Hello, John here. We had full house on Blab this weekend, and we had a lot to discuss, not just about what it takes to make a WooCommerce website successful, but how to make any online product or service successful.

WordPress news stories that we discussed were the 35 part tweetstorm by BuddyPress developer John James Jacoby. Morten said we should listen when people like JJJ talk, and pointed out that behind every plugin is a person or team, so business models should be sustainable.

Sallie was astonished by the comments on the WP Tavern wrap-up of the tweetstorm, especially the negativity and vitriol towards the WordPress core team.

Scott Buscemi: from Luminary.ws

Sallie Goetsch: from WPFangirl.com

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: from Lynda.com

John Locke: from Lockedown SEO

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Hello, John here. We had full house on Blab this weekend, and we had a lot to discuss, not just about WooCommerce, but what it really takes to make any product or service successful online.

WordPress news stories that we discussed were the 35 part tweetstorm by BuddyPress developer John James Jacoby. Morten said we should listen when people like JJJ talk, and pointed out that behind every plugin is a person or team, so business models should be sustainable.

Sallie was astonished by the comments on the WP Tavern wrap-up of the tweetstorm, especially the negativity and vitriol towards the WordPress core team.

Morten thought this tweetstorm stemmed from another talk at WordCamp Europe, related to the WordPress leadership, which is represented as having a flat structure. Morten and Sallie both had great points stating that people in a flat organization can still have more power than others, by doing more work, or being more vocal, people start looking to them as leadership.

Scott made a great analogy about developing something like plugins in an open source community. Developers in an ecosystem often develop on top of a platform, but this comes with risk. The core development team of a given platform can always “Sherlock” a third party plugin or app and make it part of the open source platform. Scott cited Apple as an example (Twitter also notoriously did this several years ago).

Our second WordPress story was on the caching plugin WP Rocket passing $1 million in revenue.

Sallie made a great point about categories that seem crowded can still be full of opportunities. Scott also put forth that even when you feel there is too much noise in a segment, you can still make an impact.

I asked Morten if he thought more WordPress plugins would go to a subscription model. He replied that the idea of selling plugins is not what we believe it is. Under the GPL license, people can redistribute plugins for free, though this display of questionable ethics is sure to permanently tarnish their reputation.

Morten’s point was that you are really buying the support and community that accompanies the plugin. Sometime it can be Software as a Service. But the community and support is a big part of a successful product.

He relates an anecdote about once asking a question in the Gravity Forms forum, about a piece of functionality that had never been tried before. Later, a Gravity Forms developer gave him 200 lines of code to make his functionality happen, because he was a premium subscriber.

The larger point is, software is an ever-evolving creature, and without continual support, the product eventually becomes obsolete, or a liability. For this reason, software subscriptions, in the form of support licenses make a ton of sense.

Morten reiterated that you have to do the hard work of support before you can create that positive brand image. You can’t provide little to no value and expect the favorable brand equity that other successful plugins or software products have.

Scott pointed out that part of successful plugins is continual evolution, and adding new features. Sallie said the support is the hard part of any software product. She relates a great story about someone asking her why they would pay for open source software. Her reply was, you pay so you can call me at three in the morning when things aren’t working.

Morten talked about the illusion that making money online is easy. Many people want a commodified way to products. He said in a GPL world, this won’t work. You don’t sell the product itself, you sell the time it takes to develop the product, your skill, and most importantly, the support for that product.

Scott raised an interesting point, in that in the WordPress community, we want everyone to be successful, but maybe that isn’t the right thing to wish for. He posited that not every product can be successful. Not everyone who can program will succeed.

Sallie pointed out that most businesses fail in their first year. But online, people think they will get rich quick. She talks about the big rush to podcasting in 2005 and 2006, where people thought they would be able to stack up Benjamins, but then quickly realized that being successful at podcasting (about web development or anything else) is also a ton of work

I closed this segment out by tying together the story about having a successful product in the WordPress space with these quotes from John James Jacoby:

In our main topic segment, I asked the panel what characteristics were inherent in successful e-commerce stores, regardless of platform.

