CDN, also known as “distribution networks,” offers several points of presence (PoP) outside the origin server. This enables websites to better manage traffic by handling user requests more quickly, providing an overall better experience.
In short, you’re using a CDN every time you visit a high-traffic site such as Amazon or catch up with your friends on Facebook. Their data centers keep allows to bring such content much more quickly regardless of the geographic location of individual users or the main website server.
By spreading the delivery systems out over a large area, websites can reduce bandwidth consumption and page load times, shaving precious seconds off the time it takes to handle multiple user requests.
What Is an Origin Server?
An origin server is a computer that hosts the original version of your web files. Without a CDN, your site visitors will need to request information and receive the response directly from your site’s primary source.
If each request has to return to your origin server, your website’s workload will increase. Furthermore, the farther the distance between the end-user and an origin server, the longer that user will have to wait for a page to load.
That’s why using a CDN can help to decrease latency as it reduces the number of networks that must be crossed by a request and its response in reaching the final destination.
A CDN can also protect the origin server from DDoS attacks or other online threats by masking the origin server and proxies requests from visitors, making the primary source practically invisible.
What Is a CDN Edge Server?
An edge server is a computer that can cache content retrieved from an origin server. It’s located in one of the points of presence, which are physical data centers spread worldwide.
CDN edge servers serve as connections between separate networks, allowing traffic to flow quickly and efficiently from one location to another.
To reduce the workload on an origin server and decrease the distance between a visitor and a web server, a CDN edge server stores content in strategic locations as close to the visitor as possible.
As a result, visitors experience better performance and faster load times since they’re actually requesting content from a geographically closer server.
That being said, origin servers will also be less likely to experience performance degradation when there is a sudden increase in your site’s traffic.
How Does a CDN Work?
Requests are handled by whatever network server is closest to the device that made the query. By caching data and spreading multiple requests for the same information over a network rather than a single web server, the traffic load becomes much more balanced. This eliminates problems such as page speed, browser crashes, and service disruptions.
How a CDN might benefit you personally depends on the size of your site, its location relative to your core traffic source, and the amount of traffic generated. For example, a local business with a physical location that serves one small geographic area won’t benefit much from a CDN.
However, if you’re an eCommerce business owner who needs a wider reach, or your website generates heavy traffic from diverse locations, then a fast, efficient CDN will help you retain your competitive edge.
There are four main benefits of using CDN servers. Each of these builds on the other to help mitigate the problems of managing complicated pieces of content and servicing high-volume traffic.
Effective content distribution networks should accomplish the following four things:
Reducing Bandwidth Consumption
One of the biggest expenses with some hosting services is bandwidth. Conserving the amount of bandwidth it takes to handle your traffic by multiplying your points of presence keeps your costs low.
This is achieved through optimization tools such as caching, which places data into temporary storage on different computers or mobile devices for ease of access.
Increased Overall Speed and Performance
One of the biggest contributors to high bounce rates is latency. This is the increased time it takes to transfer information from the source to the use and vice versa. It’s usually caused by:
Delays in reading files due to blocked storage
Setbacks in data processing from the server
Type of data transmission, such as a fiber-optic network versus coaxial cables
Propagation, or the speed at which data travels from one node to another
Many of these issues can be solved, or at least heavily reduced, by using an effective delivery network.
When all of the data transfer is conducted from a single server, it increases your vulnerability to malicious events like denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and other vulnerabilities.
In short, DDoS attacks are coordinated requests for information that are conducted from multiple locations and users at an appointed time; they can also be deployed automatically through bots. The purpose of this is to cause the server to crash due to traffic overloads. This is done by means of a threat such as extortion and blackmailing or just for the sake of making mischief.
DDoS attacks can continue for hours or even days, making the website inaccessible to legitimate traffic. Using DDoS filters and spreading queries over several locations helps prevent artificially created traffic explosions.
You can even use your CDN to keep hackers out and protect your sensitive data. This is achievable because CDNs continually refresh TLS/SSL certificates, providing higher authentication and encryption standards. They also deflect traffic away from your original server to proxies.
Better Content Distribution
Heavy traffic loads and hardware malfunction results in more downtime that most websites simply can’t afford. By distributing the traffic over multiple content delivery systems, your infrastructure and servers will have a less burden to carry.
Here are some examples who can benefit from a CDN the most:
eCommerce. Websites such as these usually get heavier loads of traffic and need to handle requests from many different locations. However, if the site fails to provide the information required at a glance, countless opportunities can be missed. By efficiently distributing its content and delivering a faster response, CDN can prevent spikes in web traffic, avoiding unwanted crashes on the server.
Advertising. Online businesses rely heavily on multimedia-based ads – they can be both simple and innovative, yet more effective than traditional methods of advertising. However, these types of ads also require more resources, which can result in poor website loading times. The slower the site, the more customers abandon it. Advertising businesses need CDN to solve this problem as it stores cache content closer to the end-user, making the content load much faster. If the minimum load time can be maintained, the performance of the website will be better.
Online gaming. If advertising needs high resources for content, video games need even more resources. This is one of the biggest challenges for the online gaming industry – to keep delivering the best services possible to the largest amount of people around the world. CDN technology enables online games to have “push zones” where game developers can store large amounts of data on CDN servers, which means that the need to request data directly from the origin server is put at its lowest.
Entertainment. Content is the heart of the media and entertainment industry. From such streaming services like Netflix or Spotify to other media outlets, the content that they offer attracts millions of people every day. Such services need to have a solid strategy for distributing their content to keep their websites running perfectly no matter where someone is trying to access it.
