The WP Mayor Podcast

Optimizing Your WooCommerce Store’s Performance with WP Engine

In this episode, Gaby talks to David Vogelpohl, VP of Growth at WP Engine, about optimizing a WooCommerce store’s performance for increased conversions and WP Engine’s WooCommerce hosting plans.  

SUBSCRIBE

In this episode, Gaby talks to David Vogelpohl, VP of Growth at WP Engine, about optimizing a WooCommerce store’s performance for increased conversions and WP Engine’s WooCommerce hosting plans.  

4 months off
WP Engine
WP Engine
Get 4 months free on annual plans or 20% off your first month on monthly plans.
Get 4 months free on annual plans or 20% off your first month on monthly plans. Show Less

Episode Highlights and Topics

  • Speed Optimization: David describes how speed directly influences sales.
  • Core Web Vitals: Google uses page performance as a ranking factor.
  • Google considers 3 components for a Core Web Vitals score:
    • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
    • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
    • First Input Delay (FID)
  • Plugin Performance: Evaluate yearly to determine if purpose is to generate value, money.
  • PageSpeed Metric: Compare and segment mobile, geography, and ISP levels.
  • Hosting: Woo stores are dynamic and why it matters.
  • Content Distribution Network (CDN): Stores website pieces on servers around the world.
  • ElasticPress: Solution that makes WordPress search better to make conversions/sales.
  • Cheaper, Expensive, or Managed: How to select the best hosting option, price, provider.
  • Fundamental Mission: Deliver performance, ease into market, and drive more sales.
  • Visuals: Images and themes impact speed optimization, but CDN helps Woo stores.
  • Page Builder Plugins: Functional tools to fill in critical holes and gaps to deliver value.

About David Vogelpohl

David Vogelpohl

David serves as VP of Growth at WP Engine, the world’s leading premium platform for WordPress. He also embarks on various special missions to support WordPress and the open-source community.

Resources/Links

Transcript

Gaby:
Hi, this is Gaby Galea, and welcome to The WP Mayor podcast. In this episode, we’ll be speaking to David Vogelpohl, VP of Growth at WP Engine. We’ll be discussing how to optimize your WooCommerce store’s performance for higher conversions. We’ll also touch upon WP Engine’s WooCommerce Hosting Plans and Full Site Editing. 

Hi, David. Welcome to The WP Mayor podcast.

David:
Hi, Gabby. Thanks for having me.

Gaby:
How are you?

David:
I’m doing good. How are you doing today?

Gaby:
I’m good. I’m calling from Malta. It’s pretty hot here, too hot to go outside, actually. Are you in the US?

David:
I am. I’m here in Austin, Texas. It’s warm here as well, but we’ve actually had a fairly mild summer for Texas.

Gaby:
At least you can enjoy it a bit more than we do.

David:
I know.

Gaby:
Today, we’ll be discussing how we’re going to optimize WooCommerce store performance for increased conversions. David, you’re from WP Engine. Give us a bit of a background on who you are, what you do, and the company you’re from.

David:
My name is David Vogelpohl. I’ve been in digital since 1996. I started in an internet service provider and server host in Houston, Texas. Throughout my career, I worked on a lot of areas of digital. I also ran a WordPress agency for five years, focusing on all kinds of sites including ecommerce. Then after an asset acquisition of my agency, I joined WP Engine in 2015, where I now serve as VP of Growth within our SMB business unit.

Gaby:
Let’s just jump right in. Talking about speed optimization, I think that’s a hot topic right now. A lot of people are talking about it, especially with Google’s changes that have been renounced, Core Web Vitals, everyone’s heard of those. How would you say that speed directly influences sales?

David:
Speed has a dual-pronged effect as we think about it from a growth perspective. The first thing I think about that’s probably best is the user’s experience. At the end of the day, a slow site gives a bad experience to the person shopping on the site. What we see is study after study, showing your conversion rates increasing as the speed of your site also increases. As your site gets faster, it gets better at converting.

The other hidden benefit there is that the things you do to make your site faster also make it more resilient to flash traffic events, like a flash sale or getting mentioned in a popular publication. The faster your site is, the better it also scales, which is a double benefit there. 

The final piece is the point you made around Core Web Vitals, where Google is clearly using page performance as one of the signals of Core Web Vitals. The implication and what Google has basically said is that it is a ranking factor.

