Maintaining a WooCommerce store can become a costly affair once your business starts to grow or if it was built without following best practices in the first place. Things can get even more complicated if all backups, updates, new code, and maintenance overall are being done manually.
That's where automation can help streamline your processes around maintenance and can even lower monthly costs substantially.
Let's see what are the 4 most important principles you need to focus on if you want to automate your WooCommerce maintenance tasks effectively.
Sounds interesting? Let's jump in!
Principle #1: The secret to process automation is being clear on your workflows
The decision to automate some of your processes and tasks can be influenced by a number of factors. As within other areas of your business, you need to be aware of what's your starting point, your current state of things and what procedures you have in place. As WordPress developer and Codeable expert Paul Cohen elaborates:
The first step is to get clarity on your development processes and your production processes. Then, if you want to take your development workflows a step further, that depends very much on the technical capabilities internal to your company and how much you're outsourcing. For example, if you have a certain amount of technical capability, then you can automate the WordPress development workflows in terms of development environments, coding standards, quality assurance, and scripts to doing repetitive testing, boilerplates and so on.
The story you need to draw here is that understanding what your workflows are, and how they affect your daily work, should be your top priority if you want to start automating part of your WooCommerce maintenance work.
You can't automate anything unless you know every stage of the processes you want to optimize and what they affect.
Principle #2: Retainers are largely overlooked but are so powerful (when custom-tailored to your scenario)
An important part of automating your store maintenance is played by taking a big chunk of repetitive tasks off your table to free up more of your resources.
But how can you do that? Well, the answer is to outsource these repetitive tasks. Specifically, you could start leveraging what's usually called "retainers".
For those who don't know, [retainers] are fixed-price tasks you can hire a developer for and have them take care of it for a given period of time and on a recurring basis.
They're an extremely cost-effective way of maintaining your WooCommerce store, but also that from your clients because you can set them up the way you want and almost forget about them.
There are a number of functions that a retainer can help you with it. Paul explains some of these:
Looking at getting better at automating tasks in production workflows, the obvious one is retainers. You could have a checklist and set just one up running to make sure you've got no errors, perform daily backups, update your plugins and themes.
But that's just the beginning: retainers could be set up to address your own specific WooCommerce needs and that means checking forms, checking product pages, checkout pages, 404 pages, broken links, and be sure you have no issues going on.
Principle #3: There's no excuse not to have automated backups
Backups are needless to say the fundamental and most vital aspect of any WooCommerce store (and website) and that should be automated at the earliest. Picking the right hosting provider is one of the pillars of a reliable, consistent, and effective backup strategy.
That's why you need to have processes in place for your store's backup and those of your clients.
Taking a manual backup is prone to human errors and lapses in memory and, as a result, it is not advisable to take that risk.
Principle #4: Application performance monitoring is your secret tool
While on the subject of streamlining WooCommerce maintenance tasks through automating processes, an important feature most WooCommerce managers are unaware of is application performance monitoring. If you have anything even slightly larger than a small eCommerce store, it's recommended investing in application performance analysis through a service like New Relic. Paul highlights:
In short, application performance monitoring consists of having an external service monitoring your site in real-time so that you can dig deeper into performance issues and get more of a trace on where they're occurring. Application performance monitoring also comes into helping developers if you have a problem suddenly: if you have that performance monitoring running then you've got tools where developers can jump straight on and fix what's wrong.
Let me give you an example of how application performance monitoring might help you with store maintenance but also with saving money.
Let’s say, for example, you know that over a certain number of concurrent transactions the UX of your WooCommerce store might degrade in terms of response time (reads: it gets slower and somewhat clunky).
That directly impacts your bottom line.
With performance monitoring correctly set up, instead, you could have been alerted to the degradation of your UX immediately via Apdex score, an industry standard to measure users' satisfaction, and act promptly. This way if your site drops below a certain level of performance, you'd know already what's going on and where the issues are generating.
Even if they seem a cost for your business, Application Performance Monitoring tools are advanced tools that save you time and money instead. You can set them up based on your specific needs and configuration requirements to intercept bottlenecks, or leaking areas of your store and have a developer dig straight in with a high level of data indicating where problems occur.
Website maintenance can entail a number of things and, the more complex is your WooCommerce store configuration, or the one from your clients, the more elements you should take care of pile up.
Time is a limited and precious resource and you want to automate (or outsource) as many of the required tasks you need to perform on a recurring basis as possible. Backups, plugins and theme updates, testing, performance monitoring, whether you outsource them or take care of them through your in-house resources, all should work as a compound effort in order to get you the highest and greatest possible outcome.
Automation is really a powerful way to take care of a store's needs and scale its maintenance tasks, but it can't happen without a clear, deep picture of your store structure and your current workflows.
You can't automate and improve anything unless you don't fully comprehend it.
This blog post features Paul Cohen, a hands-on technology strategy consultant with 20+ years international experience on a variety of projects including WordPress, Enterprise IT, web/mobile applications, eLearning simulations, educational apps/games in teams of all sizes. He’s also a creative technologist who understands the business, product, project, design, and development aspects involved in taking ideas from concept to realization.