Frequently Asked Questions for CDN
Here is some additional information about CDNs you might want to know:
What’s the Difference Between Pull and Push CDNs?
Some CDN providers give the option to pick between a pull or push zone, and choosing one depends on many factors and priorities.
For example, a pull zone works by “pulling” site content from the nearest edge server and is the most common method to be used.
Users can leave their content on the server with a pull zone and rewrite the URLs so that it would point to the CDN. When someone asks for a specific file, the CDN will first go to the original server, “pull” the file for the end-user, and cache that file when someone else wishes to download it.
This method is suitable for sites that receive a great deal of traffic since content remains relatively stable, and the traffic will be spread out evenly.
However, a pull zone can, at some points, work more slowly. For example, visitors who’ll try to access the file for the first time or try to download it after it has expired might notice a small difference in speed.
Meanwhile, the push zone requires data to be uploaded to the CDN storage cloud since there is no existing source where the content was stored.
This method requires users to be themselves responsible for providing content to the CDN, “pushing” it to the server. They can specify the content that is uploaded, when it expires, and when it is going to be updated.
With that in mind, a push zone is recommended for minimal traffic sites – the content is pushed to the CDN once and left there until changes are needed.
Does CDN Work With Mobile Devices?
Yes. CDNs work with any desktop or mobile device that can be connected to the Internet. All of the processes are conducted from the source, not on the user end.
How Can a CDN Speed Up My Website?
There are three ways of how CDN can increase your site’s load times and overall speed:
It distributes and stores diverse content types like images, text, and rich media files for faster access.
Reduces bandwidth by serving content from several locations rather than pushing it all out from one server.
Handles traffic spikes during peak times without disrupting the service.
Is CDN Safe to Use?
Security is one of the most important factors when it comes to CDN. Therefore your data is encrypted when being transferred from one endpoint to another. DDoS mitigation is also a significant concern when it comes to website security. Since information is stored on multiple data center locations, it reduces the chances servers from being overwhelming if such an attack does occur.
Is CDN the Same as a Hosting Service?
CDNs don’t host websites, but they can improve website performance of hosted servers by utilizing caching and other optimization methods to conserve bandwidth. Using a CDN can also improve website speed and prevent problems like connection disruptions, lax security, and slow content delivery.
Content distribution networks can even work hand in hand with your hosting service provider. While one provides you with a platform to host your main website, CDN, on the other hand, provides the proxies to distribute it more efficiently.
What Types of Websites Can Benefit from a CDN?
Any form of B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer) website that has a larger user base outside of their immediate geographic location can benefit from a CDN. They’re also helpful for bloggers and websites that have a high traffic volume.
What’s Static and Dynamic Content?
Static content is any web file that stays the same every time it’s delivered to the user. It rarely changes and doesn’t depend on user preferences. This type of content is usually stored in a CDN server, making it faster to process, cache, and deliver.
On the other side, dynamic content changes based on user behavior or other variables, such as their time of visit, device, location, etc.
A web page with dynamic content won’t look the same for everyone, making it more personalized and interactive. eCommerce websites and social media platforms are some of the more prominent examples of sites with this kind of content.
However, unlike static content, dynamic content isn’t stored on a server. Instead, it uses server-side scripts to generate an HTML file in real-time and then send it to the user’s web browser. That’s why dynamic content is usually served from an origin server, not an edge server.
CDN and VPN – What’s the Difference?
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) shield the user’s identity and use a range of servers in different locations to get around geographical and other restrictions on certain types of content.
Content delivery networks speed delivery of information by sending and storing website content over a network of servers, allowing website visitors to access web pages from the closest available source. However, both provide additional layers of security for your website.
How to Choose a CDN?
Just like any other type of service provider, not all CDNs offer the same level of service, benefits, or functionality.
Some CDN services are free, while some offer both additional premium services. Cloudflare is one of such a web-security company, known to be one of the most reliable content delivery network services available today. That is why we offer free Cloudflare services with all of our customers.
A few key elements to consider when looking for a CDN service are your budget and requirements, and that includes anticipated needs in the case of future growth.
In order to answer this question further, here’s a list of features any good CDN should have:
Push or pull functionality. Web owners should decide which caching method would best suit their type of website.
Origin shield services. This feature acts as an additional caching layer between an origin server and the CDN edge servers, which reduces the overall workload the primary source has to make.
Logging features. It allows users to search, store, analyze, and monitor the logging data and events from a CDN provider.
Cache-control. This HTTP cache header allows users to determine how or when a resource should be cached alongside its expiration time.
Customization capabilities. You should pick a service that allows you to modify a CDN to suit your needs. For instance, some CDN providers give their users access to customize their asset delivery, SEO, security measures, and mobile experience.
DDoS protection. Though a CDN can hide your origin’s IP address, you still need an additional layer of security to divert network-layer attacks, preventing hackers from potentially breaking into your website.
HTTP/2 support. Ensure that a CDN supports HTTPS, which is much more secure and provides faster web performance than the regular HTTP protocol.
Diagnostics, analytics, and reporting. These tools are necessary to monitor an origin server’s overall health, optimize your CDN configuration, etc.
Geo-filtering. Specify specific paths on your CDN endpoint and determine rules to restrict certain content based on location.
If you want to maintain your level of service as you grow your web presence, a reliable, scalable content delivery network is a worthy investment.
