugs and conflicts when you use a commercial theme.
The goal for the developer of a commercial theme is to include as many bells and whistles as possible so that there’s something for everyone. While this makes sense in theory, often times this results in a lot of excessive code running on the frontend and backend of your website.
This means that normal processes like updating plugins, updating your WordPress version, or installing new plugins could ultimately break part or all of your website.
When you hire a web design agency to build a custom theme, you can have confidence in the website code base. To start, a custom theme will only include as much code as is needed and no more than that. This means your site won’t experience “code bloat”, and you will have a much smaller chance for code conflicts.
A custom WP theme will also typically rely on as few third-party plugins as possible. Commercial themes may utilize plugins to integrate with social media or build image sliders, a custom theme will almost always build these components bespoke for the website. Doing it this way allows the web design studio to ensure that the slider will not compromise page speed.
Don’t Forget About Page Speed
One major concern for any website owner is how fast your website loads. Not only is it just a better overall user experience when your website is fast, but WordPress website speed is also extremely important when it comes to website rankings in Google.
Custom WordPress Theme Optimization
As we mentioned before, commercial themes are also very reliant on big editorial style photos. While many website owners don’t realize this, photos can get extremely large, sometimes in excess of 20 megabytes. However, when an image is saved for the web, you should always try to keep the total image size under 300kb – 400kb depending on the dimensions.
Because many commercial theme designs are so reliant on images though, this requires that website owners upload 5, sometimes 10, large images to a single page. As a result, the overall website page size will balloon, and total website page load times will increase.
When designing a custom WordPress theme, we consider our use of photo and video in the overall messaging as well as how it will impact the overall page size. We also make sure to utilize various forms of image compression before images are uploaded to our websites as well as once on the server. In many cases, we’ll also utilize CDN services like Cloudinary or Cloudflare to better serve images to users throughout the world.
Support Updates & Management
When you purchase a custom WordPress theme you are also purchasing a different level of support. The typical web design agency will provide personal, rapid support, especially during the first month or two that a website is live.
When we work with a business to develop a custom WordPress theme, we also include multiple hours of training, warranty support, and ongoing support. We like to make sure that our clients know exactly how to manage their websites, and when something isn’t quite as they’d expected, we fix it quickly.
When you purchase a commercial theme, there is usually some sort of support you are able to purchase for an additional yearly cost. These support services are generally very slow. You are entered into a support queue with a number of other users and can wait days in some situations before getting a response.
Also, commercial theme support will almost never provide theme customizations or modifications without charging additional fees. While many customizations will be quick and painless, it can be very risky to rely on theme support for more complex customizations.
In most instances, developers of commercial WordPress themes don’t offer any customization support or support for integrations third-party plugins or tools.
Most importantly, when we develop a custom WordPress theme, we are developing it for the most recent version of WordPress at the time. This ensures we will be using the most up to date WordPress code base and that there is a much lower risk of integrating third-party software.
When a theme or WordPress install is not up to date, you run the risk of experiencing security vulnerabilities, plugin conflicts, and code deprecation.
While many free or commercial WordPress themes receive regular updates, most WordPress website owners have no way of knowing just when a theme was developed or when it was last updated. In addition, the average website owner would have no way of understanding what the most recent updates covered or the overall quality of the code base.
Investing In A Custom WordPress Theme
If you are looking to get your business online as quickly as possible for the least amount of money, it can be tempting to use a commercial WordPress theme. In some situations, a commercial theme may be all your business needs. However, as many website owners can tell you, this is usually a bad decision.
If you plan to build a long-lasting, aesthetically pleasing presence online, investing in a custom WordPress theme is probably your best bet. If you’re interested in learning more about our WordPress development services or seeing some of our custom WordPress work, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.