Scott said the biggest factor in e-commerce success was being able to show how you are different than a commodity retailer like Amazon. Showing the personality of the brand is more important than people realize.

The other big factor Scott mentioned was driving traffic to the site. Many site owners have the “build it and they will come” mentality, which is incorrect. He said successful e-commerce stores build traffic through social media, advertising, email newsletters, and PPC.

Scott related a great story of guerrilla marketing by a wallpaper company. The company would watch home improvement shows, and find where they were installing wallpaper in specific episodes. They would then find that specific product in their catalog, put in on their website. Then they would write a blog post about the episode mentioning the product. Then they would go to Facebook home improvement groups and post the blog post about that episode mentioning their product. This drove traffic and resulted in one sale that exceeded $15,000.

Morten said getting online traffic is not as easy as it seems.  Marketing is everything. People won’t find your product unless they know where to look.

He also talks about educating people to the fact that they need your product. Most people don’t know they have a need. You  can’t go into a 24/7 sales pitch, but rather going into the community on social media to raise awareness is the first step.

Sallie continued this theme by relating a story of a prospect who had little sales because they had no traffic. Another story she tells was about an analysis of why an advertising campaign failed. There was no call to action on the home page, where they were driving the clicks, so there were few conversions.

I added that millions of sites debut on the web each day. You have to do marketing and have great content. I relate an anecdote about a Shark Tank contestant that created a great video that was entertaining and showed the benefits of the product. This product is doing monster sales.

Scott pointed out that there is too much focus on buying WooCommerce extensions before the site has any traffic whatsoever. He stresses the importance of getting traffic and some sort of conversion rate, even if it is a poor one. From there, you can start making analysis.

Morten continues this thought by saying we focus too much on the technical aspects, layout, and design tweaking, and not enough on telling the story of the product. He talks about doing consulting for large companies, and many don’t know their audience, and they don’t know what their audience wants. If you know your audience, it is much easier to find them.

He relates a story about how powerful Facebook advertising can be, and how targeted it can be, telling about how a student of his targeted a single person on campus with an ad. The point being if you know your audience, you can target them.

Sallie tells a story about cat-lover products, and how if you know your audience, you can sell things that to them that would otherwise seem outlandish.

I asked Scott if there were any specific challenges with WooCommerce as opposed to other platforms. One case that he came up with is importing large amounts of products from another platform. This is more of a developer problem. But a client problem he mentioned is how WooCommerce handles variations. He said it takes a lot of training to manage all the variations, makes changes, or delete items.

Morten said WooCommerce tries to do a lot of stuff on a grand scale, but there is an dissonance in expectation, as users think it will be easy. He says you should not be setting up WooComerce by yourself, as the number of settings is very overwhelming.

Scott points out that there was an user or site owner somewhere that caused each one of those settings to be included. Taxes and shipping in particular are really complicated. He does says they are trying to make the onboarding a bit easier, and mentions the recent addition of the Setup Wizard.

Sallie compares it to Shopify, where there are lots of restrictions, and WooCommerce is more open, but you will likely need help setting it up.

I mentioned some things I’ve encountered: you have to have a current version of PHP, and many hosts don’t have an up to date version of PHP installed. The CSS is also hard to override. I mentioned that override template files may require you to have a developer in your Rolodex. Sallie says she is trying to use hooks (actions and filters) as much as possible to avoid tweaking template files every nine to twelve months.

Scott and Morten both mention that you have to get a proof of concept – meaning you need to get some traffic to make proper assessments – before making larger investments in tons of extensions.

Morten closes by saying that running an E-commerce store has a lot of complex layers that can have serious repercussions if you get them wrong. He mentions VAT tax, sales tax, and PCI compliance as things that can get you in trouble if you don’t do them correctly.

He also mentions privacy. You must separate the information about a consumer from the order if you have that in your database. It is extremely vital for you to handle data properly, or there could be serious consequences for you.

As you can see, running an e-commerce store is not a walk in the park. If you’re not experienced in setting one up, it’s advisable to hire a developer or agency to help you.

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