WooCommerce is one of the top eCommerce solution adopted by online store owners with a 12% market share among the top 10K website in the world, which grows up to an incredible 42% share when considering the entire internet.
This free WordPress plugin, along with many available add-ons and integrations to enhance functionalities, has empowered many business owners to sell their products and services online with a more efficient platform. But even with that, any WooCommerce user still needs to invest time and resources in maintenance activities for maximum flexibility and control over their store.
The question you should be asking yourself by now is: what kind of maintenance do I need to perform for my WooCommerce Store? WordPress developer and Codeable expert Robin Scott has in-depth knowledge and wide experience working with WooCommerce websites. That's why we asked him to provide us with the most important things to know when it comes to keeping your WooCommerce store in perfect shape.
Let's see them!
Tip #1: Have a process in place to run updates on your WooCommerce store
The first step to a healthy and long-lasting WooCommerce store is having it running on the latest releases available. The reason for this is that every update will result in an improved version of the software. Specifically, be sure that you're running the latest version of your theme, your WooCommerce plugins, and WordPress itself.
Since WordPress 3.7, there's now an automatic background feature updates running on your website you should pay attention to because it could break your WooCommerce store. The auto updates will only be triggered by minor releases and translation file updates. Nevertheless, any software update has to be tested prior implementing it on your live store, unless you're taking chances to having a website not running properly.
As Robin highlights:
All it takes to knock your website offline is for a plugin, or a theme, to be incompatible. And this happens regularly, it's not uncommon. One plugin developer, for example, might have called a function the same thing as another. So it's accidental and coincidental. But when it breaks, it breaks your whole website and that's when the transactions stop happening.
The first thing to do is test any new update in a copy of your website, whether locally or on a staging website, and test everything else out such as website features, transactions, transactional emails, etc. and have it all check before performing any update on the live/production store. Once you've gone through your test phase, you're not done yet as you now have to make sure your live WooCommerce store is running smoothly.
Robin stresses the importance of testing and checking on all different elements working correctly, especially on the live website:
Once the site has gone live we thoroughly test the live website, the live checkout page with the product that costs the minimum amount that the gateway allows. We actually complete an order, pay for it and go through the checkout. The final part on that is to make sure all of the sales emails are being sent and received, and to make sure that basically what they call the transactional email is actually working. So that your users will be getting the receipts, order notifications, and all of that stuff.
And you thought "it was just an update", uh? When running an eCommerce there can't be any room for guessing and chances. That's why having a solid process you (or your outsourced developer) should follow, will benefit your business in many ways.
Tip #2: Run backups and check whether they're working or not
Backing up WooCommerce data is crucial. An attack on your website or any loss of data can cause you major disruptions. Therefore, having solid backups for your important information might save you the least of troubles. As Robin says:
Keeping daily backups it's not strictly part of maintenance really, it goes beyond that: you should just have them!
Anything that a normal WordPress website would require stands for WooCommerce store as well. That means you should automate your backups with a plugin, for example, and have different copies other than the one your hosting provider has stored on third-party websites or locally.
In addition to that, WooCommerce websites require a bit more precautions when it comes to having backups because they are transactional websites, websites where money is transferred from one end to the other. And for WooCommerce users, Robin suggests 3 things for their own piece of mind:
- Increase the frequency of backups
- Take snapshots of your database and store before pushing anything live, even if you've tested it on staging
- Test your backups and see if they're good to rebuild your website
Why so much attention to backups and the testing phase? Well, Robin has a hard truth for you to hear:
With a WooCommerce website, restoring from backup it's a 'bad' thing. You don't want to have to do it, really ever. That's why we're testing in staging so much. Why is that bad? Because, as you can imagine, you will lose orders. If you restore your site to how it was at 12:00 AM (midnight) and it's 4:00 pm and you've done sales all day, those sales will all disappear from your system. So you really don't want to restore from backup. If you can avoid it.
Tip #3: Test thoroughly and test relentlessly
Updates and backups, glued together by a proven process to tackle them, are really important parts of any maintenance activity. But they're not enough. What's missing here is the most critical aspect of them all, one that would make your WooCommerce maintenance either effective or poor: the testing aspect.
Don't think testing is that critical to WooComerce maintenance? Let me quickly list out when you should invest time in testing things out:
- Before any update comes out, testing is required on your staging website (or your local copy of the website).
- After the updates are performed on the live website, testing is strongly suggested to check and see if everything runs as properly as before.
- For any backup you create, you should test that file to be sure it's able to revert back your store to a full-functioning and stable instance.
- Any payment gateway has to be tested to ensure you're not missing any money transaction on the live website.
Especially transactional emails and gateways require even more of your attention because they're directly connected to your revenue stream. As Robin emphasizes:
With most gateways, the sandbox environment is slightly different to the live environment. Therefore, the best way to know if live transactions are working is to see one happen. And we have that as a checkbox for our maintenance clients. We do it so that we can sign off on it and say 'yes, it's working' and reassure them.
The lesson here to learn is that you should always keep testing thoroughly that your WooCommerce store website and all its specific "pieces" are working properly. You have to make sure that updates to plugins, add-ons, and your own theme too won't affect your store negatively.
To avoid making mistakes, which might cost you some real money, you should create a testing checklist and strive to follow it. The checklist input should include parties from all corners of the website, and even make it more detail-rich and narrow down to cover specific tasks such as testing your shipping, payment gateways, and so on. With a testing checklist to follow, there's no longer room for guesswork and the process will be more efficient.
Given how much testing is involved when investing resources in maintenance, Robin suggests a nice tool that will test many elements and areas of your WooCommerce store for you:
There's a really great tool out called Robot Ninja. I really recommend looking at that as well for just a test, because it tests whether the things can be added to cart. It tests transactions. It tests the payment gateway and it does all of that automatically and uses different browser simulations.
Whether you maintain your WooCommerce store yourself or have hired a developer for maintenance duties, upkeep remains crucial for your website to run properly and, to an extent, last longer. On top of those already-mentioned tips, other measures include choosing a great hosting provider for your store and taking security really serious.
As a WooCommerce store owner (or manager), you should always strive to keep your store running smoothly for the benefit of your customers. Soon enough it will turn into that of your business as well.
Robin Scott is an experienced WordPress developer who's also one of the founders of Silicon Dales, an agency focused on WordPress, WooCommerce, and a variety of other services. Robin has specialized in several areas such as Custom Plugins, Gravity Forms, Hosting Transfer, Maintenance, and WooCommerce Extensions, just to name a few.