Finding a plugin, extension or add-on for your WooCommerce shop can be an exhausting challenge. With more than 400 on WooCommerce.com alone, another 1,000+ on WordPress.org, and thousands scattered over cyberspace, where do you start and what exactly should you look for?
In episode 23, I talk with Joe Casabona, owner of WP in 1 Month, and tap into his experience as both a developer and a trainer who has some excellent strategies for planning and finding that perfect WooCommerce plugin.
We chatted about:
- The differences between a plugin, add-on and extension.
- Deciding between a free or premium plugin.
- Preparing yoursefl, both for the needs of your online store and your budget for purchasing premium WooCommerce extensions.
- Where to start looking for your plugins.
- Joe’s top three WooCommerce plugins or extensions.
Bob Dunn: Hey, everyone, and welcome to Do the Woo, a Podcast for WooCommerce shop owners. Bob Dunn here, also known as Bob WP on the web. Today, we are going to dive into WooCommerce extensions and plugins. Did you know that there are more than 400 extensions now on WooCommerce.com? If you search for WooCommerce plugins on WordPress.org, you easily get well over 1,000 results. Hey, that’s the beauty of WooCommerce. Out of the box, it comes with a lot of essential features to get you started, but then you choose your extended functionality based on your own site’s needs. Where the heck do you start? How do you find the right plugin or extension? Today, my guest, and also my sponsor, Joe Casabona from WP in One Month, is going to give us some guidelines and tips on how to navigate this massive influx of WooCommerce goodness. Hey Joe, welcome to the show.
Joe Casabona: Hey Bob, thanks. Happy to be here.
Bob Dunn: I am so looking forward to this because one thing is, Joe is a trainer. He has training background. We both share a lot of interests and also a love for teaching. Before we get into that, let’s find out a little bit about how you got involved with WordPress and WooCommerce.
Joe Casabona: My WordPress story goes back to 2004. I was in college. I was learning how to make websites and I said to my friend, who I had a work-study job with, “I think I’m going to build my own content management system.” I was a college freshman, maybe a sophomore. I had no idea what I was doing and he’s like, “I thought about that but have you heard of WordPress?” I said, “No.” I checked it out and I was like, “Yeah, this is great.” I got WordPress. I did some things that I’m not proud of, as I’m sure a lot of us did in the early WordPress days, like put PHP, hard-coded PHP pages right into core. There were no pages in WordPress at the time.
I stuck with it and I’ve grown with WordPress and watched it evolve into what it is today. I’ve been on WordPress for a long time and I use it for just about everything. WooCommerce I’m actually relatively new to. We do some work … I’m a front-end developer at Crowd Favorite, we do commerce work there. With starting WP in One Month, there’s a few things that I wanted to sell and I’m changing directions of WP in One Month. WooCommerce is going to be a tremendous help there, especially one of the plugins that I’m sure we will talk about later. WooCommerce, I’ve started coding on it recently. I’ve done WPE Commerce in the past. I’m happy to be squarely on WooCommerce now.
Bob Dunn: That sounds good. Tell us a little bit more. What is WP in One Month?
Joe Casabona: WP in One Month was something I … I’ll be honest. I bought the domain because I saw another domain, like PHP in One Month and I was like, “This would be a good domain to own.” I bought the domain and I let it sit for a while and then, maybe like a year later, it struck me that there aren’t a lot of in-person, live, WordPress training. There’s really great online resources through WP 101 and WP Sessions and Lynda. The classroom experience, which is what I have a lot of experience in, I was a college professor, I am a college professor. I thought, “Hey, I could teach live WordPress classes and I’ll break it down and I’ll do one session a week and by the end of month, they should be able to make their own WordPress site.”
Unfortunately, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that was not a very popular thing. I imagine if you’re not in a big city like New York City or Philadelphia, which are the ones that I’m closest to, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to do that because there are such great online resources. I still want to do the live Q and A session. I think that people really benefit from that. When I teach my students WordPress, they have a ton of questions and we can get really specific. What WP in One Month is, now, is live webinars for specific plugins. I’ve done one for Beaver Builder. I’ve done one for Paid Memberships Pro and Id love to do one for WooCommerce in the near future. I’d partner with the plugin developers on that.
