Quite often in the WooCommerce world you'll hear “make sure you use a good host” which sounds helpful but when you don't define what a good host is it becomes meaningless. And for many first time store owners how are you supposed to know what you need and if a host has those features?
I've heard a lot about Liquid Web but I hadn't actually seen the backend until recently, when they gave me an account to play around with. So I'm going to show you how to create a brand new WooCommerce site using Liquid Web's Managed WooCommerce Hosting plan.
A friend of mine runs a WooCommerce store selling sunglasses so let's recreate that site using Liquid Web's infrastructure.
Note: Liquid Web paid me for a few hours of my time to review their hosting.
Creating a Site in Liquid Web
Once we have our Managed WooCommerce Hosting account setup we’ll see our store installed for us and depending on your plan you can setup more stores.
Now we can configure the site. When we click Manage Site we'll see all of the settings. The good news is you don't have to do much because Liquid Web sets some really smart defaults.
Of course you start with the latest version of WordPress. In addition to the latest version of WordPress automatic updates are enabled as are automated plugin updates.
You can turn these off if you need to but Liquid Web has some smart features that double-check your site after these updates (see visual differences below) so the risk is minimal.
Liquid Web automatically runs on PHP 7.2 with the option of using an older version if you have to. If you're creating a brand new site I recommend the latest version of PHP. But if you're importing an older site some features might not work on the latest version of PHP so I'd change the version of PHP to the version from the old site and after the import then look into updating the version of PHP.
We’re exploring the Managed WooCommerce Hosting product. But if you’re on their regular WordPress hosting account you’ll see a few more options like varnish cache. Varnish is great for blogs but not great for e-commerce sites so it’s hidden and you can’t enable it. I love smart features like this that prevent you from making mistakes.
Before we leave let’s give our store a better name than “store”.
Creating Website Backups
Before we change any settings or installing / updating any new plugins or themes it’s a good practice to backup your site.
Liquid Web has a fantastic setup for backups. Click on Backups in the menu.
On this page we can see all of our backups, restore our site, or download a copy of our site. Right now of course we don't have anything here since this is a brand new site. But we can click “Create a New Backup” to create one.
Configuring Our WooCommerce Site
With our site safely backed up we can change anything we want without fear.
Click WP-Admin to get to your site. This is one of the few areas where I think Liquid Web could improve because there's no way for you to login. You have to reset your password with the email address you provided earlier.
Once you get into your site you'll see a familiar WordPress dashboard. Under Appearance you'll see the theme Astra. Astra is a great theme to use with Beaver Builder which comes with our managed account. If you’re a big fan of Beaver Builder (who isn’t?) then you can keep Astra.
I'm a huge fan of Storefront because of the sheer amount of free e-commerce related functionality included in the theme (like the sticky add to cart button).
I’ll go to Themes -> Add New and search for Storefront and install it.
You'll see a prompt for the WooCommerce Welcome Wizard. You'll want to go through that.
Note: If you don’t see the prompt for the welcome wizard you can always manually go through it by going to: Help > Setup Wizard and select Setup Wizard.
I won't bore you with the details of the welcome wizard but if you want I've been thinking about creating a guide to help you go through the WooCommerce Welcome Wizard. If that sounds useful to you send me a note. 🙂
After you go through the Welcome Wizard you might see a prompt to customize your theme or finish setting up a payment gateway (like Stripe).
Ignore those for the moment. We can customize our theme later. If the nags keep appearing (the Stripe one for example is pretty annoying and keeps popping up) you can temporarily disable the plugin until you're ready to set it up.
Optimize Website Speed
Let's see what plugins were auto installed for us. There's two dozen or so plugins installed. And a few of them are really helpful. Make sure to turn these plugins on (some may already be enabled):
- BJ Lazy Load
- Compress JPEG & PNG images
- Disable Cart Fragments
- Lazy Load for Comments
- WP Disable
- WP Redis
- WP Static Menus
When you turn all of these plugins on and with Liquid Web's infrastructure you can test your site on Pingdom and I was able to get a page load of 633ms. That's better than 95% of websites!
And this is without any custom coding or custom plugins. Just a few optimization plugins built on top of good infrastructure.
I don't want gloss over speed. It's fast. And fast is important! A 1 second increase in load time decreases conversion rate by 7%. If your store makes $100,000 a month you'll make an extra $7,000 by increasing your speed from 1.5 seconds to 0.5 seconds.
Test your current store now. Or test a few stores you use and see how fast the average e-commerce site loads. Then see what you can do with the speedy infrastructure by Liquid Web.
I love the plugins they already installed for us but they also installed a few plugins I don’t like. And we can disable them to make the administration easier and WordPress even speedier.
- Astra Pro
- Beaver Builder (I do like the plugin but I don’t use it with Storfront)
- Pretty Links
- Ultimate Addon for Beaver Builder
- WP All Import Pro
- WP All Import – WooCommerce Add-On Pro
- WooCommerce Custom Thank You (I don’t use this on brand new stores – but might turn it back on once I start improving my post purchase process)
Many of these plugins are really good. But I don’t always use them with a new store so I disable them until I need them. Even better is to delete the plugins to harden your site for security purposes.
Build a Stencil
Now that we've spent time installing WooCommerce, Storefront, and activating some plugins we can save our work and make future installs easier. Going back to Liquid Web we can create a Stencil.
When we're managing our site in Liquid Web there's an option to create a stencil.
Once you've created the Stencil you can create new sites from stencils and save yourself a few minutes.
Now anytime we want to make a new site we can use that stencil and skip all of the work we’ve done so far. That’s a huge time saver.
Managing Multiple Clients
I tend to work with multiple clients at a time. If you work with multiple clients there's a great feature called tagging that organizes all of your sites by tag on your dashboard. Under a site in Liquid Web you'll find that option to tag.
And when you're browsing your list of sites you can group sites by tag. Since I work with a bunch of different clients I'd use a client name as a tag. That way they'll be easy to group and manage all at once.
We've talked about a lot of best practices like backups and speed. But we haven't yet talked about test sites (or staging sites). For any big changes I like to make those on a staging site.
There's a handy button that let's you copy your live site to staging.
Once you have your staging site you can of course login and make any changes you want.
This is a great start but I wish there was a bit more functionality here. There's no easy way to copy your files or database from the staging site and move them to the live site.
I know the Liquid Web team is looking into these features and I hope they figure out a way to move files – and more importantly to merge changes from the live site and the staging site together. There have been a few attempts at this in the WordPress world but none of them have seem much success. I hope Liquid Web can figure this out.
One thing Liquid Web has done really well is to automatically test your site after WordPress & plugin updates. They use a tool to visually compare key pages in WordPress / WooCommerce sites and they make sure they look identical before and after an update.
If they don't they'll send you an email.
Should I Pick Liquid Web
Liquid Web's infrastructure is superb. Getting a WordPress site to load in .5 seconds is no small feat. Add on top of that the backups, updates to WordPress core as well as plugins, and the visual comparison to double check updates. It's a pretty solid platform.
There are a few things I wish they'd improve like some common-sense defaults & a way to deploy staging files to live. And while these are annoyances they aren't huge deals. It's easy enough to move files via FTP or another method and you could pause the live site and move the database over as well.
If you want to have a fast WooCommerce store then you need to look into Liquid Web. I've never seen a store load so fast for so little work.