There’s a video I used to always reference Matt Cutts. He said, think of speed like a tiebreaker. If all things are equal, then we’ll use speed as a tiebreaker. The new “Matt Cutts,” a gentleman named John Mueller—that’s probably not a fair classification of John; he’s a great gentleman in his own right—indicated recently in some Twitter threads (which was covered in Search Engine Land) that Google would consider it more than a tiebreaker. We see that signals are very strong. They’re tying performance in SEO.

Gaby:
Now that we’re talking about Core Web Vitals, can we go a bit deeper into it? I know there are various things that Google is looking at such as speed and user experience. There are specific things that Google is looking for. Can you talk us through that a bit more?

David:
The first in Core Web Vitals is Largest Contentful Paint. This is what we think of as a performance metric. Google and Core Web Vitals, really what it boils down to is that there are three components. Google considers all three relevant to your Core Web Vitals’ score. The first is LCP, which is focused again on that page performance, page load time type KPI.

The second is Cumulative Layout Shift. The best way to understand Cumulative Layout Shift is if you ever go to a site and you know how the content bounces around as the ad is loading, that has bad CLS. 

Then finally, First Input Delay, which again, is a more UX-focused thing. Typically, if you’re messing with FID and Cumulative Layout Shift, you’re messing with your theme and how your page is rendered in that way. Then Largest Contentful Paint could be that, but it could also be things like your CDN, and your servers, and other aspects of your site that make it fast.

Gaby:
Let’s say I’ve got a WooCommerce store and I want to get my site optimized. How do I get an idea of where my site falls in this whole…?

David:
And how do you know? What do you use to measure? If you’re optimizing for Core Web Vitals, which there are a lot of compelling reasons to do that, there are also compelling reasons to use other tools. But if you’re doing it for that, I think the best place to start is PageSpeed Insights by Google.

What it does is it allows you to enter the URL of a specific web page. In addition to the KPI associated with Core Web Vitals, it gives you a lot of other information on the load of your site, but you can test an individual page there and see your scores, and it gives you a nice green, orange, and red as indicators to know if you’re within the bounds of Core Web Vitals or not.

I think it’s also important to use the mobile view when you run those PageSpeed Insights tests, because again, Google’s given some indications they favor the mobile scores. Maybe indications as even too weak a word there literally. It’s sad that that’s how they think of their index and how they think of ranking. I do recommend folks use the mobile scores as their baseline.

Gaby:
I guess it’s useful to keep track of this as you’re making changes on your site, to see if things are actually improving or not.

David:
Yeah, and I think that’s the trick. This is something you should be checking every time you make a major change to your site. In the ecommerce sense, every time you add a product, no, probably not, especially if you’re using the same size, images, and stuff like that. But if you’re going to add a plugin that adds functionality or some other large element to the page or post types, then go ahead and run it through PageSpeed Insights and see how your scores are doing. I like to do it every time I’m making a material change to a site. It has to be an ongoing thing, not just a project.

Gaby:
Exactly. You mentioned plugins. We’re actually going through an optimization process for WP Mayor itself. We were affected by the Core Web Vitals as well. The first thing we had to do was go through our plugins and see – you’d be surprised how many plugins that you don’t actually use or they’ve been left there from past projects. How important do you think, going through your plugins and cleaning them out maybe yearly, how does that impact?

David:
As a general practice, I think that’s fantastic. I know that as we think of WP Engine’s agency partners and how they work with clients when they do a redesign or certainly a performance optimization project, the first thing they do, and I think is also good practice and how I think about managing sites, is to audit those plugins and think about the jobs that they’re doing.

There are a lot of folks who like to, oh, don’t use plugins and maybe make a custom plugin for everything. I know very few people that actually practice that in full. But the reason people add a plugin to a site is to do a job. Usually, the job they’re imagining doing is to generate some kind of value. That’s why I think we see ecom sites, WooCom sites tend to have more plugins, on average, at least on the WP Engine platform than other forms of sites.

Again, it gets down to the fact that they’re doing some kind of job and presumably some kind of job that makes money. Not every job that you added to your site works out in terms of making money. I feel like a lot of people feel bound to keeping something on their site because it’s an idea at some point in time. They’re not really wanting to spend the time to unwind it, but could be having performance implications.

