I am often asked for recommendations for WordPress and Web related tools, themes, hosting, and much more. Here are some of the products and services that I personally use for myself and my clients. If it’s on this list, I have used it and think it’s worth your money. Though not every product or service will be right for every client need.
This is one of the best hosts out there for WordPress websites. They only do WordPress, and their support staff know it really well. Their servers are optimized for speed and security, they back up sites daily, and they even provide a staging area where you can test out website changes in a non-production environment. If you have an e-commerce site, mission critical website, or are just tired of getting hacked or lousy support, this may be a good hosting option for you. It costs more (starting at $29 per month), but I believe you get what you pay for. I host my own website here.
HostGator, BlueHost, and Siteground
In general, I’m not a big fan of inexpensive Shared hosting. With Shared hosting, your website is placed on a server with hundreds, maybe thousands of other websites. You aren’t guaranteed any bandwidth so if the other sites in your shared space are busy, your website may be SLOW. These hosts tend to be less secure and get hacked more frequently as well. That being said, I have had good success with HostGator and BlueHost over the years and recently started using Siteground which I’ve been quite pleased with. All use a user-friendly admin interface called cPanel, are inexpensive, and have decent support so long as you understand that they can’t help you with WordPress specific issues (ie. you got the white screen of death after installing a plugin). Best you’ll get is help with restoring your site from their last backup. I often use a company like this in combination with WPEngine because WPEngine doesn’t offer email. I used HostGator for my email, and have a reseller account which hosts some of my websites and also websites I’m developing.
**Update Jan. 2015 – Don’t use HostGator if you need email as well as web hosting. They got themselves added to some internet blacklists due to spam activity and this caused email delivery problems. They were unable to resolve, so I migrated my email to Rackspace.
I always use Premium Themes as a framework for client websites, because they offer ongoing updates and support. That free theme you found in the WordPress theme directory may look pretty sweet now, but there’s no guarantee that theme developer isn’t going to disappear tomorrow. What if there’s a bug, or WordPress releases an update that breaks your theme? With a free theme, you may be up S#$% creek! Since premium themes make a business money, they are more invested in keeping them working. Usually you’ll pay an annual fee to continue updates and support, though you can use the theme indefinitely after purchase.
Woo has a nice assortment of themes with most of the new ones being fully responsive. Each theme comes with a user-friendly control panel where you can configure many options, modify colors, and add your own logo. WooThemes has good documentation, some training videos, and decent customer support via email (provided you are doing something pretty standard to your website). Woo offers some great plugins too, the best being WooCommerce (see E-commerce section). The majority of WordPress sites in my portfolio use Woo as the base including Save Our Shores, True Olive Connection, and Valentino Coaching and all of the WooCommerce websites.
ElegantThemes is an affordable option, as you can get their entire library of themes for only $69. Though not as flexible as WooThemes, Elegant Themes has some nice designs and also a nice control panel for theme customization. They have a drag and drop theme builder called Divi which is really flexible and easy to use. I used Divi to build websites for David Kay, Dientes Dental, and Clifford Henderson.
This is possibly the most respected theme framework in the WordPress webosphere. It is lightweight, well-coded, and offers a variety of stylish child themes. That being said, this is not the best choice for most DIY’ers. To really customize and get the most out of this framework, you need a good understanding of WordPress from a structural standpoint and at least some knowledge of PHP. That’s why it’s often the choice of developers. I used it for this website: Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association. My client loves the framework, but he’s kind of geeky (said with respect!).
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to E-commerce. When it comes to choosing the right platform, I always have my clients really think through their needs. You need to consider the type of products or services you are selling, shipping options, payment integration, sales tax, integration with other platforms, templates and design options, and much more. Each platform has certain features, strengths, and weaknesses. It can be difficult and expensive to try to flex a platform to do something it wasn’t designed to do. So better to really do your homework and make a smart choice.
That being said, my overall favorite is Shopify. While it’s not as full featured as platforms like 3DCart and Magento, it has an awesome user experience which makes it easy to setup and use. I’ve found that the platforms that try to do everything end up being bloated and difficult to use. Shopify offers both free and paid themes that are more beautiful and modern looking than most other platforms and it also offers the most flexibility with custom design. They have good support, the platform is stable and fast, and there are a wide variety of add-ons to enhance functionality. Shopify is best for physical products and their integrated tax lookup by zipcode and real-time shipping quotes save a lot of time and headaches. The few things that Shopify lacks that have been an issue for many of my clients is they don’t have any built in options for handling wholesale pricing, except as a separate store and it doesn’t natively handle virtual/digital products (though there are add-ons). I used Shopify to build Mousemitt and The Spirit of Water.
For customers that want to sell a variety of types of products (physical, digital, e-courses, memberships, etc), or need a greater degree of control over design, functionality or the checkout experience, I use WooCommerce. This is a plugin for WordPress, and while it can be used with any WordPress theme, it has the best support within other WooThemes and StudioPress Themes (see above). It also has a good user interface and relatively painless to setup. You will need to get some extra plugins to rival what’s built in with Shopify, so it could actually end up costing more (despite the core plugin being free). Don’t assume that WooCommerce will be cheaper.
*Note: Some of these links are affiliate links and will earn me a small commission if you purchase them. Rest assured that these are products and services that I use myself and would recommend even without a financial incentive.