I have started using WordPress for business a little more than a year ago, when I set up an online sock shop, an affiliate marketing site with a storefront and a blog. I have chosen WordPress to kick-start the project, and I am still happy with my decision.
I found that using WordPress for business purposes is a great way to start my on-line journey. Here is the story.
Using WordPress for business came as the result of my business goals. This was my first attempt to start an on-line venture, so my priorities were a quick start, availability of related resources, like documentation and plugins and the ability to focus on more crucial stuff, like content creation, SEO skill building and our product portfolio.
I installed WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, knowing that all three are widely used open source CMS systems. I reviewed the features quickly and found that all products provide much more than I will ever use in the affiliate marketing and blogging scenario. This implies that it will probably take years before I reach the limits of my CMS system be it Wordpress or any other solution.
All three contenders were still on my list, so I took my corporate business experience to ask the next question.
Which product will best support my strategic objectives?
Wow, sounds like real corporate bullshit, right? So what are those mysterious objectives?
I want to use my smart, in-house algorithms to find, present and sell men’s clothing items in a new and unique way on-line.
Now, this sounds helpful. If I want to be competitive and build this unique capability I will need to build a smart back-end and integrate it to my CMS. All three platforms are written in PHP, so it seems that this skill is a must.
Drupal is famous for its massive development learning curve, or at least this is what I read on blogs. Ok, I moved Drupal out of the picture.
Next I built the a basic prototype in WordPress and Joomla. I had some experience with WordPress blogging, and no experience with Joomla.
My experience using Wordpress for business. I have successfully built a good-looking website in WordPress in a matter of hours. I realized during the process that Skimlinks, my affiliate network of choice, supplied a neat WordPress plugin that will seamlessly take care of my commissions. The availability of other Wordpress plugins, themes and forums was also very impressive.
In order to be fair, I moved on to Joomla. Finding a theme for Joomla proved to be more difficult than I expected. The configuration options and features that I used were more or less similar to WordPress, just implemented differently, of course. I decided not to spend too much time building the same thing in Joomla just for the sake of geeky comparison.
I made my decision anyway when I found out about the Skimlinks WordPress plugin.
The WordPress theme
I had to take care of some basic stuff to get started. I thought the first thing should be to find a good theme for my site. At that time I thought it should look good and support the brand image I have in mind. Today I am wise enough to know that brand image will grow and shape with time and there are many more important theme features than style.
Here is my refined list of theme selection criteria when using WordPress for business:
- must have good support
- clarity - it’s your content that is supposed to shine, not your theme
- clean and small code - bulky themes made my life harder, they have a negative impact on speed, there is a higher chance of bugs and plugin conflicts
- must be SEO friendly
- should support custom post types, so that I can add my own special content
- should provide good aggregated views of posts, like several list views and grid views with highly customizable options for category selection and field filtering
- blog posts should use a large, readable font
- custom CSS
- a visual editor is essential to create nice posts and pages
- must be responsive
- and finally the theme should be elegant
- I wanted to start fast, so I decided to purchase a commercial WordPress theme. I checked out a few theme building frameworks, but I thought, I don’t wanna make a living from theme development, so I’d better move on with a turn-key solution and do my stuff.
First I purchased the Enfold theme by Kriesi. It met most of my requirements, except for three. It had a bulky code base, it broke the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast and their support did not provide a fix for the SEO issue for months.
I used the Enfold theme for six months, it helped me reach the first page of Google with some of my posts and finally it sent all my efforts down the drain when I was totally de-ranked by Google because my permalinks got all messed up due to the above SEO issue.
I moved on and purchased a WordPress theme called the7 by Dream Theme. I found that this theme supports my business site much better than Enfold. First of all it stays out of my way. It has a clean code, it is simple, stable, lighter than Enfold and works like charm. I saw great improvement in page speed that is an important SEO ranking factor. The visual editor is more reliable and support is outstanding.