If you’re not very technical, just playing the plugin Whack-A-Mole, turning a plugin off, and seeing if your site gets faster, and then deciding if you really need that plugin if for some reason it did, I think that’s a great way to start. As you get more sophisticated—again, the plugins are there to do a job, to try to make some money in some way—I think being very purposeful about taking content away, but measuring the features away by disabling plugins and then measuring the effect on revenue, that’s really the move.

That’s how I think about it in general. You can have one plugin that can crash your site because it’s built poorly and you can have 100 plugins that work just fine together. I’m a big fan of getting the job done, but effectively, not in a way that crashes your site or makes it unusually slow.

Gaby:
I think you have to strike a bit of a balance because you want to give your users all the things they expect from a WooCommerce store and then at the same time, if it’s going to slow down your website, it’s giving them an even worse user experience. You have to find the balance somehow.

David:
It’s funny you mentioned that. I call this exercise of performance optimization, the balance of suffering and joy. What I mean by that is, I can make the world’s fastest website. It will have one period on it, and it won’t be in a CDN, and it will be the world’s fastest website, but that won’t sell very well. You mentioned that balance, but what I mean by the balance of suffering and joy is, the joy of adding an experience, like a 360-degree image tour to your ecom product page. The suffering that you’re going to get with that balance is a slower load time on that page.

I think getting myopically focused on speed is missing the point. Your job is to get a sale and speed is an element in that. But there are other elements where you may need to yield some of that speed to deliver value to the user.

Gaby:
Yeah, totally agree. Are there any tools out there? Let’s say Google Analytics, for example. I know it gives you the basic page views and all this, but can it help you track how people are interacting with your site, too?

David:
From a PageSpeed perspective, I think Google Analytics, there are certainly all kinds of ways to use it from an interacting perspective, certainly using the ecom tracking within Google Analytics so you can get full views of your transactions and then cut that by source, medium, ad campaign, and every other thing. I think that’s, for me, a baseline. You can further utilize it certainly for things like funnel analysis, which I think is helpful in a lot of clear ways.

One of the other areas, though, around performance that I really like is they do have a PageSpeed metric in Google Analytics that you can basically cut by various dimensions. One of the ways I like to cut up the PageSpeed metric is you start to think like, well, if I know an average user’s page speed in Google Analytics, how would I want to see that? What would be important to me? You might say, what’s my average page speed from visitors coming from pay-per-click? Maybe that’s helpful, maybe not, certainly mobile versus non-mobile.

Really, (I think) for a global company, where it gets really interesting is in geography. How is my site loading in the United States? If I’m a regional business, how is my site loading in my region? If you get really nerdy (and you can actually do this with Google Analytics), you can even dial it down to the ISP level.

This can influence how you configure your CDN, maybe even where you host your website. Certainly for global companies that can have a huge influence, I love it. I have a short URL I can read out. I know this is audio.

Gaby:
Sure, yeah. We’ll put it in our show notes.

David:
Cool. litturl.co/ga-pagespeed will give you a custom Google Analytics report that cuts it up all the ways I just described.

Gaby:
Nice. We’re talking about global stores. I imagine it’s going to be super hard to get great page speeds around the world. What can hosting do to help this?

David:
I think hosting plays a couple of roles. I know we’re talking in the Woo universe for a minute. As I think of Woo stores, by their very nature, they are dynamic, and generally all ecommerce sites are. What do we mean by dynamic and why does that matter? Fundamentally, what we mean is that a lot of the experiences in Woo are not super cashable.

When you load a category page, you need to know what products are in it. You need to know if things are on sale, what their prices are, if things have come out of the inventory. In a lot of WooCommerce experiences, you have the dynamic cart element. These things make it difficult to cache that kind of experience. Again, not picking on Woo, but just the nature of the site.

When you host and you think about hosting, there are two parts of it, which I think are important. One is the caching and CDN, so distributing your site out to the web. Then there’s the core server part, that is essentially you have caching within it, but then you also have all the other resources of essentially your server.

In a Woo case, it’s very important to have a lot of horsepower on that back end. For simple brochure sites, you can get away with less horsepower on the backend because you can leverage your CDN level caching to a much greater degree. I think with dynamic sites or sites that require a lot of root core processing power, your hosting becomes really important, especially if you’re going to scale up in terms of visitors.

