How your website runs rides a lot on where your site is hosted, and what your hosting plan is. Making changes to the peripherals is pointless if your main server is slow or has too many usage restrictions, which will ultimately increase your site’s upload time. There are five main types of WordPress hosting, viz. Free, Shared, Managed, Dedicated, and VPS.
Free hosting is generally offered by individuals who are looking to make a quick buck by renting some of their server space. In return for the hosting, you are most often expected to showcase their advertisements on your site. This is far from the biggest disadvantage though. Free hosting is frankly not very reliable as the host can simply shut up shop one day, leaving you in the lurch. All-in-all, free hosting is definitely not a very good option if you plan to seriously run a site on WordPress.
Shared hosting, the wildly popular hosting option, offering ‘unlimited’ bandwidth and storage spaces. This is used by quite a lot of individual website developers, bloggers, and even small-scale businesses. In shared hosting, a lot of people share the same server and collectively pay for the same.
Shared hosting is very affordable, but it does have some significant drawbacks. First, it works on a limited resource allotment basis; the moment your site visits increase or your business expands, stretching the server load, you are expected to upgrade your existing hosting plan to continue working. Frequent upgrades can ultimately result into a huge drain on your hosting budget, and you might end up spending way more than you bargained for.
Second, since the bandwidth gets distributed between all the users, you can never completely get the entire speed that is promised by the host.
Third, if you chance across a ‘bad neighbor’ who has bogged down his site with all sorts of unnecessary trash, your site is most likely to experience the negative repercussions of the same due to the shared server.
Fourth, the security for shared hosting is always dicey at best and the minimal control you have over the control panel for the server does you no real favors.
As a result, shared hosting holds good for individual websites and small-scale businesses, not so much always for bigger ecommerce sites.
Managed hosting is a step ahead of shared hosting, where your website is taken care of by the hosting company. Replete with options for optimizing site speed, plugin management, security, and support, managed hosting is one of the best options for hosting you WooCommerce website. The only drawback is that managed WordPress hosting stands at the upper end of the payment spectrum, with hosting rates starting from $25 per month and ahead. The advantages outweigh the drawbacks here though, and it is an option worth considering if you plan to expand your e-commerce store by and by.
Dedicated servers give you complete freedom to control the various aspects of the server allotted to you. As it exclusively belongs to your website, you can customize everything, the hardware, security, applications, software, performance, and programming, as per your requirements. Newly initiated businesses do not require dedicated servers and they are generally used by websites that receive a lot of steady traffic throughout. The pricing plans are some of the costliest, starting from $90-$100 per month and increasing subsequently.
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server and involves compartmentalizing a single server into multiple servers, with each segment dedicated to a particular client. The hosting type combines the freedom of customization, like dedicated servers, along with the privacy of a separate physical computer. Managed VPS system is another option for sites that want to work around the obligation of regular management and backups, without compromising on the site performance and speed.
The type of hosting and the hosting plan to be selected depends largely on the kind of store you are planning to set up, and the expansion you have visualized. Beginning with a managed hosting plan and later migrating to a dedicated or a VPS server, depending on how well your store is working, would be the recommended plan of action here.
A Comparative Analysis of the Top Hosting Companies for WooCommerce
|Plan||Basic||StartUp||Personal||Hatchling Plan||Shared Hosting|
|Memory and Storage||50 GB||10 GB||10 GB||Unmetered||Unmetered|
|Traffic Supported||Unmetered||10,000 visits per month||25,000 visits per month||Unmetered||Unmetered|
Selecting the appropriate hosting plan is as important as selecting the type of hosting.
WooCommerce on WordPress uses a PHP MySQL database and server to run smoothly. Apart from tweaking the hosting options, you can optimize the MySQL server itself, when you opt for a dedicated, or VPS hosting plan. The MySQL server has default values for the cache and buffer-related system variables. These can be modified to improve site performance.
Using a high-performance load balancer and web server, like NGINX, can also speed up content delivery.
Caching refers to storing a temporary, static HTML page of your website. As a result, when the same page is accessed the next time, most of the information is already present on the server, which in turn reduces site uptime.
Is that necessary? Well yes! The thing is, quite a lot of your pages and posts on your WooCommerce store undergo minimum changes (or none), once they have been uploaded. Therefore, it makes sense to have a cached copy ready here that is available for users, especially if the post contains many images or graphics taking time to load. Caching ensures a considerable reduction in page upload timings and in a world where every millisecond counts, this is very useful.
Caching plugins for WooCommerce give you the liberty to decide which pages and what part of these is to be cached.It is important to note that ‘Cart’, ‘My Account’ and ‘Checkout’ pages should not be cached. There have been some compatibility issues between cache plugins like WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache and WordPress, however, these few and far between and can be easily resolved besides.
Here is a look at the 3 most popular caching plugins for WooCommerce.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache has some of the most extensive options for plugin customization. You can optimize web performance not only by caching browsers, pages, and databases, but also minifying your CSS and JS files, which functionality retains only the necessary data related to the said files in the cache, deleting the rest. The 16+ pages of general and advanced settings can be a bit daunting, and frankly, not all of the configurations need to be used, but the plugin works well out of the box nevertheless, with the default settings taking care of all the basic caching requirements. Another advantage is that W3 Total Cache supports CDN (more on that later), which leads to blazing loads speeds, with load times cut nearly in half.
WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is the most popular caching plugin for WordPress. User-friendly, and with several configuration options, the plugin increases site speed in 3 different ways:
Using the mod_rewrite method which bypasses PHP files to serve cached, static HTML files.
