WooCommerce is now one of the most popular e-commerce solutions with 41% of all online stores built on the platform.
With WooCommerce, a business or individual can start with a few products and grow over time into an online store with 500+ products, wholesale pricing, and numerous integrations. It’s no surprise then that the e-commerce solution is a favorite of developers & site owners.
With all this praise, you might be wondering where the catch is. There’s only one, and it’s well worth it. The exceptional versatility and performance of WooCommerce is accompanied by the need for regular maintenance, security, and care.
Whether your website sells one product or hundreds, you’ll have fewer headaches when you follow these best practices.
Best Practices for WooCommerce Maintenance
- Update Plugins on a Monthly Basis
Like any WordPress plugin, security patches and updates for WooCommerce are released every few months and sometimes with more frequency.
The majority of WooCommerce sites use several WooCommerce plugin add-ons in addition to the core plugin, and each of these also has updates often pending. If you skip these updates for a long period of time, you can risk a security breach on the site or face bugs and issues happening.
Unlike other plugins where you may be able to cross your fingers, click “Update” and hope the site is okay, WooCommerce updates are a different story. The developers of WooCommerce actually recommend performing all updates for WooCommerce plugins in a staging or sandbox area. A staging or sandbox is a place where you can perform testing on a copy of the live site and is available on most hosting platforms.
By performing all plugin updates for a WooCommerce e-commerce site in a staging area first, you have the chance to observe and even fix any potential problems. This reduces the risk of bugs and issues occurring on the live site and impacting traffic. An expert WordPress developer should be doing these updates with their eyes peeled for any issues and fixing or patching problems in the database immediately.
2. Select the Right Hosting Platform
Your hosting server and platform impact a lot of aspects of your website from security to performance.
First, it’s best to use a hosting server that is built for WordPress sites. WordPress sites tend to perform poorly when placed on a shared hosting environment. Second, it’s important to make sure your server can handle the larger database of a WooCommerce site. The more orders and sales that are processed on a website, the more data that needs to be stored in the database.
As the database grows in size, your site will take up more resources on the server. If the server can’t handle your website’s growth, you’ll experience more downtime or slower load times.
As stated previously, it’s better to perform WooCommerce plugin updates in a staging or development environment. So look for a hosting platform that offers a staging or development environment for testing purposes.
3. Set Up 24/7 Security Monitoring
Because of its popularity as a content management system, WordPress has also become one of the top targets of hackers.
Security for WooCommerce sites is a big concern because the data that’s being stored in the website tends to be more important and more sensitive. If an informational or marketing site is hacked, it’s a serious situation but there’s no risk of customer data & confidential info being stolen.
Every WordPress site should have 24/7 security monitoring installed to detect and remove malware on the site. For your hosting server, it’s best to have disk-writing protection on the server level.
Malicious code can embed itself into a website by writing to the file-system when a vulnerability is present in a theme or plugin that leaves the door open for malicious injection. The server environment can limit the processes that can write to disk, so even if you’re using a theme or plugin with a vulnerability, it would be harder for them to be exploited.
4. Configure Daily Backups
No one wants their website to crash, or go down for any reason, yet it’s an issue that can affect anyone. Thankfully it can be easily remedied with security protocols and a full database daily backup taken every single day.
This way if any issues occur, you can restore the site to the previous backup easily. If a security issue occurs on the site and you don’t have a recent backup, you’ll be faced with loss of data or content.
Your development team should be very careful when restoring a backup on a WooCommerce site. If you have an issue on your site today and you decide to restore a backup of the site from several days ago, if you don’t follow the right protocol, you could overwrite & lose the data for any sales orders that occurred between the backup being taken and the day of the issue. In some cases, it’s better to have a development team fix the issue instead of doing a backup restore.
5. Optimize & Monitor Your Database
A common cause of performance issues on a WooCommerce site is having an extremely large database. As mentioned before, the database on WooCommerce e-commerce sites will be larger, usually because there is product & order data stored in the site.
In many cases, you can optimize and reduce the database size of the site without losing any functionality.
First, an expert WordPress developer should review the plugin settings for all plugins installed. Certain plugins, especially an audit plugin, can be configured improperly, resulting in the storage of millions of rows of miscellaneous data in the database.
Next, a developer should perform any database clean up in a sandbox or staging environment to make sure changes do not affect the live site.
Regular database optimization is critical on WooCommerce sites and will reduce the chance of hosting server issues and performance problems.
6. Upgrade to the Latest PHP
WordPress and WooCommerce are built on PHP, which is the most popular server-side programming language. Similar to plugins & themes, there are updates released for the PHP code.
If your WordPress site is not running on the latest version of PHP, you can experience security and performance issues. The latest PHP version as of this publication is PHP 7.3.
The unique thing about updating the PHP on WordPress is that it’s on the server level and you’ll need to involve both your web developer and hosting service in the update process. Before performing the update, a WordPress developer should run PHP compatibility testing on the WordPress site.
PHP compatibility testing is required because plugins & themes installed in the site may not be compatible with the latest PHP. If a plugin isn’t compatible, then areas of your site could break upon the PHP update.
7. Follow Woo Development Best Practices
One of the biggest advantages of WooCommerce is that you can easily expand your e-commerce site by adding plugins and integrations.
Sometimes a completely custom solution is required, but whenever possible, it’s more cost-effective and manageable to use existing WooCommerce solutions. An experienced WordPress developer can guide you through the best options.
Your developer or development team should follow best practices and one of the most important practices on WordPress sites is to refrain from custom coding plugins. If a developer adds customization to a plugin, it may interfere with future updates. Once a new update is released for the plugin or theme, conflicts may arise with the custom code causing breakage.
Unfortunately, not all developers follow this practice and will try to implement more functionality on the site through customizing a plugin. This is a common cause of maintenance problems on Woo sites.
The Benefits of Woo Outweigh the Hassles
Although WooCommerce sites require extra care in terms of hosting, maintenance & security, the huge advantages of the platform outweigh this.
If you invest in a 100% custom e-commerce platform built only for your site, you’ll face the same maintenance issues, but you’ll be dependent on the developer or development team who built the platform.
With WooCommerce, you can utilize a platform that thousands of developers are continuing to improve with new plugins and features. With regular maintenance & security monitoring, you can enjoy the benefits more.
Chris Andujar is the Hosting & Maintenance Manager at TinyFrog Technologies, a full-service web agency specializing in WordPress maintenance & secured hosting and web design & development. Founded in 2003 in San Diego, TinyFrog currently maintains over 600 WordPress websites for businesses nationwide.