In this article, we’ve learned all about what is CDN and how does it work, alongside some questions that might’ve needed a more in-depth explanation.
If you have any more CDN-related questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment down below.]]>
Shopify vs WordPress: which is best? This is a question a lot of startups find themselves asking, and in this post I’m going tackle it in depth.
Read on for a full examination of both platforms and their key features; and the reasons why you might choose one of them over the other when building an e-commerce website.
By the end of this comparison, you should have a much better idea of which platform will serve your business’ needs best.
Let’s start with a quick overview of both platforms.
What is Shopify?
Shopify is a web application that has been specifically designed to allow merchants build and launch their own online store.
It provides a range of templates that can be customised to meet individual businesses’ branding requirements, and it allows both physical and digital goods to be sold.
One of the key ideas behind Shopify is that users without any technical or design skills can create a store themselves — without resorting to coding. However, Shopify also allows you to edit the HTML and CSS of your website, which means that those who do have coding skills will be able to customize their stores more extensively.
Because Shopify is a ‘hosted’ solution, everything runs on Shopify’s servers. So, you don’t need to worry about buying web hosting or installing software anywhere; the idea is that pretty much everything you need to build and run your store happens ‘out of the box’ (that said, you can customise a Shopify store to meet more bespoke requirements through the addition of apps — more on which later).
Shopify is a software as a service (‘SaaS’) tool – this means that you don’t own a copy of the software, but pay a monthly fee to use it instead. Being a web application, it runs in the cloud; this means that as long as you have access to a web browser and the internet, you can manage your store from anywhere.
What is WordPress?
There are two different versions of WordPress available:
Hosted WordPress — available at wordpress.com — is, like Shopify, a software as a service (SaaS) tool. You pay a monthly fee and you get access to a broad range of features which enable you to build and maintain a website.
It’s less of an ‘all-in-one’ solution than Shopify however, as users need to use third party tools like Cozmot, Woocommerce (or indeed Shopify!) to add e-commerce features to it.
Self-hosted WordPress is a piece of software that you download from wordpress.org and then install on your own web server. It’s open-source, meaning that the code behind it is freely available and may be easily tweaked.
In practice, this means that sites built with WordPress can be customized to the nth degree — it’s an extremely flexible tool that, in the hands of the right website developer, or via the installation of the right plugins, can be adapted to meet the requirements of nearly any web design project.
You can install WordPress on your server for free, but there are hosting costs, domain registration charges and potential plugin / development costs to consider. We’ll discuss all this in more depth later on in this post.
This Shopify vs WordPress comparison is going to focus on the self-hosted version of WordPress.
What sort of users are Shopify and WordPress aimed at?
It’s probably fair to say that Shopify’s target audience is users without web development skills — this might be people who have a good idea for a product, and simply want to sell it online, or owners of retail stores in physical locations who want to extend their business to selling online.
Those types of users often turn to Shopify precisely because it aims to allow anyone to use the platform to make their own online store – quickly, and without needing to code at all.
WordPress by contrast caters for two groups of users — web design novices AND developers.
Like Shopify, WordPress is suitable for users who are relatively new to web design, and not particularly tech-savvy; it is certainly possible to create and maintain a WordPress site without needing any coding skills, particularly if you’re happy to use a ‘visual editor’ interface for WordPress like Divi. Users who don’t want to go near any HTML or CSS can definitely avoid doing so with WordPress.
I’d argue however that in most cases, more configuration of WordPress is needed before you can publish a website; and that depending on what you want to do, setting up a WordPress site can involve a steeper learning curve than Shopify.
The second audience that WordPress caters for is users who have loads of web development experience. These users can work with the platform to pretty much build any sort of website, and host it anywhere they like.
Although it is possible to modify Shopify in a lot of ways (through coding or the addition of apps), there are more limits to what you can do, and you are always going to have to host your site on Shopify’s servers.
How many people use WordPress and Shopify?
When choosing a website building solution, it’s really important to get a sense of how many people use it to create their sites or online stores.
This is because generally speaking, if a particular platform has a large userbase, you will find that there are far more support options, resources and apps / plugins available for it online. There will also be a smaller chance of it ‘disappearing’ and taking your website with it!
The latter issue is particularly important for users who are considering using a fully hosted solution like Shopify – such companies can and do encounter financial difficulties, and can close product lines as a result (the disappearance of Magento Go is a well-known example of this).
A large userbase minimizes the risk of this.
The good news is that WordPress and Shopify both enjoy a lot of popularity and have large userbases. Depending on who you believe on the internet, there are 75-90 million self-hosted WordPress sites in existence; and according to Shopify, the platform powers over 1,000,000 stores.
Given these numbers, WordPress is technically the safer bet in the longevity stakes, but Shopify is one of the most popular products of its kind and it is unlikely that it is going anywhere anytime soon.
This means that you can have confidence in building an online presence for your business using either Shopify or WordPress.
Pricing: how much does it cost to use Shopify and WordPress?
Plus: negotiable, but starting at $2000 per month.
There is also a free Shopify trial available, which in the light of the coronavirus crisis has temporarily been extended to 90 days (this is notably longer than the trials currently available from competing products). You can check this free trial out here.
As you might expect, the features you get access to on each Shopify plan vary according to the one you’re on, but a few key differences are as follows:
The ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed a Shopify ‘buy button’ on an existing site, or sell via Facebook, but you don’t get a standalone, fully functional store on this plan.
Phone support is only supported on the $29 and higher plans.
Credit card fees and transaction fees decrease as the monthly plans become more expensive.