You have hosts like us that specialize in WordPress, and then hosts that are generic, and hosts like any kind of site. I have […] for a host that does that, but I think the advantage for the way we do things, of course, is that we only focus on WordPress. We have a specific WooCommerce offering. A lot of hosts like us do that. As our CEO says, where there’s focus, there’s progress.

Again, that’s our value play and the benefit we think we have there, but certainly recognize the value of managing a lot of generic posts and doing it yourself. I think the key thing there is that with Woo, you’re going to need a little more processing power on the backend. There are ways to accommodate that.

For example, with ours—we’re not the only place that does this; you can get this in other places—we leverage something called compute-optimized infrastructure. What that does is it routes those dynamic requests, generally 40% faster than other types of infrastructure. We have competitors that use similar types.

The other piece (I think) that you can do that’s really interesting with these dynamic requests is you can offload them. These queries that are often used to build out things like shopping and category views are running through WordPress itself and WooCommerce, and that’s taxing your WordPress server. If you leverage something like an ElasticPress cluster or even things like Algolia, you can offload some of those requests, which will lessen the load on the root infrastructure you’re using for your site. That’s a neat way to both improve your search experience and actually make your website faster.

If you really want to get into the details of optimizing it, there’s a lot you can do to help it become faster and more manageable over time, but I think there are a lot of basics you can do too that will gain you a lot of ground running plugins, like WP Rocket and NitroPack are great ways to get an incremental lift without getting super nerdy on all the tech stuff.

Gaby:
I’m quite new actually to hosting, so I’m going to speak to you as someone like a regular user would.

David:
Yeah, please do.

Gaby:
I’m just going to check back and dig into a few points that you’ve mentioned. Let’s start off with CDN. What exactly is CDN? How does it help global websites, WooCommerce websites in particular?

David:
CDN is a Content Distribution Network. Basically, the way it works is you’re storing bits and pieces of your site, and in some cases your whole web page are on servers all around the world. The Internet actually is maybe a more accurate way to say that because where these servers are located—in WP Engine’s case, we use a company called Cloudflare—there are other types of CDNs you can use with your site.

What it does is it pushes a piece of your website to all of these servers all around the world, and strategically located at basically what are called interconnection points with the internet, where all these networks tie in all of their fiber and their other types of networks into one location to exchange traffic. And because your server is located both geographically close to the end user with a piece of the website on it and also from the internet perspective of the least number of hops closest to those interconnection points, when users are downloading your website, they’re often downloading most of, if not all of the page from a server that’s both geographically and from a network perspective, very close to that.

The more cacheable your website is, the more you can take advantage of that. That gets back to the dynamic nature of Woo sites I was talking about. You can’t always fully take advantage of that. That’s why it’s important to have a strong core on your web host. That’s what a CDN is, bits and pieces of your website, spread all over the world, right there close to those visitors.

Gaby:
Let’s say I’ve got a WooCommerce store which sells clothing and I’m targeting the summer in the US and winter in Australia, does this have any correlation to CDN?

David:
Not particularly. Where it would have a correlation is, you have Australia, and what was the other geo you mentioned?

Gaby:
US, for example.

David: US. Okay, got you, so other sides of the world. Basically, imagine for a minute that your company was based in Australia and for whatever reason you wanted to host with a company that was based in Australia. A lot of hosts actually will create entities in different countries like that in order to facilitate that. We actually do that. We have an entity in Australia for WP Engine. 

You have a customer that wants to host there and it might also be for data reasons. Sometimes people want the data for their customers located in a specific geography for all kinds of reasons, but they want people to access their web page in the USA or just maybe globally. Your host and where your site is hosted might be in Australia, but it’s helpful for you to have bit pieces, or again, entire web pages available for instant download from the USA. 

That would be the correlation there. It wouldn’t be necessarily directly tied to the way you might seasonally market it. Basically, think of it like extending your hosting to every corner of the internet. That’s what a CDN does.

Gaby:
Okay. You also mentioned ElasticPress, I believe. Is that a separate service?

David:
This one’s a really fun one. This one, I think, is about a non-technical and also a technical tip. ElasticPress is a solution that makes WordPress search better. There are other things that do that. There are plugins, there’s another company called Algolia that does this really well. 