Then what it’s becoming is these weekly recorded classes where I will teach you in a month to build a WooCommerce, or an e-commerce website or I’ll teach you how to build a website for your business and then at the end of that course, week 5, we’ll have a live Q and A where, if you have any questions from the course or otherwise, you can ask me and we can get you all set up.
Bob Dunn: Cool. I love it. There is a need out there. I know you and I have had a long conversation about this and in-person workshops and the challenges of that. With WooCommerce, there is a lot of people … I know I’ve talked to a lot of people. I’ve never really trained them through the whole process, but I’ve coached them to some extent and they need help on specifics … It’s a huge animal, WooCommerce. Depending on the direction you’re taking it, selling a few products, membership site, 200 products, whatever, there’s so many variables and they need some kind of guidance. I’m really excited about that.
Joe Casabona: Thanks. Me too. I think it’s going to be great. You’re absolutely right. There’s a lot of stuff around WordPress in general, but WooCommerce specifically is its own big ecosystem within the WordPress ecosystem.
Bob Dunn: Definitely. We are going to tap your brain on plugins and extensions because I know for a lot of people, when it comes to WooCommerce and e-commerce sites, they get totally confused or they spend half their life looking for the right one and maybe you can give us and give the listeners a little bit of a guide on where to find them, how to find them, what to look for. Let’s start with the very first question. This is clarifying something before we get into the meat of it. I know that I’ve talked to a lot of people about WordPress and they’re throwing out these terms, “Oh, get a plugin, get an add-on, get an extension.” Or they get online and they look at all 3 of them and think, “Wait a minute, what is plugin?” Then there’s a widget thing too. Which is a fourth. Now, why don’t you give us a little clarification of what that distinction is between a plugin, an add-on and an extension?
Joe Casabona: I feel like your mileage may vary depending on who you ask this question to. WordPress has plugins, right? That’s the term for any functionality that you add to WordPress that is not already part of WordPress. WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress. Then you have these big ecosystems like WooCommerce or Gravity Forms that are plugins that accept their own kind of plugins. The way that I’ve always thought of it is there are plugins for WordPress and then there are add-ons or extensions for the plugins in WordPress. There’s the Stripe add-on or Stripe extension for WooCommerce for WordPress, if that makes sense, right? Then, there’s also, if you go to WooCommerce’s website, there’s a whole section called plugins where you see the WooCommerce plugin itself. Under it, you see Sensei and WooSlider, which are … I’m getting kind of rambly here, right?
Bob Dunn: No, no, this is good. I love it.
Joe Casabona: Sensei is, I think my students … When I teach in class, I think my students like that too, they see my train of thought. Sensei is a plugin for WordPress that relies on WooCommerce, right? In order for Sensei or WooSlider or anything like that to work, it has this dependency on WooCommerce. The terminology is a bit murky. It’s really going to vary from developer to developer. Gravity Forms has add-ons for Gravity Forms and Gravity Forms itself is a plugin for WordPress. I don’t know that I really, I gave you answer and if that’s the answer that the listeners are looking for or it it’s any clearer now. The way I always view it is, I will always refer to plugins as things that are extending WordPress in some way. Add-ons or extensions extend a plugin. Sensei, to me, is an extension for WooCommerce or an add-on for WooCommerce because it relies on WooCommerce.
Bob Dunn: That does make sense. I like that because a plugin really, a WooCommerce plugin basically relies on WooCommerce. That’s just what you said, but that add-on and extension is an extended functionality of WooCommerce. There is that distinction, it just … Then like you said, it gets murky and it gets crazy depending on who’s saying it. I think that made a lot of sense, that’s good. In fact, I’ve been trying to say it over the years and I’ve said that in one way or another, but now that really is kind of simple. When you think about it. Perfect.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, thank you.
Bob Dunn: See, you’re going to do good in this. I know. When someone has found a few extensions or plugins or whatever the heck we want to call them, that they need, and they are looking at choices between free plugins or extensions and premium ones. Do you have any words of wisdom as far as how they should make their final choice?