Full point-of-sale functionality (which lets you use Shopify to sell in physical locations — market stalls, retail outlets etc.) is only available on the more expensive plans (‘Shopify’ or higher).
The ‘Shopify Plus’ plan is an enterprise grade plan aimed at larger organisations, or those with more advanced requirements regarding APIs, server uptime and support.
For a more detailed breakdown on the differences in costs and features, please see our article on Shopify fees.
It’s harder to say how much a WordPress site costs to build – that’s because there are quite a lot of variables involved.
A common misconception is that WordPress is an entirely free solution, but that’s not really the case. Although you can get the content management system (CMS) software for free, there are other things you’ll often need to pay for to get a WordPress-powered website off the ground, namely:
hosting — server space on which to install WordPress and store your site
a template — the design for your site
e-commerce integration addition of tools that will let you sell products online
plugins — apps that can be added to your site to add more functionality
And of course, depending on your ambitions or technical skills, you may also need to pay for a developer to assist you with the build.
The one thing you’ll always have to pay for with WordPress hosting: without it you have nowhere to install WordPress. There are a wide range of options available on this front, but the basic choice you’ll have to make is:
whether you’d like to use a general-purpose or ‘shared hosting’ company (for example, Cozmot Server) or
a ‘managed WordPress’ hosting provider (for example WP Engine) that specialises exclusively in WordPress hosting.
Managed WordPress hosting will usually give you a faster and more secure website, but it does come at a price.
For a small to medium-sized project it’s probably fair to say that you’d be looking at costs of between $4 for shared hosting (based on Cozmot Server costs) per month, which compares favourably to the $25-30 per month cost you could expect for managed WordPress hosting (based on WP Engine costs).
Shared hosting should generally be fine for smaller projects, but corporate users will probably want to go down the managed WordPress hosting route.
With regard to the other factors, you can technically get away with using a free template, e-commerce integration, and plugins — but realistically, to get higher quality results it’s usually worth investing a bit in your site and going for paid-for options.
Below you’ll find some figures which demonstrate some costs you might expect if you were building your site yourself:
Annual hosting, using managed WordPress hosting from WP Engine as an example: $300 (recurring cost)
Premium theme: $175
Annual cost for e-commerce integration (using Cozmot CRM as an example): $180 (recurring cost)
4 paid-for plugins: $100
If you were to use a developer to help you configure, build and maintain your site, you’d have significantly higher costs (but in all likelihood would be getting a better product).
In terms of how these sorts of costs compare to using Shopify, again we’re looking at a ‘how long is a piece of string’ scenario. But let’s try to come up with some examples!
At the lower end of the pricing scale, assuming you’re using the Shopify $29 ‘Basic plan’ plus one $10-per-month app, you’d be talking about a $468 annual commitment.
At the higher end of things, if you were on the Shopify $299-per-month plan, and using three $10 per month apps, you could end up spending $3948 per year on your site.
If your needs are simple then, using Shopify can actually work out cheaper than using WordPress, despite it being a paid-for option and WordPress being an open source one. But equally, it can work out a lot more expensive!
The only way to work out which is more economical for you in the long run is to make a clear list of all your requirements and price them up for each platform as best as you can.
Pricing, however, should not be the only thing you think about in your WordPress vs Shopify decision-making process. It’s just as important to look at functionality and features.
Let’s do that now.
Quantity and quality
A key concern of anyone building an online store is: how professional will my site look?
Well, Shopify offers a classy set of templates – there are 8 free ones, and 64 paid-for ones available on the Shopify theme store (most of which come in 2 or 3 variants, making the numbers of templates available larger than the above figures suggest).
All these templates are professionally designed, easily edited and responsive (meaning they’ll display nicely on any type of device – mobile, tablet, desktop etc.).
With these templates, you can be pretty confident of solid support (either from Shopify in the case of the free templates, or a Shopify-approved supplier in the case of the paid-for ones).
However, the number of Shopify templates available pales in comparison to the huge number of templates available for WordPress. Although it’s hard to put a precise figure on the number of WordPress themes in existence, we can confidently talk about thousands, both free and paid-for. (You can buy WordPress templates from stores such as Template Monster).
Because the Shopify product is designed very much with non-technical users in mind, it’s probably fair to say that the Shopify templates are a little bit easier to customise, but tweaking a (well-constructed) WordPress template shouldn’t involve that much of a learning curve either.
For me, WordPress is ultimately the winner in a template shoot-out — the sheer quantity of themes available ensures most users will have plenty of high quality options to choose from.
This wide choice does present a couple of downsides however. First, it will be harder to choose a template; and second, you need to ensure that you are getting a ‘safe’ one.
Getting a ‘safe’ template means sourcing it from a reputable source — some WordPress templates contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site.
This is not something you really need to worry about at all with Shopify templates, so long as you buy your template from the official Shopify theme store. (If buying elsewhere, the health warning about malicious code applies here too of course).
Behaviour / performance on mobile
All officially-supported Shopify templates are responsive, meaning that they will all adjust themselves automatically so that they display nicely on any device.
In this day and age, it isn’t at all hard to locate a responsive WordPress template, but you will need to double check its suitability across devices before installing it: there are still a number of templates kicking around which aren’t suitable for all devices.
You can also use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on both Shopify and WordPress. AMP is a Google-backed project which drastically speeds up the loading of your pages on mobile devices by stripping out certain bits of code; using it gives your content a speed bump and can improve its visibility in search results.
