Hosting options for WordPress have evolved quite a bit. The old days of the famous “five-minute” install have been replaced with tools that will spin up an instance with a single click. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
As the content management system (CMS) has grown in popularity, hosts have taken notice. These days, several providers are offering their take on “managed” WordPress hosting. The definition of “managed” can vary by host, though.
They range from services that simply come with the app preinstalled to those with specific tweaks aimed at boosting performance. You may also find automated software maintenance, staging environments, or the ability to quickly restore backups.
And things are only becoming more specialized as the market expands. Recently, a bevy of hosts has begun (or announced plans) to offer managed WooCommerce hosting. They’re hoping to capture users of the ecosystem’s most popular eCommerce plugin. Some are also attempting to simplify the process of building a custom online store.
Managed WooCommerce hosting offers an intriguing proposition for both DIY users and web designers. There’s some great potential. But what should we expect from these services? Will they be able to smooth over the pain points of working with Woo?
Let’s explore what managed hosting can and can’t do for WooCommerce.
Helping Store Owners Start Fast
One of the challenges of building a WooCommerce shop is the process of getting started. Typically, it begins with a clean install of WordPress. Next up is installing the base WooCommerce plugin and following its onboarding wizard.
For web designers, perhaps this doesn’t sound so daunting. But consider a store owner that wants to set things up themselves. Every extra click can be a chore – particularly if you haven’t used WordPress before.
Simply having WooCommerce preinstalled makes the process that much simpler. Users don’t have to deal with the ambiguity of finding the plugin, installing it, and activating it. A few precious minutes saved is good for the psyche.
But the complexity doesn’t stop there. Setting up a WooCommerce store requires several important decisions – enough to overwhelm seasoned developers, let alone newbies.
Determining which payment gateway to use and how to handle shipping is among the most difficult. Thus, a managed host that bundles these solutions can make for a more seamless experience. Imagine picking from an available list of options right at signup. From there, the host automatically installs and configures these items before a user has even logged into the dashboard.
There is also the potential to provide users with readymade themes. With the WordPress Site Editor constantly improving, this step can empower non-designers even more. Store owners might add their logo, change some colors around, and be ready to move on in short order.
Simplifying the WooCommerce Update Process
The initial setup is only part of the battle. WooCommerce and its myriad of extensions are constantly being updated. Applying new versions, or even doing so in the wrong order, can cause unexpected results. And we can’t forget about those frequent database updates.
This poses a challenge to anyone responsible for maintenance. Ideally, an experienced developer will be on hand to test things out within a staging environment. But not every store is going to be so lucky.
Managed WooCommerce hosting can help. Applying updates automatically is one way. But blindly doing so as soon as a new version is released could be problematic.
A process that includes automated and manual checks, however, might be an answer. Hosts could scan bug reports and spot potential problems. Security-related updates can be prioritized, while others are placed in a queue and applied once they are deemed compatible.
To satisfy developers, sites would (hopefully) have the ability to opt-out of these features. That way, updates can be applied to match their preferences.
The Piecemeal Approach of WooCommerce Extensions Remains
Browse the WooCommerce Extensions Store and you’ll find a dizzying array of plugins. And that doesn’t include what’s available on the WordPress.org plugin repository or elsewhere on the web.
There are so many plugins. They enhance WooCommerce functionality in ways large and small. Many have a cost attached (which is completely acceptable, by the way).
Hosting providers can and do bundle extensions with their services. Some even own a suite of plugins to offer store owners. And this can help to some degree.
But even a robust offering can’t account for every use case. The reality is that a default installation of WooCommerce is rarely enough. That’s because online stores are unique and fill a variety of niches. There is no one-size-fits-all approach – even when bundling a few popular extensions.
Therefore, store owners are still likely to have to spend beyond their initial expectations. Along the way, they’ll experience clunky subscription setups in a scattered marketplace.
Those of us experienced in building WooCommerce sites understand that this is part of the deal. But it’s unlikely the average user will have prior knowledge.
How managed hosting plans are presented is vital. Managed hosts often market themselves as one-stop solutions. But any such claims here can lead to misunderstandings. With that, messaging should probably focus on helping customers get started quickly, rather than fulfilling their every need.
A Niche Market Worth Exploring
Managed WooCommerce hosting makes a lot of sense. The plugin and its surrounding ecosystem are complex. Throw in the other challenges that WordPress presents and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Anything hosts can do to simplify the setup, deployment, and maintenance of an eCommerce store is welcome. This will help WooCommerce hold off competitors such as Shopify, who offer a more integrated experience.
Success will likely come to the providers that solve the most pain points. Those that make it easy to get started, offer a wide variety of bundled extensions, and reduce the number of difficult decisions have the best opportunity. The old standbys of value, performance, and support will also play key roles.
And if such hosting plans catch on, it wouldn’t be surprising to see providers tackle other niches. Use cases such as membership sites, online publications, or non-profits could become mainstream.
WordPress is the center of a vast universe. As it matures, it seems only natural that specialized offerings are starting to saturate the market. It will be fascinating to see how the community responds.