This is part two of a case study on our sister site Genius eCommerceⓇ. You can read the first part of the case study, focused on custom design, right here.
If you were to take any basic sedan you might buy off of any car lot and kit it up for racing, what would you do? You might take out all the seats beside the driver. You don’t need passengers, you need the car to be lightweight. You might take out the gas-efficient engine and replace it with a bigger one. You don’t need to worry about the price at the pump, you need acceleration. You might change the treaded tires for slick, smooth ones. You don’t need to handle in snow, you need to reduce friction. This is the difference between a car built for anyone to use, and a car built for a very specific purpose, and it’s also illustrative of the difference between a generalized template website and custom eCommerce development. The kind of site that you get out of the box from any platform is going to be an all-purpose tool for all kinds of businesses, but a custom developed site can be built specifically to do what you need it to do.
Here at 1Digital, we experienced this first hand when developing on the WordPress platform for Genius eCommerceⓇ, our sister site. Genius eCommerceⓇ had existed on a WordPress template for a few years and when we decided to update it, we did so from the ground up. Seeing the process on one of our own sites really helped highlight, for me, the difference between the quick and easy deployment of a template site and the methodical build of eCommerce custom development.
“The problem with the old theme is that there was a lot of code that was weighing the site down, whether we were using it or not,” said Jon Luhrs, one of the principal developers here at 1DigitalⓇ. The old version of the Genius eCommerce site was on a prebuilt WordPress theme. WordPress themes, like many prebuilt templates, come with a suite of dependent plugins. “They might have one plugin they ask you to download to run your menu or another that might handle form submissions, stuff like that,” Jon told me. Unfortunately, all those items can add up to a lot of bloat. Theme developers want to make sure that their theme is bought by the most people possible and therefore useable in the most circumstances. This makes a prebuilt theme a jack of all trades and a master of none.
“The biggest thing we wanted to improve in the new version was speed,” Jon said. To do so he got rid of a lot of plugins that would normally come with a WordPress site and built custom shortcodes from scratch to replace them. For example, the old Genius eCommerce site had a page builder called WP Bakery installed. A page builder like this makes it easy to drag and drop content and add a new page to your site from the admin area without going into the code. “These page builder plugins are a dime a dozen,” Jon told me. “They all offer pretty much the same functionality but they also come with a lot of code you might not need.” The advantage of having someone like Jon in your corner, who is trained in custom development, is that you don’t need page building to be made easy for you. Instead, Jon built our new pages from scratch. This made them as lean as possible because he was only adding what was absolutely needed the make the page run.
“It was the same thing for image sliders and testimonial sliders,” Jon told me. Where a WordPress plugin runs inside your page taking images you’ve added to the admin area and loading them in, we custom-built those features with lines of code to make them more streamlined. We also optimized the images themselves for more speed. “A lot of it is figuring out the right settings to export the image from Photoshop in, that will work for its purpose within the page without being too much,” Jon said. A custom development team can help you create the right image files, based on your plan for each particular page.
At the time of launch, the new Genius eCommerceⓇ website is running an average speed score of 98.6 on mobile pages. “This is a pretty big improvement over the previous template and we’ve started to see the site generate some leads,” Jon told me. This kind of score on Google’s Page Speed Insights would be nearly impossible for your average eCommerce store, even with custom development, but that doesn’t mean you should take site speed off of your priorities list. A collection of studies done by Walmart found that when their load time fluctuates between 1 and 4 seconds conversions declined sharply. They found that every 1-second improvement in page load time translated into a 2% increase in conversions on the site.
An eCommerce custom developer can also help a site with future-proofing, especially one that’s relied on templates and prebuilt plugins in the past. Remember, these plugins are created by developers too. That means they have a shelf life. An app may work when you first set up your site, but after a few years, that developer may move on to other things, and stop supporting the plugin that the theme was dependant on when you first set it up. On Genius eCommerce we had a plugin that was customizing how we allow team members to login to our site’s admin area. By the time the Genius eCommerceⓇ site was being built that plugin had stopped being supported for two or three years. “Fortunately that wasn’t necessary to the basic functionality of the site, so I just disabled it,” Jon said. However, when you build code from scratch you don’t need to worry about updates or wondering if the service you relied on will no longer be supported. “If something ever breaks I would rather come up with a different way to do it, rather than download another plugin,” Jon told me. “What saves you money in the short term may end up costing you more down the road, depending on how well it’s supported.”
Genius eCommerceⓇ helped me clarify for myself what I’ve been explaining to our clients for years now. When thinking about custom eCommerce development, as opposed to prebuilt templates, it all comes down to a question about the amount of control you want to have. Templates, with dependant plugins, can be deployed quickly and cheaply. You can have a useable site up in no time. But, as we experienced working with Genius eCommerce, eventually you might want more from your website. When you do it’s going to be both cheaper and easier to make those improvements to your own code, that your development team built, rather than wrangling what you can out of third-party tools.
At 1Digital we specialize in being your extended development team. Whether you’re building a site from the ground up, like Genius eCommerceⓇ, or making small steps at bringing your site more and more under your own control one task at a time, our eCommerce custom development experts can be just a few clicks away. Reach out to us today about all the ways you can get a 1DigitalⓇ developer in your corner.
- Joe Chilson
- October 1, 2020