To get AMP functionality working on both platforms though, you’ll need to install a third-party app (Shopify) or plugin (WordPress). With Shopify, this means installing something like RocketAmp; various plugin options exist for WordPress.
One nice aspect using a Shopify AMP app like RocketAmp is that you can be confident that it will display all your content in AMP format when necessary – i.e., not just static pages and blog posts but product pages too.
With WordPress, whether or not you can get product pages to display in AMP format will depend on the both the e-commerce and AMP plugins used.
Let’s take a look now at ease of use.
Interface and ease of use
The basic layouts of the Shopify and WordPress interfaces are similar enough, in that the left-hand side of the screen is used to host a menu from which you can select pieces of content to edit or settings to tweak. Shopify’s is arguably slightly more contemporary and ‘clean’ in appearance.
Both platforms also take a similar approach when it comes to editing and publishing content – you locate your content and edit it in the back end; you can then preview or publish it.
This differs from the approach taken by some other platforms – notably Squarespace – which display a more instant or real-time view of your edits (this is because such platforms allow you to work ‘on page’, with your changes being displayed in situ and in real time).
However, you can use visual editor plugins in WordPress to help you create a design and content management environment which operates in a similar fashion; this may appeal to people who are relatively new to web design (and is not something you can yet do with Shopify).
The thing to watch out for here though is ‘bloat’ — some of the visual editors for WordPress can slow down your website by adding unnecessary or badly-written code to proceedings (this in turn can have a negative impact on SEO and usability).
Shopify’s interface is very intuitive for anyone interested in building and managing an online store – and this shouldn’t come as a surprise: the platform has been designed with that purpose in mind. You can manage products, collections and sales channels with ease.
It’s hard to make a direct comparison with WordPress in this front, because in order to sell products, you will need to make use of a third party plugin such as Ecwid, Woocommerce, or WP E-Commerce. We’ll discuss these in more depth later on in the review.
Content management in Shopify and WordPress
When it comes to management of static pages and posts, I’d argue that WordPress beats Shopify fairly comprehensively. There are two main reasons for this.
First, and very importantly, WordPress comes with content versioning — every single version of a page or post can be stored on the system and you can roll back to any of them at any point. Shopify doesn’t let you do this.
Second, WordPress allows you to use categories and tags in a much more flexible way than Shopify (you can also create your own custom content types in WordPress). This allows you to present your site content in more relevant ways to users, who can also filter it more easily to meet their needs.
When it comes to content management of the e-commerce side of things, again it’s hard to make a direct comparison between Shopify and WordPress. This is because e-commerce is not available ‘out of the box’ with WordPress, so how the two platforms stack up against each other in this regard will depend on the e-commerce app you choose to power WordPress (more on this decision shortly).
What it is possible to say is that managing products and collections is very straightforward in Shopify. Because it’s a dedicated e-commerce application, a lot of thought has been put into this, and it shows.
And worth a particular mention are Shopify’s ‘automated collections’ – these allow you to use rules (based on things like product title, price, tag etc.) to create collections. This can save HOURS of time (or days if we’re talking about a large store).
Of the two products under discussion, WordPress is definitely the more flexible of the two. It’s been around longer and is much more widely used as a platform than Shopify, meaning that the number of templates, plugins and integrations for the platform dwarf what’s available for Shopify.
Additionally, the open source nature of the platform and the fact that you have total control over your own hosting means that WordPress can be manipulated to create bespoke websites more easily than Shopify.
That said, Shopify’s app store contains an impressive number of apps (there are over 3,200 available) which allow you to significantly extend the functionality of a site built on the platform. You also get access to your store’s CSS and HTML on all $29+ plans. For most users, this will be more than enough flexibility; and for more advanced or corporate level users, it’s likely that the enterprise-grade Shopify Plus plans will meet their requirements.
E-commerce functionality in Shopify and WordPress
Many readers of this comparison review will be looking specifically at how WordPress and Shopify compare in the e-commerce functionality department.
And frustratingly, it’s difficult to come up with definitive advice on this. This is because – and as discussed earlier – WordPress doesn’t have an e-commerce tool built-in. You have to use a third-party option.
You could argue that this gives Shopify an immediate advantage when it comes to e-commerce, because it’s a dedicated online store builder, and accordingly pretty much everything you need to get your store up and running is provided out of the box.
For a full overview of all the e-commerce functionality you get with Shopify, I’d suggest reading our dedicated Shopify review.
But for the purposes of this comparison, I’ll just say that Shopify is one of the most solid, fully-specced options out there for building an online store (particularly if you intend to dropship goods); and that my key reservations are that
if you intend to sell products that come with a lot of options, Shopify is not as flexible as it could be — although you can sell an unlimited number of products, each can only come in 100 variants and with a maximum 3 options (that said, apps do exist which remove these limits)
capturing custom data via non-standard fields (for inscriptions, messages etc.) is not terribly straightforward
quite often in Shopify, you have to buy a third party app to get the functionality you need.
Whilst Shopify is definitely the better ‘all-in-one’ e-ccomerce option, the e-commerce options are ultimately more extensive with WordPress, because you have much greater choice regarding the exact technical solution used for online selling.
To add e-commerce to a WordPress site, you need to use a third-party plugin. Some of the best known include:
Unfortunately, with the exception of Cozmot, we don’t have reviews of all these products available just yet. So, if you’re going down the WordPress route, it will be a case of trying to do your own research online to work out which is the best fit for you.