Joe Casabona: I used to teach how software distribution works. The way it used to work is you would get a free trial or maybe you’ll remember this from video games. You’d get … I remember playing Tony Hawk for PlayStation demo and I could only play the one level and I could only play with Tony Hawk. That was very limited use of the software. I’d have to buy the whole game if I wanted to play the other levels. If I was completely content with just playing the one level as Tony Hawk, that’s all I needed. That term, or the free-trial term has kind of been replaced with the term freemium. We get the free plugin and then if we want more functionality, we buy a license and then we have access to more stuff.
My advice to anybody who’s looking at the difference between a free plugin and a premium plugin is to make a list of the things that you need and then compare and contrast. I think the biggest difference between the free and the premium plugins in general is that premium plugins will come with a little bit better support. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, I imagine there are probably a lot of do-it-yourselfers listening to this Podcast, I also, my target audience at WP in One Month is do-it-yourselfers, support is going to be a big piece of it. The free plugins, it’s tough. I’ve developed free plugins where I haven’t had time to support them and I felt bad about that, but I need to do the thing that makes me money so I have time to work on these pet projects. If you’re paying extra for the premium plugin, you get the extra features but support is a really nice thing that generally comes along with the premium stuff.
Bob Dunn: It seems like it’s almost to the point where it’s good, and this may be a factor in it as well, when you’re looking to those free plugins, to look at the free plugins that do have that option to move into premium because at least you have that extended functionality if you need it and if the free one works for you, cool.
Joe Casabona: Absolutely. The other thing I would say is, not that I’m … I make websites, I make plugins and themes and stuff like that and I’ll also say that, if you’re going the free route, I would just caution anybody who’s looking at the free plugins to say, “You know, great. If you can get functionality for free, especially when you’re just starting up or you’re like bootstrapping yourself, that’s wonderful.” If it’s something as important as your storefront, you’re making money off of your website, you’re … Just be prepared to answer the question: what happens if this free plugin goes away tomorrow? It could happen with premium plugins too, but I feel it’s less likely because the people who are selling the premium plugins have some obligation to their customers to not just disappear the next day without some explanation. They’re building the infrastructure as well. They have the support to help you prepare if they are going away, in some sense. That’s the other big thing I would say. It’s less likely that a premium plugin will disappear tomorrow without a trace.
Bob Dunn: Right. That’s been pretty much my mantra too. I really have always pushed premium plugins to some extent because most of the people who are coming to me are, like you said, they’re doing an investment. They’re trying to start a business. They’re not building some little site where they’re just going to talk about whatever … their favorite movies or … there’s got to be an investment there.
Joe Casabona: If you’re going to make money off of your site, then it’s worth shelling out the money for the website.
Bob Dunn: Right. Kind of segueing from that into a little bit more WooCommerce-specific, are there any tips you can give our listeners when they’re first starting their WooCommerce site? How they can best prepare themselves for knowing and, the big word, budgeting, for extensions they may need.
Joe Casabona: This is research. It’s so easy today. I’ll start with this: I wonder how people even 10 or 15 years ago started a business where they accepted money. I’m 30 years old so I don’t have a whole lot of perspective but it’s so easy today to just start a website and start making money off of it or have it ready to start making money. It’s not like, if you build it, they will come, but …
Bob Dunn: You get that infrastructure.
Joe Casabona: Right, it’s there. One of us can go off and set up a WooCommerce site in an hour, connect Stripe to it and boom, we’re ready to make money. I would say, before you just dive in and start building something, do the research and plan. What I usually like to do, I love to do this, I will make a list of my requirements, that’s the software engineer in me. The things that I really want, that I need to launch the product, or launch the website. That’s minimum viable product. What are the things I need for this shop to function for me to start making money? I’m usually designing it so I’ll sketch something out as well, as far as the way I want it to look. That might be helpful for you too if you’re looking at buying a theme. Then, I would do a bunch of research. Find a theme that’s going to work for me. Look at my features and check off the ones or star the ones that don’t come in WooCommerce, just core WooCommerce. Those are the features that you will likely be paying for.
Check out WooCommerce’s plugin directory because they have a bunch and see what the prices look like. There’s usually going to be a range for single site versus multiple site subscriptions. The best thing that I could tell you to do is do research, check out the features that you need that don’t come in core WooCommerce and then see what’s out there. Try free versus premium. Once you’re at that point, build and play around with the stuff. See what really works for you. We’re very lucky to live in an age where we can do things relatively quickly because it means that we can put something up quickly and if it doesn’t work, take it down really quick too before we’re even ready to launch.