Dream Theme provides something I call consultative support. If I ask a question they come back with alternatives and give me an opportunity to make a decision. My experience is that other vendors often take their virtual hammer and “fix” something on your site without you knowing what’s going on. The hammer approach may work with some users, but I am building a business and I wanna run a meaningful discussion with partners and I prefer to take my own decisions regarding changes.
When using WordPress for business, it is very important to find theme and plugin vendors with excellent, consultative support.
There are several fundamental plugins a small WordPress based business needs. I guess I will create another post about my story behind Plugin selection. Here is the list of plugins that I use at the moment:
- W3 Total cache gives my site a great speed boost, W3 Total cache is the recommended plugin by my hosting provider,
- Leverage browser caching ninjas completes the caching picture,
- UpdraftPlus is a free backup/restore utility that uploads backup files to my Google Drive every day. I use these backup files to update my dev environment,
- Skimlinks affiliate network plugin,
- Premium Seo pack is a feature rich premium SEO plugin,
- External links adds rel no-follow to my external links,
- Verify ownership,
- Imsanity image compression utility,
- Akisment, because comment spam is the first sign that somebody found your fresh site,
- GTmetrix and P3(Plugin Performance Profiler) for performance tuning,
- Jetpack, because I am addicted to its traffic dashboard,
- Jetpack lite is a plugin that disables everything in Jetpack except for, well, the traffic dashboard,
- Rename wp-login renames the log-in page
- Velvet blues update URLs for backup restore URL fixes
- Admin post navigation gives handy next and prev buttons on the post edit page,
- And my own custom plugin to support my business objectives.
Most plugins are free and available on Wordpress.org. The security and performance plugins were suggested by A2hosting, where I host my sites. Premium SEO pack is the only commercial plugin. I tried four different SEO plugins and stayed with this one, although I am not completely happy with it, but this is for another post.
I found that I can add most critical corporate IT support capabilities to my site with free plugins. I have backup/restore, speed metrics, caching, security and monitoring all available.
I spent money only on the plugin that I believe is the key to my first steps on-line: SEO.
In the beginning my approach was to use whatever is available and upgrade as we grow. I have a shared hosting account with Webhostinghub valid until mid 2016, so I just created my site there.
Overall I have not experienced serious availability or performance issues with my shared hosting. I had about hundred visitors a day and the site served them well.
When my Google rankings dropped suddenly (for reasons explained above), I started to fine tune my site. I used mass checking and optimization tools and started receiving emails from Webhostinghub about high resource usage. This was disturbing, but essentially nothing serious.
Then I stumbled upon the question of bad neighborhood and I checked out the other sites hosted on the same IP and subnet. I found sites with a suspiciously high number of backlinks. When I went to see those domains, I realized that their front page was hacked. I saw flashing skulls and the “your site has been cracked” banner all over the site in red. I was in bad neighborhood.
I took a quick decision and made the upgrade to A2hosting with dedicated IP and WordPress guru support. I am still with a shared hosting plan, I will only upgrade as we grow, right now I have sufficient resources.
A2 hosting is fully based on high-speed SSD storage and has excellent support with WordPress specialists.
Is it a good idea to use WordPress for business?
As you see from my experience, I am happy with my decision. In my case, where I have a small, family business, WordPress gives me all the right basics so that I can focus on the real differentiators for my venture.
I found that WordPress is easy to set up and manage. You can create a professionally looking WordPress site and storefront with a few hundred dollars investment and within a matter of days.
Adding my own extra something to WordPress was also not too complicated. I found a great theme that met my special needs and I added the rest of my in-house stuff in my own proprietary WordPress plugin.
Plugin development is easy to learn, at least with and IT background, and PHP is also a friendly language. I haven’t touched any code for over a decade, still got up to speed quickly.
WordPress supports my online business journey very well, by making sure basics are all right.
I have time to run campaigns to find out what works in on-line marketing. I have time to create the big data back-end that I have in mind.