To help you with this though, here are a few key questions to consider during this process:
Is the pricing of this solution competitive?
Is it easy to use?
What payment gateways can I use with it?
How many product variants and options can I use?
What are the SEO features like?
Does it facilitate point-of-sale transactions?
Does it facilitate selling in multiple currencies?
Does it facilitate AMP on product pages?
Is there a mobile app available for it?
For the record, Shopify scores highly on all these fronts – with the exception of product variants and options (which as discussed above are a bit limited, although you can use an app from Shopify’s app store to increase flexibility on this front).
Shopify’s multi-currency selling features could also be a bit better — unless you’re on a Shopify Plus plan, you’re in all likelihood going to need to make use of a multi-currency app to facilitate this properly.
Of course, there’s always the option of using Shopify as your e-commerce solution for WordPress – its $9 per month ‘Lite’ plan allows you to embed products and a simple shopping cart system on an existing WordPress site.
SEO for WordPress and Shopify
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is vital to the performance of any website.
Without good visibility in search results, you can’t really expect much in the way of traffic or sales. Yes, you can use Adwords to drive traffic to your site, but a decent placement in organic search results is in most cases vital to the long-term success of an online business.
If we’re dealing with general content (static pages and posts), I’d argue that WordPress is definitely the winner in the SEO department in a WordPress vs Shopify shootout.
For a start, WordPress allows you to install Yoast, one of the best SEO tools available. This tool analyses your content in some depth from an SEO perspective, and outputs a list of key steps you can take to improve the quality of your pages and posts.
On top of that, it allows you to create SEO friendly sitemaps and set canonical URLs to avoid duplicate content (something Google very much approves of).
WordPress is also better for creating clean URLs (short, simple URL structures that Google likes).
And because a WordPress site can be hosted on any server, you can choose a super-fast one; you aren’t restricted to the shared hosting on Shopify (which, whilst perfectly acceptable from a speed point of view, is not necessarily the fastest available). ‘Page speed’ is important because it’s a ranking signal, with faster-loading sites given preference in search results.
How good the e-commerce SEO side of things is on WordPress, however, depends very much on your chosen e-commerce solution. When you’re deciding which solution to go for, the key things to watch out for in my view on this front are:
How editable the titles, meta descriptions and alt text are on your product pages
How ‘clean’ you can make the product page URLs
How fast your product pages load
Whether or not you can use AMP to display products
You should ensure that whichever plugin you use to handle e-commerce on your WordPress site is robust with regard to all of these.
Turning to Shopify, the SEO features are generally strong. Using SSL is straightforward; editing alt tags and meta descriptions is a simple process; XML sitemaps are created for you; 301 redirects are automatically created / suggested every time you change a page name…all really good stuff.
Although you can’t use Yoast on Shopify sites, there are quite a lot of SEO plugins available which perform a similar function.
My main reservation regarding Shopify SEO is that you can’t get the URLs quite as ‘clean’ as you might like. This is because the platform adds prefixes to them, i.e.,
It’s not ideal, but it’s not a showstopper either, and Shopify stores are perfectly capable of ranking well despite this.
Note: for more in-depth information on SEO, I recommend reading our Shopify SEO tips for Shopify-specific advice, or downloading our full guide to SEO to gain a full understanding of the topic.
Blogging in WordPress and Shopify
Blogging is an often overlooked — but vitally important — aspect of running an online store.
This is because blogging is absolutely essential to successful inbound marketing – a sales strategy where you use quality blog posts to drive traffic to your site, which in turn generate purchases made by engaged readers.
Both WordPress and Shopify provide blogging functionality, with WordPress’ being significantly better.
This is because WordPress:
allows you to keep an archive of changes to existing posts
allows you to use categories and tags in blog posts (Shopify just permits use of tags)
permits the creation of posts with clean URLs (as discussed above, Shopify prefixes blog posts with ‘/posts/’ which isn’t as clean as we might like and thus not 100% ideal from an SEO point of view).
WordPress’ edge in this area isn’t surprising really, as the platform has a long history as a professional blogging solution.
Let’s turn now to the issues of site maintenance and security.
WHILE YOU’RE HERE…
We offer both WordPress web design and Shopify store development services — depending on the project, we can either assist you with your build or put you in touch with a specialist who can help.
Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information on how we can get your website project off the ground in a professional and cost-effective way.
A core part of running an online business is email marketing — creating and sending e-newsletters to your mailing list is vital to generating sales.
To this end, Shopify have recently introduced a new feature, ‘Shopify Email,’ which allows you to perform email marketing directly within the Shopify interface.
As things stand, this is a pretty basic email marketing tool, which simply allows you to send branded e-newsletters; in other words, don’t expect Mailchimp or Getresponse style automation features just yet. But it will definitely come in handy for some merchants, particularly those who like to manage all aspects of their online business in one place.
The best thing about the new Shopify Email feature is its price. Until October 2020, it’s entirely free, and after that you can email up to 2500 subscribers as part of your Shopify plan. If you go over that limit, you can expect to pay an additional $1 for every 1,000 subscribers.
This makes the pricing very reasonable by comparison to a lot of standalone email marketing tools; however, you will need to bear in mind that a dedicated email marketing solution will currently provide you with a LOT more functionality.
As for WordPress, you won’t find any built-in email marketing tools available for the platform at the moment. But it’s easy to connect any of the major email marketing solutions to it, via a variety of plugins.
Site maintenance and security
Other than keeping content and products up to date, Shopify users don’t have to worry too much about site maintenance. All the technical aspects of running a website (software updates, hosting, server configuration etc.) are taken care of by the company.