Using PHP to serve supercached files. The advantage here is that some part of the page can be selectively kept dynamic (like your shopping cart).
Legacy caching caches pages for people who know the site, such as logged-in users.
The plugin works on the principal assumption that most of the visitors on your site will be first time viewers or infrequent visitors. It is a good idea to supercache your files if you expect to encounter heavy traffic, else it works like any other caching plugin. WP Super Cache does not support minification though.
WP Rocket is a premium plugin, easy to set up and configure. With a clean user-interface, Cloudflare compatibility and default options to exclude the Cart and Checkout pages from caching, it is one of the best options for websites working with WooCommerce. A unique functionality offered by WP Rocket is the Lazyload feature, which loads images only as visitors scroll down to them. This reduces the page upload time to a great extent and hence can improve SEO rankings.
Caching plugins are by far the easiest option for optimizing website performance for WooCommerce. However, you can also opt to cache data yourself by using AiScaler. What this software does is install its own server before your web server, which serves a cached copy of your website. It works with Amazon AWS instances and is a tad expensive, but it gives you complete freedom to control the caches and is especially useful if you have a lot of site visits every day.
Once you have decided upon your hosting plan and optimized your cache, it is time to start expanding your site’s presence. Managing site traffic is easier when you know how you will be directing the flow. It is generally observed that site performance is often ideal in the areas close to your main server, but dwindles farther away from it. This is natural, due to the increased packet loss in information transfer across large distances.
However, as an e-commerce store, you will be essentially targeting a worldwide audience. Which is why, to overcome this data loss, using a Content Distribution Network (or a Content Delivery Network; either way, a CDN) is a good idea.
Content Distribution Networks: What is a CDN?
A CDN is a group interconnected servers that cache data. Spread over the webworld, the CDN principle utilizes geographical proximity and serves data from the server closest to the location wherefrom the request was made.
For example, consider that I am accessing information here in India, from a website based in the US. The way the system works, I will receive the said information from the server nearest to my location, instead of all the way across the Atlantic. This cuts the site load time exponentially, which is directly proportional to an increase in customer engagement and conversion rate.
A CDN puts your static information on the map, quite literally, so that site uptimes are minimized, no matter where it is accessed from, thereby increasing your coverage area significantly.
Why Should I use a CDN?
A CDN is going to do a lot of things for your site that would otherwise be required to be done by your server. As these things get offloaded to the CDN, your server is going to run faster, which will ultimately increase page load times on your site.
Using a CDN has the following advantages:
- Increased Speed: A CDN works across servers placed strategically around the world which reduces the physical distance between the user and the access server. This leads to faster streaming with reduced network errors.
- Decrease in Packet Loss: Trans-continental jumps every time a user accesses a page on the site can lead to significant data packet loss. A CDN sidesteps this minefield by creating proxy servers across multiple locations that ensure packet loss is minimized.
- Controlled Delivery: A content delivery network caches static data. This lets you control what information is to be stored in these network servers. You can set he page display to the ‘latest’ version or instead choose to display a cached copy of the same.
- Balanced Loads Across Servers: CDNs save you from having to put all your eggs in one basket. Multiple servers across various locations ensure round-the-clock availability, irrespective of hardware issues, power downtimes, etc. If one of the servers is down due to some technical issues, the user is redirected to the next closest server in the network, instead of a completely broken down display.
As you can see, using a CDN has some distinct advantages. However, a CDN can be pretty expensive, especially if you are just starting out. Also, the multiple server location can be more a distraction than anything else, if you have a primarily local clientele, like that of restaurants, food delivery services, and the like.
On the whole though, CDNs are a great option if you have a WooCommerce Store with a global reach. Some of the most popular CDNs for WordPress websites include:
- Amazon AWS
- Rackspace Cloud Files
If you want to opt for a CDN but not dabble with the technical details a lot, there are plugins on WordPress that can take care of things for you. Here are a couple you can check out.
WP Offload and S3 Lite
Integrating particularly with Amazon S3 and Cloudfront (members of the Amazon AWS family), this plugin adds all your newly uploaded media files to the S3 or Cloudfront account. WP Offload and S3 Lite also rewrites the URL’s automatically so that information is accessed from the CDN instead of your main server. The plugin does not support other CDNs however.
WP Performance Pack
The WP Performance Pack plugin supports information delivery by CDN and alternatively by the local server, in case the CDN does not serve a valid response. Compatible with MaxCDN, CoralCDN, and custom CDNs, the plugin relies on localized servers to improve upload speeds on your WooCommerce site.
As we begin to optimize a WooCommerce website, a lot boils down to the kind of hosting, server and caching plans we opt for. These lay the foundation for your website and hence need to be analyzed carefully before selection. You can hardly keep migrating to new hosts or servers time and again, which is why it is worth spending some time to get these parameters right.
In a world where blazing fast speeds have become a necessity for ecommerce stores, a content delivery network can help you achieve the split second margin that is required to get that edge over your competitors. Do note that a CDN will always work on top of your hosting plan; it is not a standalone entity. However, a good hosting plan incorporated with a solid CDN can give your WooStore the boost it desires.
Of course, not everything will be perfect, but it is way easier to incorporate further changes if you have a solid background as opposed to beginning from scratch!
Now that you have optimized your hosting and caching settings, we move on to optimizing the actual store, starting with the Product Pages.
The next chapter has more!