Bob Dunn: That’s a good point. I had talked about, when I did the intro that there’s now just a hair over 400 WooCommerce extensions on their site and some of them are free and there’s quite a few that are premium. Then a lot more on WordPress.org and then there’s all these other sites such as Envato, re-sellers, that sell WooCommerce plugins and extensions. I get this question a lot and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. What if somebody comes to you and says, “I’ve looked at all these. I just keep going in circles. How the heck should I know where to go to really find what I’m looking for?” What’s a … Is there any magic bullet you have?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, I understand your question, not yeah, I have a magic bullet. I’d probably make a lot of money off of that if I did. I’m actually working on a newsletter article that tackles this. When we first started talking about doing this show it got me thinking. I don’t know if you have ever watched Home Improvement. I loved that show growing up. I feel like … I feel very relatable. I feel like Tim the Toolman Taylor is very relatable now because he had a show where he would show people how to do stuff in his craft and now I have a webinar where I’m showing people how to do stuff in my craft. Part of that is finding the right tools. He would always recommend Binford Tools. “Binford Tools, they’re the absolute best and I always use them and they’re the best.” For me, it’s … I guess what I’m driving at is he has that trusted source where he goes first.
I would say that WordPress.org is a really good starting point, that’s your trusted source because in order for plugins to make it to WordPress.org they go through a code review process. All the plugins on WordPress.org are free as well. You’re starting off with very low commitment. It’s going to be a time commitment as opposed to doing something like just Googling Stripe support for WooCommerce. It’s likely that WooCommerce and WordPress.org are going to come up first but you might get that one site that’s not very trustworthy. What I would usually recommend is start with WordPress.org. Check out what’s out there for free. A lot of the free ones, especially the ones worth their salt, will have a premium version as well so you can make your way there. Try the free stuff and if you need the premium version that’s going to be available to you.
Envato and other re-sellers are also trustworthy. I’ve sold some stuff on Envato in the past, but my starting point is always WordPress.org because I can try that myself. I can download it and check out the interface and if … Nothing frustrates me more than a plugin that I enable it and then I don’t know where to go from there. If it’s not intuitive to me in the first 10 or 15 seconds and I’m already frustrated, how do I feel about using this long term for a website where I hopefully will generate income? I guess the TLDR of all that is: I start at WordPress.org first and try out what’s there.
Bob Dunn: That’s a good place to start. Perfect. I love that answer. What are your 3 favorite WooCommerce plugins or extensions and what makes them your favorite?
Joe Casabona: Well, I don’t know that I’m unearthing any little known stuff that’s amazing. My favorite is the Stripe add-on. I just think that Stripe is so, so easy to use. I have found that in paying, as well as accepting payments, Stripe is great. I think that Paypal has been around the block and it’s trusted but still when people go to a Paypal site and they don’t have a Paypal account, there’s always the question of: Well, do I need a Paypal account to pay? There’s no questions with Stripe. You click pay, the Stripe box comes up and you just put in your credit card information and that’s it. It could not be easier. Anything that I’m accepting payment on, I make sure to have Stripe installed. The Gravity Forms add-on is great because I use Gravity Forms for everything. That’s one of those plugins that I think is worth paying for. The developer edition lets me use it on all of my sites so if I need integration between WooCommerce and Gravity Forms for something, the Gravity Forms add-on is my go-to.
Then, probably the one that doesn’t have mass appeal is Sensei. I just picked this one up because of the direction with WP in One Month and it looks like everything that I wish my home-brewed version of a learning management system was. When I was teaching a bunch of classes at the university, I developed my own set of plugins that I called Professor, like the Professor plugin. It’s out there on GitHub if you’re interested in looking at code that I’m probably ashamed of now. This looks like everything that I wanted it to be and more. It looks awesome. I know it’s going to be super helpful when I start churning out the monthly mini-course things that I’m going to be putting together. Really excited to use this one.
Bob Dunn: I used Sensei for … I’ve used it for about 2 or 3 sites. Some membership online course sites which are really no longer around and that’s not due to Sensei, that’s due to me, but I love that plugin. It was excellent and the other two, they’re in my top as far as WooCommerce plugins. Those three did not surprise me at all.