With WordPress, it’s a completely different story: you are in charge of ensuring that
you’re using the most up-to-date version of WordPress
your server has been configured correctly
your plugins and themes are all up to date.
Although some of this can be handled automatically, it’s still something you need to keep an eye on: if you end up with an out of date version of the WordPress software or a plugin, your site is much more vulnerable to being hacked into.
With hosted solutions like Shopify, the bulk of the responsibility for security lies with the companies who provide them.
In other words, if you’re a Shopify user, it’s in large part Shopify’s responsibility to ensure that their system doesn’t get compromised, your site doesn’t get hacked and backups of your data are made. You obviously have a responsibility to create strong passwords and not share them with others, but the technical side of security is essentially Shopify’s problem.
With WordPress, if you’re not paying a developer or agency to maintain your site, then the ultimate responsibility for security belongs to the end user: you!
This means it’s your responsibility to ensure that your version of WordPress is up to date, along with any plugins or themes you are using. Failure to keep on top of this aspect of site maintenance can make a WordPress site extremely vulnerable to being hacked (which can have very serious implications if you are operating in the e-commerce sphere).
You’ve also got to be aware that some WordPress themes and plugins can contain malicious code which can compromise the security of your site, so you need to be very careful about which ones you install.
And finally, you’ve got to ensure that you’re regularly backing up your site (various plugins are available to help automate this process for you).
Support with WordPress maintenance and security
If you are thinking about going down the WordPress route and want to make sure your site is set up correctly, or have an existing WordPress site that you’d like to perform a security audit on, do get in touch. We partner with some excellent developers who can ensure your site is extremely robust from a security point of view. You can contact us here.
In short, I think it’s fair to say that Shopify sites are ultimately less vulnerable than WordPress ones, simply because there’s less scope for users to neglect security on their site or add dodgy code to it. And if something does go wrong, then Shopify’s team have a responsibility to help resolve the problem.
Finally, a quick note about SSL: a free SSL certificate is provided with all Shopify site, meaning that your visitors are browsing your site on a secure connection. You can of course install SSL certificates on WordPress sites too — but again, it’s your responsibility to sort that out.
Control over your content
If you use WordPress, what you put on your site is, generally speaking, entirely up to you. If you use Shopify, you’ll need to be aware that Shopify can remove content (or even your whole site) if it conflicts with their acceptable use policies.
Admittedly, a company that you’ve paid to host your WordPress site with could also take your site down if it didn’t like what you were publishing — but in that scenario, you would have more options: you could move to a more liberal hosting provider, for example.
On a related note, it’s easier to get content out of WordPress than it is from Shopify, thanks to built-in export tools that facilitate the export and backup of content.
In Shopify, although you can export your product data easily (to CSV format), you can’t migrate static pages and blog posts – you have to manually copy and paste these somewhere…which feels rather antiquated. (That said, there are paid-for apps available from Shopify’s app store which do provide workarounds).
WordPress ultimately gives users more control over their content than Shopify, and depending on the nature and size of your site, this issue should not be overlooked.
GDPR compliance in Shopify and WordPress
I’m not a legal professional, so please note that the below comments on the topic of GDPR do not constitute legal advice — they just reflect my take on the situation regarding GDPR for website owners.
As a result of the GDPR laws introduced in May 2018, building a website now involves meeting a lot of new legal requirements regarding data protection and privacy for EU visitors to it.
There are quite a lot of these requirements to be met — so it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer regarding what to do — however, for me there are probably four particularly important boxes for website owners to tick off:
Always process and store data securely
Provide appropriate website terms and conditions, privacy policies and cookie notices
Get explicit consent from people signing up to mailing lists via your website that it is okay to send them e-newsletters
Provide a means to opt in or revoke consent to use of non-essential cookies on a website (with that consent being logged).
Shopify lets you the meet the first three requirements easily enough. Because it is a hosted, paid-for solution, the secure data processing and capture aspect seems to be Shopify’s responsibility (although as a business owner, you still have an obligation to ensure that any data captured via Shopify is done so legally).
Adding privacy and cookie policies to a Shopify site is straightforward too, but bear in mind that you will need to invest some time and money writing GDPR-kosher notices. Similarly, you’ll have to spend a bit of time ensuring that you build data capture forms that are GDPR compliant.
For the fourth requirement, Shopify isn’t so great. It doesn’t come with a GDPR compliant cookie notice generator, so you will invariably need to invest in a suitable app from Shopify’s app store or use a third-party tool like Cookie Pro to create a cookie banner. Depending on the size of your site, this can add to your monthly bill quite a bit, or involve quite a lot of setup time.
In my view, cookie consent tools should be part of a core feature set for a hosted solution, and it would be good if Shopify could follow the example of Bigcommerce and introduce this functionality out of the box soon.
With WordPress, although there are lots of plugins for capturing and storing data in a GDPR compliant way available, it’s entirely your job to choose the right ones and make sure your WordPress site is not doing anything naughty.
Ultimately, although Shopify is at pains to say that GDPR compliance is fundamentally the customer’s responsibility, it’s probably fair to say that Shopify takes on some responsibility for ensuring GDPR compliance, at least in the data capture and processing area.
With WordPress, you are a bit more on your own — but that said, because of the huge WordPress user base, there are lots of resources available online to help you build a WordPress site that is compliant.
Multilingual / multiple sites
Many businesses require multiple versions of their website — in different languages, or for different territories (or both).