Fundamentally, what these solutions are doing is making WordPress search better. What I mean by that is if you go into a standard WordPress search bar and you misspell a word, you’ll often get no results. You can’t really customize the results very easily. There’s no type ahead. In other words, if you start typing, it’s like auto suggests, that kind of thing. There are other key usage features. Now, 43% of shoppers use that search bar on an ecommerce site and those that do are twice as likely to buy.

You have this less than optimal, less than expected experience when a shopper is in a Woo store when they go to use the search bar like, oh, my goodness, I barely misspelled that and it has no results, I got to type out the whole name of this product to find this thing. I don’t see any auto suggesting. I just have to type it and wait for the results to load on a webpage. These are all counterintuitive things, I think, for what people expect these days.

With these plugins, and with ElasticPress, Algolia, and things like that do is they basically add all the features I just said were missing, which is fantastic. The cheapest way to do that is with plugins on wordpress.org. I think there are some premium ones that don’t cost very much and that will add that experience to your store. The cool thing about ElasticPress, and this is maybe for more advanced organizations, and some hosts will bundle it with their solutions like we do, that they have an ElasticPress cluster.

Basically, it’s a whole other series of servers that handle these queries. That’s where you’re able to offload some of your Woo queries, basically, and WordPress queries to that other batch of servers. In doing that, that actually makes your store faster. That was the advantage of ElasticPress I was talking about earlier. The core functional difference that it does for your site, is it makes your search better, and it helps you convert more. Our customers that run a solution like that or our solution with that get up to an 18% increase in sales just by enabling that one whole piece.

Gaby:
It’s something you might miss, but it’s a great way of getting in those extra sales. The other thing I wanted to speak to you about is you mentioned NitroPack. Is this bundled as well into WP Engine hosting or is it something separate?

David:
No. NitroPack and WP Rocket are in the same class of solutions. Fundamentally, what they do is they add aspects to performance optimization that really augments cheap hosting first. If you are on something like a GoDaddy or a Bluehost—I’m not picking on anybody, but I’m just saying—at least in some of their core offerings, they offer a managed-type solution. That means some things and part of what it means is caching. 

WP Rocket and NitroPack add this caching layer. It’s one of the key things they’ll do for people on a host that doesn’t support that. WP Engine or other types of managed WordPress host, usually we’ll have our own kind of proprietary, highly optimized caching layer. It’s just different from what they have. I’m not picking on one or the other, but it’s just different. You can’t run them both at the same time. However, WP Rocket and NitroPack yield to the host’s caching layer. Those parts take a back seat when you run them on a platform like ours. 

There are some other critical parts and customers running those solutions on our platform do have faster sites on average than most that don’t. Large scale, not individual sites or anything. People go to crazy lengths to make their site faster, maybe crazy is the wrong term, which are extreme lengths because we want to get every second out of it. 

They do some other helpful things like minifying your JavaScript and your CSS. They often will come with image compression services integrated within it, and other aspects to making your site faster that goes above and beyond what most managed hosts would provide. Some provide little bits here and there, and there are reasons that that line is where it is, but they take it one step further in a lot of key ways in what you or what you use and manage hosts for. 

Gaby:
Okay. My next question was, I’ve got the WooCommerce store, I’ve tracked to help people use it, I’m trying to optimize for carve up titles, gone through my plugins, cleaned that out. Now, I’m going to start looking at hosting. There are so many options out there. I’m sure I would go for a managed hosting platform, but then how should I pick the right one for my store? It’s a bit confusing when it comes to choosing the right one. 

David:
All of these, of course, you’ll end up that I work with WP Engine. But I’ll put on my hat for my agency days and think about this from a broader perspective and answer it like that. First and foremost—at least in my agency days—we choose the right tool for the job and I feel like our agency partners at WP Engine for the most part operate in that way. I think it’s a very reasonable way to operate. 

I do think cheaper hosting is just fine for a lot of folks. But what does that mean, this notion of cheaper hosting, and what is the difference between that and something more expensive or managed? 

Some of the key differences are going to be, first and foremost, hosting that’s $3 or $5 a month—there’s something that can do that—the way that they achieve that typically is what’s called oversubscription. Maybe over is a strong word because I guess it still works and over is a relative term, but what that means is we’re going to put a lot of websites on one server so we maximize our margins and can reduce our prices as much as possible. 

