I’ve been around the e-Commerce world for some time now and I thought it would be nice to share some insights under the form of quick tips to make your e-Commerce pop out of the crowd and get some results off it. One topic that is often put aside or lacking some preparation is the foundations of your e-Commerce website: Your e-Commerce platform and hosting. Let’s dive into what’s available and weight pros and cons for each of them.
Opt for the e-commerce platform you need
Magento, WooCommerce, Drupal Commerce, name it! It’s not always the one everybody uses that should be the best solution for you! Let’s review a few of them and see what fits best.
Keep in mind that older platforms like osCommerce are not the best solution as they are older and tend to deliver less features than newer couterparts.
Magento e-Commerce Platform
First off, thinking that Magento is the way to go because every big brands use it is like thinking that your daily car should be an F1 race car. And then I hear you say but there’s a free community edition and you’d be right. Still, when you get to race cars, you don’t expect the poor-man’s car to win the championship. Instead, you think about the Ferrari’s or McLaren’s. And if you want to win with your low-end car, be prepared to lay down lots of money.
With Magento, no matter the version you go, it’s about the same story: Be ready to spend top dollars to get things the way you want it to be. Here’s some key features to consider:
- The architecture is huge and built to withstand huge product catalogs.
- Magento specialists are rare and come with a high hourly rate.
- Things get complicated quick as you want things optimized and customized.
- The Enterprise edition licences costs an economy car per year.
- The Community edition lacks the support and features of the enterprise edition.
- The upgrade process from a Magento version to another is a real pain, trust me.
- The platform is hard to optimize for speed and SEO due to it’s complex internal structure.
- Lots of plugins available.
And now you must think I hate Magento or something. Well, not really. What I would suggest is, if you plan to go the Magento route, be prepared to allocate a lot of hours to the inital setup of your website, get yourself a good Magento expert on your side and go for the Enterprise Edition. It’ll save you a lot of headaches over time.
WooCommerce WordPress e-Commerce Platform
I like to think of WooCommerce as a good all-rounder. It’s simple, get your WordPress blog (or website) setup and just add the WooCommerce add-on to turn it into a nice, simple e-Commerce website. Sure it won’t compete against a monster Magento Enterprise website but it’s certainly one of the best options for many small businesses.
Let’s take a look at the key features:
- Easy plug-and-play type of solution.
- Easily integrates an existant WordPress website.
- Pretty good SEO features built-in.
- Lots of plugins available.
- Good for small product catalogs.
- WooCommerce / WordPress specialists are easy to find.
- Best suited for low / medium budget businesses.
- Easy to manage on a day to day basis.
- Almost seamless upgrade process.
Drupal Commerce and other solutions
Although I didn’t had the chance, or curse, to try these other solutions, I can say a few words on my personal/seo specialist point of view about Drupal Commerce.
Drupal Commerce seems to be a good solution for those who look for a highly versatile solution, sitting between WooCommerce and Magento. Hence, you almost get the feature-richness of Magento with the content management versatility of the WordPress platform. Keep in mind that you will need a Drupal specialist though and they are not as common as the WordPress ones, so they will cost you more.
Get A Good Hosting Provider
Okay, so this is the second tip I will give you and is the one that will make a difference in the long term: Get a good, well managed hosting provider. Don’t go the cheap route to save a few dollars and get your sales platform down all the time. You DO NOT want this to happen. And, please, don’t think about a temporary solution that you will fix later, when you’ll start to make money.
Instead, I would look for a solution that you will be able to grow with. One of these is simply cloud servers you can get these days. Sure you can go the Amazon Web Services (AWS) route if you have the big budget in hand, but there are many solutions around that will cost less and be almost as reliable while providing you the flexibility to upgrade server ressources when you will need it, just like AWS.
The purpose of this article is nothing about explaining everything about hosting, but to head you towards success quick and easy. Here’s the pros and cons of each possible solutions.
Take note that when I talk about the ressources of a server, I’m talking about processor load and memory.
Shared Hosting Providers
To explain in a few words, a shared server is a hosting service, often cheap, that uses shared ressources of a single machine for many websites and clients. So, if you of someone else takes up all the ressources on the server, the performance of your website will be impacted. This is good for someone looking for a cheap hosting solution that doesn’t need speed or won’t get many visits. Another point worth highlighting is that, as shared hostings are shared, you won’t be able to manage and control what’s installed on the server in terms of software or server specs.
With all this in mind, a shared server is NOT a good idea for an e-Commerce as you don’t get the performance you will need in the long run and also don’t get the latitude to manage the server itself.
Another type of server configuration you can find out there are dedicated servers. It’s name explains it all. You pay for a full fledged machine with fixed specs and go with it. And so does it’s price. The main advantages of a dedicated server is that you get to have full control of your platform.
Even though this server looks like a good option, they don’t tend to provide a good choice if you’re planning to grow. Once you will find yourself needing a bigger server, you will need to migrate your fragile eCommerce installation and this means headaches.
I would recommend a dedicated server configuration for those who have direct access to a provider or use their own servers as dedicated servers tend to become costly over a long period.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
A Virtual Private Server, also referred to as a VPS, is a Virtual Machine with it’s ressources being allocated on it’s own from the machine, or the machines, it’s running on.
Okay, this wasn’t that much clear. Simply put, a VPS is an emulated physical server that is hosted on a real, physical server. That way, you don’t pay for the big package of a full server but get the avantages of a dedicated server in terms of performance consistency and server configuration control. This solution is more and more replaced by cloud servers, which description comes next.
I wouldn’t recommend this option to base a long-term e-Commerce server setup because of it’s lack of straight forward upgradability.
Cloud Server Providers
The Cloud Server seems to be the new big thing, even though it’s been around for a little while now. A Cloud server consists in fact of a Virtual Machine, just like a VPS, but with the possibility to fire up many of them, enhance memory of computing power on the go by the flick of a switch. That being said, it means you can go from 512Mb of memory to 16Gb in a few seconds, or go from 1 CPU to 16 in the blink of an eye! No need to say Cloud Servers are a good and scalable way of hosting your e-Commerce platform.
Some Cloud Server providers even offer the possibility to trigger new server instances based on server load thresholds, giving you a good on-demand power house to withstand traffic peaks without loosing any client while allowing your wallet to breathe.
Cloud servers are, in my opinion, the best option there is as I write these lines to setup an e-Commerce website.
Going through those, I can’t stress enough about the importance of starting with the right setup when launching an e-commerce. How many times have I seen new websites neglect their hosting or choosing the first platform they find, just because “it doesn’t matter right now”. Then, the business grows faster than expected, budgets burn trying to keep up and people start wishing that they chose the scalable solution right from the start.
What I would do is simple. If I was to start an e-Commerce myself tomorrow I would go with cloud hosting and choose a platform suiting the catalog size I plan to have in the next 5 years and the available ressources, both human and monetary. This way, I can maximise my chances of working on things that matter like marketing strategies and innovation instead of stressing about my website maintenance ruining my budget and my server performance dropping precious clients.
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