WordPress is arguably a better solution than Shopify for this sort of thing: you can use either the WordPress Multilingual plugin or the WordPress Multisite version of WordPress to create multiple versions of a website in multiple languages. And some of the e-commerce plugins for WordPress (notably Ecwid and Woocommerce) can be configured to support multiple languages too.
It’s possible to present your store in different languages using Shopify too — but, you guessed it, you’ll need to pay for a plugin like Weglot to do so.
If you’re somebody who likes to edit your website on the move, then you will pleased to learn that this is very doable with both Shopify and WordPress (and on both iOS and Android).
The Shopify app is more focussed on e-commerce than the WordPress one, allowing you to manage your products and follow up with customers; by contrast the WordPress app is more focussed on content management, allowing you to create and edit pages and posts.
Whether or not you can manage the e-commerce side of things on your phone for your WordPress-based store will depend on whether the e-commerce plugin you’ve used to build it provides an app for this purpose (for the record though Woocommerce both do).
It’s worth noting that in addition to the main Shopify app, there are a few others which might come in handy — a ‘point of sale’ app for merchants who sell in physical locations, along with a logo maker, a business card maker and a messaging app.
Support is an area where I think it’s fair to say that Shopify beats WordPress, particularly if you are building your site yourself.
When you buy a Shopify plan, you get support bundled with it. Live chat, email and phone support are included on all plans with the exception of the ‘Lite’ one (which limits support to live chat and email). This means if something goes badly wrong with your store, there is somebody you can turn to.
(This is a particularly important thing to bear in mind if you’re building a site for somebody else. When you hand a Shopify site over to a client, so long as you’ve set things up right, you shouldn’t have to worry about providing ongoing support to your client – that’s Shopify’s job).
It’s a different story with WordPress: if you’re building your website yourself with the platform and run into difficulties, it’s not obvious where to turn to. You may find yourself sourcing help from a variety of locations: for example, the WordPress forums, a hosting company, a plugin provider, a friend who knows a thing or two about WordPress etc.
In my view, to end up with adequate support for a WordPress site, you ideally need to work with a WordPress designer or an agency specialising in WordPress development and take out a support contract with them.
This does bring with it an additional cost, but on the plus side, it can give you a level of support that you are unlikely to ever receive from Shopify (face-to-face meetings, Skype calls, a more personal connection etc.).
Shopify vs WordPress: the conclusions
WordPress is unquestionably a better-established and more flexible platform than Shopify. It’s got a significantly bigger user base and a much greater selection of themes and apps to choose from; given the right skills and resources, you can basically build any sort of website you like with WordPress.
If content production and management is a key concern for you – for example, if you wanted to run a sophisticated magazine site with a store on the side – then there is a lot to be said for going the WordPress route. Its blogging functionality, content archiving and content management system are all significantly more flexible and sophisticated than Shopify’s offerings in these areas.
It’s fair to say that WordPress has an edge in the SEO department too: the fact that you can use Yoast, choose your own server and create cleaner URLs for your content gives it a bit of an edge over Shopify.
But in many contexts, Shopify will simply meet the needs of e-commerce users better — particularly those without technical skills. That’s because it’s a tool that has been designed specifically to make building an online store straightforward, and it does an admirably good job of this.
Additionally, if you use Shopify, you’ll get support; relative peace of mind around security; and you won’t have to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining your website.
Finally, if you are new to the world of website building and absolutely determined to build your own online store, then I’d argue that Shopify is the easier, safer and quicker bet. There is a steeper learning curve involved with WordPress, and more configuration to do (especially on an e-commerce site).
If you have a good budget and a good developer though, you’ll usually find that you get something better with WordPress; a site that is more ‘bespoke’ in nature and more precisely tuned to your needs.
Ultimately though, if you are intent on going the DIY route, my hunch is that you’d probably get better results with Shopify.
With Shopify, you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of maintaining your site; if you use WordPress, you need to keep on top of this or your site will become vulnerable to being hacked.
Shopify is largely responsible for the security of your website – if you use WordPress, security depends on how diligent you are in updating your software and theme.
24/7 support is available for Shopify (via email, phone and live chat). By contrast, whether or not you can avail of support for a WordPress site depends largely on whether you have commissioned somebody to provide it.
Shopify is arguably a better option than WordPress for users who require an elegant but simple website delivered quickly.
GDPR compliance is arguably a bit easier with Shopify, as the company take on some responsibility for it.
You can build any type of site with WordPress; it’s a more flexible platform than Shopify.
A much wider range of templates is available in WordPress than in Shopify.
WordPress comes with a more sophisticated content management system which, unlike Shopify, facilitates content versioning and archiving.
A vast range of plugins – paid-for and free – is available to help you add functionality to your WordPress website. Although you can also add functionality to Shopify sites via apps, there is a more limited range to choose from.
You have a greater range of options when it comes to e-commerce in WordPress than in Shopify.
The number of variants and product options you can use (without an app) in Shopify is a bit limited – many of the WordPress options give you more flexibility on that front.
SEO in WordPress is a bit better than in Shopify.
On a WordPress site, you have more control over your content — with Shopify, you’ll have to adhere to an ‘acceptable use’ policy and you may have trouble exporting some of your site content (especially where pages and posts are concerned).
You can export pages and posts more easily in WordPress.
WordPress is a better option than Shopify for creating multilingual or ‘multisite’ projects.
The product has a longer history and a significantly bigger user base than Shopify.
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