Typically, one of the ways you go about making sure your prices are as low as possible is you don’t have a bunch of what we call managed services on top of that. For us, this means things like making sure all of our customer’s WordPress versions are up to date and patched for security vulnerabilities. That all of the WordPressses are patched for security vulnerabilities. That all of our customers have patched versions of PHP. There’s a shocking percentage of WordPress sites that are on unpatched versions of PHP. What that means is that if the vulnerability is discovered, no one is going to fix it in that version of PHP and a host lets these sites linger out there and be in that way. 

This is a key part, but where folks will start to be attracted to managed WordPress hosting is typically will have advanced or easier build tools. Things like one-click staging, automatic backups, one-click rollback from backups. In the case of WP Engine and some other types of companies that specialize in ecommerce, they might have specific tools for building or managing your store, integrated things like ElasticPress.

The way I think of cheaper hosting is that it’s a great place to start. I’m going to start a store from scratch, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just want to try it out. It’s a great place for that. And then as you graduate and as you need more performance or more scale, or there’s more on the line, there’s a lot of value in those managed hosting in that managed hosting tier. It does seem like a big jump up. The cheaper hosting is advertised like $3 a month and then companies like WP Engine’s shared hosting will start up like $30 a month. That’s 10 times the cost. You’re like, what is going on? How are you 10 times better? 

Really, what the answer is, well, that’s a $27 price difference. If having the faster site, having the better build tools, having more assurance and security, having that growth lever in your business helps you grow by more than $27 a month, then we’re worth it. If that’s not your growth trajectory, then it’s not worth it. It’s just an interesting way to think about the price difference. I get it, it’s a big jump, but the difference is, with that performance comes higher conversion rates, better SEO. And with the build tools means you can get your ideas off faster, and so on and so forth. 

It’s just an investment in infrastructure. Each person has to decide, where am I at and what’s best for me? But I am 100% a big proponent of using the right tool for the right job. 

Gaby:
Definitely. When it comes to WooCommerce hosting in particular, do you have different plans at WP Engine?

David:
Yeah. At WP Engine, we launched our ecommerce-specific plans this year. Now, a very large percentage of our customers were already running WooCommerce. WP Engine was founded back in 2010, so we had a long history of servicing Woo stores. Woo was founded in 2011 if I’m not mistaken, so very shortly thereafter. 

Woo is a partner of ours and we’re a very big proponent certainly of WordPress and WooCommerce. What we have basically are offerings within our shared plans and for our dedicated hosting customers. This is specific to both the ElasticPress feature I explained earlier, so that’s included in those plans. 

We also have on the dedicated side, the Compute-Optimized Infrastructure. Both are shared and dedicated plans have the offloading effect. It’s not just making search better, it’s also offloading a lot of those queries and making your store faster. 

For us, basically, what we deliver through those ecom plans, at least what we’ve measured so far is up to a 40% speed improvement and stores that convert up to 18% more sales. 

Gaby:
Those are some great numbers. 

David: We’re trying to push them up. We have a lot of engineers working to help folks. That’s really the fundamental mission there, is delivering that performance, delivering that ease to get a market and all of that, of course, for an ecom store means driving more sales. 

Gaby:
Does the price vary according to a specific thing based on the WooCommerce websites? Let’s say page views or…?

David:
The pricing is tiered into two classes. The first would be in our shared plans. We have named these plans STARTUP which is basically designed around a single load traffic site that starts at $30 a month. From there we go up basically in terms of the number of sites and the amount of traffic. First of all, there’s the body of the WP Engine platform feature. All the stuff I talked about like keeping WordPress up to date and PHP up to date, optimizing security, performance, all of that from the WordPress platform perspective, that’s all included.

The ecomm-specific features include what we call instant storage share which is powered by ElasticPress, which I’ve already talked about. We also have the ability to create a one-click store creator. If you are a DIY, that’s actually super helpful, but it’s also helpful if you’re an agency building lots of stores. Included with that are basically ecommerce blocks that work with WooCommerce. As you’re building out new content or new experiences, we’ve provided a library of those as well as if you’re a developer, the ability to create your own custom versions of those without using REACT, so PHP, HTML, and CSS only. That’s a benefit for the developer.