Joe Casabona: I was hoping to find a gem, like what’s a little known one? But these three are the ones I use and they’re the ones I like a whole lot.
Bob Dunn: If somebody said the top three, you’d probably be similar to that or they wouldn’t be the less known ones, they’d be the ones. I think The Add-ons is another huge one, that’s become such a popular one. Product Add-ons, in fact I know I have a lot of affiliate links on a lot of my site and I get a lot of people getting that add-on plugin. That is one of … I think that’s one of, must be one of, their top ones because I know I have a lot of people who snag that one. It does make it so easy.
Joe Casabona: Absolutely. The ones that I had up that I was bouncing through was The Product Add-ons, The Dynamic Pricing, and then the Subscriptions one. The first two were … If you’re selling real products, those are probably invaluable to you. If you offer any variation on your products … T-shirts is always the one that … T-shirts is always the classic example, but I enjoy a cigar from time to time. Product add-ons for the cigars that I like to smoke would be just invaluable because there’s different sizes and shapes and wrapper colors and stuff like that.
Bob Dunn: That totally makes sense. All righty, before we move in to my fun questions at the end, all about being an online shopper, I want to hear a little bit more. What’s on the horizon or coming up for WP in One Month?
Joe Casabona: I’ve been having a lot of conversations over the last couple weeks. I took most of June off because I got married and then went on an awesome honeymoon. If you follow me on Twitter, you will …
Bob Dunn: Italy!
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I didn’t have my computer with me, all I had was my phone and it was awesome. One of the things that I knew I wanted to do when I came back was refocus WP in One Month. I had some initial success with focused webinars for plugin developers like Beaver Builder and PM Pro but I wanted to … I was straddling this line between reaching my direct target audience, which was plugin developers and theme developers, and then their target audience of their current users and new users. I’ve had a lot of great conversations over the last week or so and what I’m going to be moving towards, I think as we’ve mentioned a little bit during the show, is these courses on how to build specific websites. You go to a website like WP 101 and you learn how to use WordPress. The stuff that I’m working now is what happens after you learn how to use WordPress. Okay, I know how to use WordPress now, what do I need to do to set up my own blog? Or all right, great, I have a freelance business. What do I do to set up a website for my business? What if I don’t want a blog for that?
Even some specific niche sites. I’m pretty proud of the wedding website that I developed for Erin and me. I can see myself doing a session on that if there’s the demand for it. I think that the focus is going to be 5 videos, you can watch the first one, and then sign up to watch the other four. After those videos are done, we’ll do a live Q and A where you can ask me questions about the course. I think one of the big things that’s missing from just traditional online video courses is you don’t get to ask the instructor anything in real time. You can email them or you can do some sort of chat or get them on a Skype call, but for those who want to attend, I’d be happy to answer any of the questions that came up throughout watching the other videos.
Bob Dunn: Well we have something to look forward to so everybody out there listening, keep your eyes on that. Especially if you know people who are needing to build a site. Joe has a lot of cool stuff coming down the pike. We’re going to definitely be … Then of course, I like sharing Joe’s stuff on Twitter. If you don’t hear it from Joe, you’re going to hear it from me. One way or another, we’re going to let you know.
Joe Casabona: Awesome.
Bob Dunn: Now I’m going to ask Joe to take off his teacher hat and all those things and say, your wife is working and you’re home alone and you’ve got your credit card and you’re online and she’s probably feeling these vibes coming from off in the distance as you’re spending tons of money, but I have a few questions for you as an online shopper. What is the biggest frustration you’ve come up against when shopping online that you find time and time again?
Joe Casabona: I love this question. I just kind of tweeted a little about it the other day. The biggest thing that I run up against is there’s too many steps between when I add something to my cart and when I finally complete the transaction. The other day I was checking out on a website and it was like, are you a member? No. Log in. Then once you log in, put in your credit card and your billing address and oh, you didn’t fill out everything exactly the way we wanted to so you have to re-do it again. It creates a lot of friction. The more friction you have, the more likely it is that somebody will abandon their cart. I heard a stat from Brad Frost that 80% of people, or maybe it’s 70% of people abandon their cart during checkout. One of the reasons I love Stripe so much is it creates less friction. The biggest frustration I have when shopping online time and time again is there’s too many things to fill out. I want to be asked the minimum amount of information you need to verify my credit card which is usually just number, expiration date and zip code and then the rest you can figure out. Then I want to be done with it. Amazon knows this, Apple knows this because they have the one-click checkout or one-click pay. It couldn’t be easier and they make tons and tons of money.