The final piece, which I think is very helpful for ecommerce stores, is basically an automated plugin update service. We monitor for updates, we can run it in production or staging. Personally, I run it in staging on my sites, but you can run it in prod if you want. Not only does it detect the updates and apply them after performing an initial backup, but it also does what’s called automatic visual regression testing. It’s looking to see if the update breaks your store. You can leverage this service as part of these ecom plans.

You have our shared hosting and then you have also dedicated clusters for big stores or stores with a lot on the line. There’s a lot of value in having your own environment. Even if you don’t have a lot of traffic, sometimes people will want that because you get a performance boost from getting your own server. A lot of people, like I said, the price jump might be high, but the value you get from those benefits might be more than what the price jump is. That’s the whole point of all of those.

Gaby:
Exactly. I think one thing we didn’t really touch upon is the visual aspect of WooCommerce stores. We’ve got tons of images most of the time and also the theme. How do you think this impacts speed optimization and how can you tackle it?

David:
A CDN is a big part of this because they’re specifically even like image CDNs that will specifically distribute your images. That’s a really big part of making sure that your Woo store is optimized. If you’re not using a CDN for your images, it’s definitely something to tackle. Things like WP Rocket and NitroPack can help with this.

This is definitely one of those balance of suffering and joy items. If you think about it for a minute, if we said, how do I optimize my images to be faster, you would say, compress them and don’t use as big of them, don’t use as many of them. Then if you will go to someone and say, how do I sell my product better? You would say, we need really clear images and we need a lot of them. It’s the opposite of everything you just said. At the end of the day, you need to find that balance.

Performance is always your goal but how do you find that balance for delivering a good experience, delivering enough information to effectively make the sale without burdening your site with an excessive amount of content. 

Pagination is another neat way to do this. Let’s say by sake of example, that you wanted to do that 360° tour. Okay, no big deal, but do you really need to load it for every visitor? Maybe it’s only the visitors that need the 360° product tour. You can embed elements within your product pages that allow you to either click off to a different page to see that, or load that page in a way that doesn’t burden every user loading page.

Gaby:
Yeah, that’s interesting. How would you do that?

David:
There’s a variety of ways you could approach it. I don’t know of a plugin solution off the top of my head. Pop-up window would certainly do it. Potentially things like an iFrame. It’s been so long since I’ve architected anything like that. I’m going to stop myself before I architect something dangerous, somebody goes out and does it. My point is, there are ways to go about it where you don’t actually push the user off to another page. Pop-up would be one example—I don’t know if it’s the best example. There are other ways to delay the loading. 

NitroPack actually is interesting in this way (and this is getting a little nerdy here. From the high level, they delay loading of some JavaScripts. You can selectively decide when you load certain things. Lazy Loading Images is another good example of this and this is supported in WordPress core now. But basically, you’re waiting to load some parts as the user experiences the page. There are multiple passes you could take there but it would be specific to the situation in how you might architect around it.

Gaby:
I’m not sure if this falls under your area of expertise, but I have one question about page builders and what you think about how they affect the website.

David:
Page builder plugins, there’s a lot that has happened since 2018 when Gutenberg was rolled into WordPress core as the block editor. Page builder plugins have filled a very critical role in the WordPress experience for a very long time and deliver an incredible amount of value. I’m a big fan of Elementor and what they do. I’m a big fan of Beaver Builder and what they do, and others. And still do today.

The first thing to recognize is they have been at this a lot longer than the Gutenberg Builder. They also fulfill different kinds of roles in the site creation experience. A very excellent choice. 

Where people tend to start to talk down on page builders are things like performance, but even there with things like full page caching, even page builders that might have an effect on performance that people might not like, it can sometimes be overcome with things like full page caching.

I don’t have a blanket statement on page builders. I think there are amazing ones, I think there are some incredible ways of implementing them. I know very sophisticated agencies that use them in a lot of contexts; landing page builders for clients is a big one. I think they’re very functional tools.

As we think about Gutenberg though—the block editors—we think about full site editing and how that’s evolving and themes. In this very builder first wave of WordPress evolving, the role of page builders will continue to evolve. Like I said, I think they’re driving an incredible amount of value there. I’m also very excited at the role of the block editor in core and the capabilities that both unlocks for DIY users but also developers. 

If you think about what makes WordPress popular is that developers can basically make it into a custom CMS that delivers a certain kind of experience. That’s what the page builders fundamentally did, but all of that value is locked up in their solutions, and now that kind of experiences in WordPress core, plugins, other thing providers, and all kinds of folks can leverage these types of experiences, and that’s adding to WordPress’ strength. The page builders have fundamentally passed and continue and will continue to add a tremendous amount of value at WordPress.

Gaby:
We’re actually using Elementor on our website and it’s enabled us to actually have the redesign which was 10 years in the making and we just couldn’t find the time and made it really easy to do it. With full site editing, it’s super interesting what’s happening there. I know StudioPress is also a part of WP Engine now and they’ve also shifted their way of creating themes to more of a block editor–type of solution.

David:
I actually have a lot of history with that within the company and actually led the acquisition of WP Engine and StudioPress. I’m trying to remember, this would have been 2018, it would have been before the big launch of WordPress 5.0 in December. The block editor is coming. It’s very clear that it’s coming. 

In the StudioPress world and for those unfamiliar, the root technology (historically) of StudioPress has been the Genesis theme framework. The theme framework had no concept of blocks because blocks didn’t exist. Right around the time of the acquisition, the block editors are coming fast and furious. All theme companies—not just StudioPress and now via WP Engine—had to decide, what are we going to do? I don’t know if you remember but there is that whole classic press push, and I don’t know where that ever went but I haven’t heard about it much since. As many did, focused on the block editor. 

That’s what we’ve been investing in in the Genesis universe. I don’t think that’s any different than what Genesis ever did before. Genesis always worked with WordPress core. A lot of frameworks do it in that way where it’s meant to augment and enhance the core value of WordPress itself. That’s been our strategy with our products like Genesis blocks working with the block editor. That’s the path that we chose for Genesis. Again, it wasn’t like a surprise. Genesis always worked like that, so that’s what we get there.

Gaby:
We veered off a bit, but it’s still a very interesting topic. I don’t know if you’ve got anything else you want to add to our main topic, which is WooCommerce.

David:
The only other thing in my world is Growth Suite from Flywheel, which is another company we had acquired. That’s another thing that’s been on my mind and the agency MRR journey, but maybe that’s another conversation for another day.

Gaby:
We’ve got another 15 minutes. If you want to go into that.

David:
I’m trying to get my years straight here. It’s been a little over two years since the Flywheel acquisition, since Flywheel joined the WP Engine family. For those unfamiliar, Flywheel has a rich history as a managed host. They’re also the makers of the free local WordPress tool Local at localwp.com. The whole thing is free, frankly. It allows you to run a WordPress instance on your computer and push it back and forth between your host and work on in various ways, so that’s pretty cool.

Basically, within the Flywheel universe was launched effectively this year in GA is a product offering called Growth Suite. It’s fundamentally a platform for allowing freelancers and agencies to manage clients. Things like client billing, automated monthly recurring charges, for things like maintenance plans, but also one-time project-based billing, as well as the ability to integrate in site management particularly for those who are offering hosting to their clients. Again, I quote, “reseller type model.” 

It’s been very cool. We went to GA. The part that’s most interesting about the Growth Suite story is the revenue story there because it’s really designed to generate MRR with maintenance and care packages. There’s the automated plugin update stuff I talked about earlier but also human verification. It’s really set up for this maintenance care package type model for freelancers and agencies.

Gaby:
That’s very interesting. Thank you, David. It’s been a pleasure having you. I’ve learned a lot about how to optimize your site, specifically WooCommerce. Where can our listeners reach you?

David:
Check me out on Twitter @wpdavidv.

Gaby:
Great. We’ll put that in the show notes, too. David, what can I say? Thank you for your time and thank you for explaining everything in a very easy-to-understand way. It was great to have you on. 

David:
Thank you so much Gaby.

TranslatePres

This episode is sponsored by TranslatePress – The easiest way to translate your WordPress site.

Share this episode:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Show

Join us as we introduce you to some of our friends in the WordPress community.

Learn all about their products and services and discover business techniques to help you enhance your WordPress business.

Meet your host

Meet your host

Gaby Galea

Gaby is the Content Manager at WP Mayor and your new host on the WP Mayor podcast! She is passionate about learning how to start, maintain and grow a WordPress business. Follow her on Twitter @GabriellaGalea.

Follow us on
Social Media