Bob Dunn: That aligns with the frustrations with a lot of my guests, similar to that. Especially with having to register in order to buy something.
Joe Casabona: That’s … I understand why, to an extent. My information is not the thing that you should be making money off of. I’m actually giving you money.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, I have some money to give you, don’t you want it?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Why are you making it so hard?
Bob Dunn: All righty. A lot of stuff available online, is there anything that you would never buy online that you’ve got to buy in person?
Joe Casabona: Let me start by saying I buy almost everything online. Anything that is non-perishable or even if I order Domino’s, I’ll do it online. One thing that I don’t buy online though is most of my clothes. I’m a pretty big … I’m a short stout guy, they have big and tall but they don’t have short and stocky as far as stores go. When I’m buying clothes, unless it’s a t-shirt, I’m probably going to buy that in a real store just so I can try it on and make sure it fits okay and things like that.
Bob Dunn: They have that Big and Tall shop, now they need the Short and Stocky shop.
Joe Casabona: Exactly. I have two retirement ideas and that’s one of them.
Bob Dunn: This goes right in to that. If you wanted to start or you had the option to start your own online store, resources, money, time, all that good stuff, none of it mattered whether you sold stuff, it didn’t matter. All you would be happy about is that you could sell this product online. What would that be?
Joe Casabona: That’s another really interesting question. I told you have 2 retirement ideas and Short and Stocky is one of them. I should probably trademark that soon now.
Bob Dunn: Like, immediately right after the show.
Joe Casabona: I have been telling Erin since early on in our dating that if I could have the ideal retirement it would be to start a cigar lounge. I think that if I had an online store … Here’s the other thing, every … I shop at a bunch of online cigar shops and most of them are pretty bad as far as design or experience goes. I would just love to create my perfect cigar emporium online where I sell my favorite stuff and then it’s a nice experience for the users. Then I get to talk cigars with people. I sketch and I play the drums and a whole bunch of other things, but if time and money and resources and litigation or governmental red tape were not an option, I would probably sell cigars.
Bob Dunn: Well, you and another past guest, I won’t way his name except his name is Chris Lema, sounds similar. Okay.
Joe Casabona: That’s actually how we bonded. I met him at PressNomics a couple years ago and we hung out and he and Shawn Hesketh actually was there too and we smoked cigars. At Work Camp Phoenix I actually supplied a bunch of the cigars and that’s how Chris and I became friends. I owe a lot of my success, not only in the WordPress community, not only to people in the community, but to cigars I guess.
Bob Dunn: Cool. All right. This has been excellent. You really provided a lot of cool stuff and our listeners can take all this great info that’s been shared with us today and feel a bit more confident when looking at the sea of WooCommerce plugins and extensions. I really want to thank WP in One Month for stepping up and sponsoring this show as well. There’s another episode in the very near future. Also, thank you Joe, for taking the time to share your wisdom with us.
Joe Casabona: No problem Bob. Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast. I love talking WordPress with people and you talk WordPress with a lot of people so I’m glad to be on that list.
Bob Dunn: I’ll definitely have to have you back. Now, before I sign off, a couple quick things to my listeners. If you’re enjoying listening to our podcast, we’d love a review or rating over on iTunes. Just travel on over there, I’d be eternally grateful for it. Also, if you’ve noticed, we are now providing full transcripts of our shows on the Do the Woo site. They are included in the posts and are also available as a downloadable PDF. We’ll have all the links to all the good stuff included in those. We just want to make sure our podcast is accessible to all and we are working on getting past shows transcribed as well. As we wrap up this show, I’d like everyone to take the time and effort to do a little research when you add that next extension. Do it because it serves a need for your site and your customers, not because it is just a cool plugin. Bask in the sea of extended functionality, make wise choices, check out WP in One Month, and be kind to your extension or plugin developer. Oh. And don’t forget to do the Woo.